One of the things that is striking about the early accounts of Classical Music is how provincial it was. Until the 20th century we didn’t really conceive of Classical Music as one unified field. In other words, there was a lot of diversity in the genres and repertoire performed. This coincided with what we could call a fragmented audience along ethnic lines for various genres and repertoire.
Over the years I’ve performed to an audience of none (some of my Performance Art and Experimental Music performances took place in very odd settings) up to audiences of tens of thousands (stadium concerts) and while I’m tempted to say each performing situation is different, really, it’s not.
I mean, in the end, you just get up on the stage and do your thing, whatever that may be, right?
A couple weeks ago I was talking to a student about performing at stadium shows, mentioning “playing for 50,000 people,” and I recalled that I had a post draft from March (12) of 2014 where I referenced that number. The quoted section above was what I had saved and interestingly, I’ve changed my mind about the “and while I’m tempted to say each performing situation is different, really, it’s not” comment.
There’s such a problem with Eurocentric terminology when discussing analogues to a Western institution found in other cultures. That’s no different than with orchestras. I’ve used the phrase “Ethnic Orchestras” in reference to large ensembles modeled after the European-styled Orchestra (e.g. Traditional Chinese Orchestras), but at the same time, some of these large ensembles are definitely found within European countries (e.g. Mandolin Orchestras).
When I’m referring to large ensembles that have had little connection to the European-styled Orchestra and that are native to countries (e.g. Gamelan) I usually call those “Non-Western Orchestras.”
A few weeks ago I read a clickbait piece on mic.com, “How The Music Industry Is Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs.” It linked to a study showing how the emotion centers of the brain light up in fMRIs when familiar tunes were played to the test subjects. This isn’t a particularly surprising result. The phenomenon has been well documented in psychological studies and is one of the most robust psychological phenomena around. The seminal research was done in a recall test using Chinese characters. It showed that test subjects could only recall characters they were shown previous at little better than chance levels, but when asked which characters the subjects liked, invariably the characters they were shown earlier were picked.
This is an aspect of human psychology that gives interesting ammo to both sides of the Classical Music Crisis debate. The idea that Pop music is somehow more relevant to contemporary culture loses some of its force when we realize that the constant bombardment of [Euro-American] pop tunes insures that a relatively big audience will “prefer” them to Classical Music, or Bollywood Music, or whatever genre happens to not be dominant in the US at the time. It’s simply a reflection of the “mere exposure effect.”
One of the running themes here at my blog is how we talk about Classical Music and how that inflects what we know about the field as a whole. This goes back to what’s known as a prototype theory of language first articulated by Psychologiest, Eleanor Rosch, back in 1973 as a way to understand how we formulate categories. Each individual will have their own prototypical understanding of, say, Classical Music and that will influence how the whole field is understood and how it can be manipulated as a mental category. This in turn influences what we can see as the range of possibilities for actual members of the categories in the real world.