Thursday, March 24, 2016

Stripped Down Performances

Earlier this month, country music legend Dolly Parton announced a major tour throughout the US and Canada later this year. The announcement was inspiring considering the singer's age as well as the fact that it has been more than 20 years since her last major tour. What I truly found remarkable and thought-provoking was Parton's description of the tour -- the concerts will be "stripped down" to reflect the promotion's Pure and Simple title.

In our technologically driven society, some observers attribute classical music's declining audiences in part to the genre's failure to entice patrons with the latest technology. This explains the appearance of light displays, intricate PowerPoint presentations, and movie clips in recital halls around the country in recent years. While I am all for using all forms of media when it enhances the overall experience, I also find that its inclusion is not always beneficial. I think it is time that we face the fact that all of the sparkle is sometimes included in an effort to disguise an inherent deficiency.

It seems that Dolly is on to something. During his March 18, 2016 interview on The Chew (ABC), Seal stated that the current plan for his upcoming European tour will feature him and one or two other musicians on stage. No light shows. No dancers. When asked why, Seal suggested that the audience wants to just focus on the message of the music. Is it possible that classical audiences are dwindling because we are no longer communicating relevant messages to them? Have we failed to present music that speaks to the heart? Do we as performers intentionally bring personal interpretations of the music to the recital stage that we have painstakingly developed in the practice room or are we simply regurgitating a soulless version of a favored recording?

That's the challenge facing musicians today. In the coming weeks, I'll explore what I believe to be some of the causes of our present cookie-cutter performances as well as steps today's teachers can take to break the cycle while training the next generation of musicians. I hope you'll join me for the conversation.