There have been a number of recent pieces about Classical Music and Clubbing over the past few months and a couple of hefty dissertations about the “new” phenomenon and the “Indie Classical Scene.” I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time (well, years, actually) as I’ve been playing clubs for a couple of decades now (for the most part with the cello as my main axe) and have seen the explosion of clubs during the late 90s and their subsequent decline over the past 10 years or so.1
The other day, I was thinking about the Aesop’s Fable, “The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass“, while I was reflecting on the direction my musical career has taken. This was after a nine-day stint of 23 performances across a variety of musical genres.*
You are surely familiar with the story–a miller and his son take their ass to the market to sell it and along the way they meet several individuals or groups of people who comment or criticize them on their trip. The miller and his son adjust their journey according the comments or criticisms: when told they should be riding the ass, the miller puts his son on the ass; when criticized for not respecting the aged, the miller replaces himself on the ass; when criticized for being lazy, the miller then lets his son ride behind him; and when told they could more easily carry the ass rather than have it carry them, they proceed to tie the legs of the beast and haul it around with a pole. As they cross a bridge near the town, the townsfolk laugh at the sight before them and the commotion frightens the ass which breaks free of the restraints and tumbles into the river.
The obvious moral of the story is that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
In my previous post about tools for the 21st Century Musician, I discussed improvisation as probably the most useful tool musicians can be using. In a way, technology is even more indispensable. Unless our voice is our primary or only instrument (and even then there are exceptions), then nearly everything we make music on is the result of some level of technology. Whether we’re talking about the technology of carved bone flutes and dried skins over a wooden frame, or the highly advanced craft that luthiers use to carve/mold stringed instruments, or the ability to build circuitry or program for electronic instruments or computers, there is always some level of technology involved in the making of musical instruments.
Imagine having a conversation with someone but instead of speaking you had to read from a piece of paper with writing on it. Now imagine that none of that written text is your own but words written by other people. Not only would your end of the conversation lack some measure of spontaneity, but you would also have to carry around an impressive library of text which you would have to have organized for quick retrieval lest you stymy the flow of the conversation. This is kinda what it’s like being a musician that can’t improvise. Improvisation in music is the analogue to our normal everyday ability to improvise with our voices with the spoken word. It’s also something that disappeared from Classical Music training for a while though it’s making a comeback.
So, why aren’t you in a band anyway? One of the things I think all Classical Music students (especially performers) should be required to do is play in a band. No, this doesn’t mean they should take up a guitar, bass, drums, or sing. What this does mean is that it should become an integral part of the performing experience–even if for just a semester. Learning the ropes on how to put together a set, getting booked, and dealing with a non concert hall type of venue would do more for teaching kids about the business of music than a class would, I’d think. Along the way, students would also be able to dispel a lot of myths about the Pop Music scene that we romanticize as a result of media representation or unrealistic portrayals of the industry through engagement with big name Pop Superstars.