Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pictures, Take II

Several folks out there have been blogging about why they blog. My sense is that for me it changes. In part, it's my own exercise, getting a chance to write more freely, a chance to start forcing myself to think through things and phrase themcoherently, something to do when you wake up as I have at 7:30 on a Sunday. But I think the main reason I blog is the same reason I read blogs, because it reminds me what I'm, passionate about. Especially in graduate school, it's easy to start to only focus on the short term goals (which I grant you are important), but all those interests and thoughts you end up sweeping aside (for now) merit some attention. And when I read about things, like Michael's post about music images it rekindles those, and it's so satisfying to feel like you have something to say. And even more satisfying is to rethink, since I had not spent much time thinking about how to visualize a piece of music in one take (the closest I think was marvelling at the score of Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles, all that white on the page perfectly captures that delicate, translucent sound somehow). And so I blog to engage with myself and with others. My thoughts may be poorly thought out, incomplete, or unwieldy, but it's nice to give them the attention I want, and to be reminded that musicology is something that can be shared, looked at in so many ways, just like that Degas.

Thinking about this stuff reminded me this morning of an New York Times article from Larry Kramer from about a year ago about museums. I'm a staunch fan of expanding the ideas of concerts, from clapping in between movements to innovative programming to encores. But something about Kramer's article bugged me at the time, and it still does, and I'm still not entirely sure what exactly. But something Michael said that distills the difference between music and image helped bring it more into focus: the viewer has much more freedom to decide in what directions to focus. There's no getting around that. In a concert, you can choose to focus on an instrument or a melody, harmony, percussive effect, the person next to you, your program notes, the architecture, the conductor, etc. But that seems peripheral, or at the very least doesn't get away from the fact above. And music only gives you the big picture after the whole thing is done, whereas an image allows it at any time. And I think what unsettled me about the Kramer article was precisely that, that as well as museums are doing, there's a limit to how much the concert can copy them. And I'm torn as to whether the concert hall should be taking its cues from the museum, or trying to figure out how the concert hall is unique and exploiting (for lack of a better term, though I don't want to sound like it's cheapening the process, quite the opposite) its own unique abilities for maximum effect. Several of the key points in the article are about individual freedom, the freedom to linger, to focus, and so on, all things that the image is far more suited to than music.

But I really like Kramer's overall goals, which seem to include a more inviting and flexible concert experience, as well as leading the listener in. Maybe it's not so much museums as museum tours we could think about, the act of leading a single group of people places, and giving them the tools and knowledge to come to the works and take something away as individuals through a collective experience. And I've long felt that there's a strong connection between museum exhibitions (another aspect of art that I feel gets too often neglected, that how art is placed among other pieces can drastically change the impression one takes away) and concert programming. At their best, both should offer up new and old in a way that fosters learning something about each. Familiar works should be given a fresh outlook in their new context, and the new introduced in a way that makes them more vital. A program or exhibition that simply relies on the starpower of the work itself, even if the work can handle the burden, leaves me without the desire to come back and revisit it the next time.


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