Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Concerts Matter – Take 2


Yesterday, I began teaching a new semester of Music Appreciation at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis. The first day in each section of the class was filled with the thrilling excitement of reviewing the course syllabus so everyone would know what will be required of them this semester. As usual, I heard groans, grumblings, and sundry other sounds of disapproval when I explained to the students that they would be required to attend two classical concerts to fulfill the course's requirements. "But why?" was the repeated cry. Since the defense of concerts as part of the Music Appreciation curriculum has become a major point of discussion each semester, I thought it would be a good blog topic for this evening.

In order to understand more about music, a student must be exposed to it. Why this concept is so foreign to some students is beyond me! While students do not like the idea of spending time in labs for biology, math, or foreign language courses, they accept this additional time of observation as a necessary component of the course. In essence, attending concerts is a working music lab. In order to fully understand concepts presented in lectures, students must get away from the classroom and hear the theories presented in their natural habitat on stage.

Many students argue that they should be able to go to any concert they like since they are paying for the ticket. My response is simple; many of the concerts that you are invited to attend in fulfillment of the requirement have no admission charge. So the assertion that you are spending your hard-earned money on entertainment you don't enjoy is void. Furthermore, any student who claims to enjoy all their homework assignments in other classes is either a liar or delusional. I won't make that judgment, but I'll let you decide for yourself into which category I think most of them fall. This raises an additional issue in the mind of the student. Why am I required to take a course in music since I am not majoring in music? The arts were not created in a vacuum and were significantly impacted by the politics, literature, philosophy, scientific development, and religious views of the day. By examining the arts that were influenced by these fields, the student develops a deeper understanding of the historical progression of the Western World; such understanding and knowledge is an early essential step on the journey from student to scholar.

Lastly, students often ask why they are not merely permitted to listen to recordings or watch videotaped performances. While both of these Medias are valuable tools in the study of music, a few drawbacks must be considered. Firstly, recordings are often heavily edited in order to arrive at a "perfect" performance. While the pursuit of excellence is admirable, these edited performances can result in an unrealistic recording that lacks a certain amount of integrity of performance. Secondly – and in my opinion, most importantly – recorded performances can not accurately convey the vivacity and energy that an audience experiences in a live performance. While we are studying the music itself in this course, the listener's emotional response to the performance must be included in the discussion of the composition's greatness. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony would not be considered a masterpiece of the repertoire if its performance did not elicit a significant emotional response from those who have heard it over the centuries.

That's why I firmly believe in the value of concert attendance as part of the Music Appreciation curriculum. The goal is neither for a student to be able to eloquently discuss a piece's harmonic structure nor is it to convince them to become supporters of the local classical music radio station. Rather, my goal is to give the student enough tools to intelligently attend a previously unfamiliar artistic performance that allows them to experience the heightened emotional response that the greatest music of Western history can elicit.

Now it's time for me to find my next concert to attend. Hope to see you there!