Last Thursday, I went to Lincoln Center to hear the NY Philharmonic play Haydn and Brahms. Not my favorite composers by any stretch of the imagination but I like listening to classical music performed live so I go.
I had a cough that night and the moment I sat in my seat and coughed, before anything even started, the lady next to me whipped out a cough drop. This was actually really nice of her but as Brahms' Serenade #1 started, it got me to thinking about how we're not to make noise and how restrained this whole experience was. Here's this piece of music that's evoking emotion in me and in others and we're supposed to stay still in our seats and not make a sound?
All music asks you to respond and feel. Why do we think that classical music only asks for silence and reverence?
My dad loves classical music so growing up, I listened to a lot of it because of him, especially Mozart and Vivaldi. To get Saturday started, he'd often put on Vivaldi's Four Seasons and we'd end up dancing around, playing invisible musical instruments or conducting. My dad would ask me what I saw in my mind when I heard it, what I felt and to think about what the composer was trying to express. With Mozart, we'd talk about what a smart ass he was, and point out when we thought he was making fun or playing tricks and we'd laugh and dance. Yeah, there were plenty of times we'd sit quietly and listen but whichever way we listened, we let the music carry us to where we thought it wanted us to go.
When I lived in Boston with my then boyfriend and 4 other roommates, we all loved Beethoven's 9th with a passion. Every Sunday when we did our chores, Gary would put on the CD. We'd be cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen or the common area, all of us dancing, the excitement brewing, and then when "Ode to Joy" started, we'd grab our song sheets and run around singing in German. We'd all go nuts! To me, it is impossible and wrong to sit silently and listen to it. When I got the chance to listen to it performed live at MIT, I went twice, for rehearsals and for the real deal. During rehearsal, the atmosphere was joyful. The musicians were smiling and ass dancing in their seats. It was just so great. In comparison, the live performance was good but lacked that energy.
So anyway, there I was sitting in my seat listening to Brahms and there are points in the piece that I just wanted to yell "whooo!" because it was just really good but instead I had to sit there, stifle coughs and not express myself.
Classical music isn't boring but this adherence to some Victorian manner of listening totally is. I wonder what it would be like if we were allowed to just react to the music in whatever way we wanted to.
I'd probably get thrown out.