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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000612.txt from 2001/02

From: Neil Leupold <>
Subj: [kl] Re: Audience participation
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 20:04:42 -0500

--- Daniel Leeson <> wrote:

> Today, the audience is not a participant in the performance of works.
> They are played AT. They are obliged to behave as if they are in
> church. Don't yell and holler and scream if you like something. Just
> shut up and let us do our work, is the attitude.

...followed by:

> I am of the opinion that the audience is a participant in the entire
> event, as they are at jazz concerts or rock concerts. And one of the
> many reasons why classical music is being seen more and more as
> irrelevant is because the audience is treated as if they were outside
> the events instead of being a part of them.

These generalizations don't ring true for me. Starting with the upper
paragraph of the two above, my feeling is that whether or not an audience
is played "at" instead of "for" depends on the attitude and intentions of
the audience, not of the performers. Regardless of audience behavior in
ages past, the current reality abides: people who attend classical music
concerts are (99% of the time) going to sit relatively quietly, clap at
points currently customary, and then leave. Based on this information
alone, it is impossible to know what they're thinking, except perhaps via
the relative enthusiasm with which they applaud (very little booing is
heard in concert halls these days). If they applaud mechanically, out of
force of habit, then it's possible (if not likely) that they weren't real-
ly listening to the music and didn't absorb anything from the experience.
Those are the ones who were played "at." Others in that same audience will
applaud in a suspiciously similar fashion, but *their* applause will be ac-
companied by thought and emotion, because they were listening closely and
thinking -- having some kind of connective experience with what just hap-
pened on the stage front of them. Those are the ones who were played "for."
Does the fact that this latter group didn't jump out of their seats, stand
on their chairs, and bark like an Arsenio Hall studio crowd mean that they
hadn't participated in the concert? I don't think so. Perhaps what bothers
those who pine for the days of old, when audiences were noisier and more im-
mediately demonstrative, is that the current convention for audience beha-
vior makes it more difficult to tell the difference between the partici-
pants vs. the non-participants. If so, whose problem is that?

The second paragraph above starts off by saying that the (classical music)
audience is a participant in the entire event, as they are at jazz concerts
or rock concerts. I agree completely. And just like the fact that audience
behavior at jazz vs. rock concerts is different, it is different again (nei-
ther superior nor otherwise) at classical ones. Decorum and responses are
as clearly defined and prescribed for the former two occasions as they are
for the latter. Just because the audience is noisier at a rock concert
doesn't mean they aren't adhering to very strict conventions of *how* to
be noisy. That classical concerts have a convention of being quiet and
less overt is simply a reflection of how audience behavior, and the role
of the classical concert in society, has evolved at *those* occasions.
This latter point is fodder for an entirely new thread, but I'll stay fo-
cused on the present time frame for this one.

The second paragraph above concludes that one of the many reasons classical
music is being seen more and more as irrelevant is because the audience is
treated as if they were outside the events instead of being a part of them.
I disagree, because I don't think the audience is being "treated" in any
way whatsoever, at least not in a way that's meaningful to this discussion.
No orchestra management popped up one evening and announced to the crowd
over the P.A. system, "Please turn off all beepers and cell phones during
the performance. Oh...and contrary to custom, the orchestra requests that
patrons also refrain from shouting for repeats of movements, or throwing
rotten cabbage at the back of the conductor's head when they are displeas-
ed." I don't see the decline of classical music's relevance in society
being reasonably attributed to something as superficial as the conventions
which guide audience behavior. I think the cause still rests primarily with
a waning education of the masses. American society in particular is being
less and less acculturated -- with the passage of time -- to understand, much
less appreciate, classical music and the arts. Acculturation, in one of its
secondary definitions, pertains to the process by which the culture of a par-
ticular society is instilled in a human being from infancy onward. And with
each passing generation, music and the arts find themselves competing with
ever diminishing success against cultural forces of influence which have de-
veloped appreciable momentum. This would seem to hold much greater sway in
a discussion of why the relevance of classical music has dropped off, and
I believe this drop also plays a role in the conventions which currently
guide audience behavior at classical music performances.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. If he's thirsty
though, he will not only drink, but he'll thank you for helping him find the
water. If a slow cultural renaissance were to occur, where means were found
to reacculurate classical music knowledge and appreciation back into society,
I suspect that audience behavior would slowly change and begin to reflect
this new tide of understanding and relevance. In other words, the behavior
and its conventions are an effect, not a cause.

-- Neil

If you can't educate "the masses", then educate "them asses".

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