Monday, 1 May 2017

“Everybody dance now!”

So for a change of pace…

Last night I was at a birthday party for a kid in Rafa's class, one of his best friends. "I like him a killion!"

While the kids played, I sat with some other parents from Rafa's school. Three women were on their phones, looking at the summer concert schedule at Wolf Trap. Big performing arts center in the DC area, for anyone who doesn't know it.

These were educated, professional women, age around 40, I'd guess. And they were going wild over this show:





Made them so happy! They were singing songs that would be on the show. "Everybody dance now!"

And then Googling to find set lists for this and (I think) other similar shows, to see just what songs would be done.

Said Wolf Trap's blurb:

"Everybody Dance Now!" The '90s are back and "No Scrubs" allowed. Don't miss this throwback party featuring faves like "Waterfalls," "This Is How We Do It," and "Rhythm Is A Dancer!"

And for these women, this was just the literal truth. Said the show would be a party, and that's what they thought it would be.

My takeaway

Let's tuck away all the usual flurries about  the quality of this music, or whether singing the tunes is how we should react to profound classical pieces.

(Though I do think "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" by C&C Music Factory is about as irresistible as anything in music.)

Just for this moment, at least, we should let all that go. Because last night what got to me was how happy these women were, just beaming with delight.

And so I have to ask: Does advance word of anything in classical music get our smiling  and singing?

I haven't seen it. Here's how Wolf Trap hypes the two classical music events on their main stage summer schedule, a National Symphony program and a concert performance of Tosca:

Wolf Trap welcomes the National Symphony Orchestra's new music director, Gianandrea Noseda, in his first weekend at the helm of the Orchestra. Maestro Noseda leads the NSO, a massive community chorus, and Wolf Trap Opera alumni in Orff's epic Carmina Burana. Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho, winner of the 2015 Chopin Competition, opens the program with Beethoven's magnificent "Emperor" concerto.

Caught up in a world of political intrigue and corruption, Puccini's fiery diva is trapped between her allegiance to her rebel lover and a treacherous police chief who will stop at nothing to possess her. The explosive conflict between these three unforgettable characters comes to a hair-raising conclusion in one of opera's most popular, suspenseful, and unforgettable dramas.

Who's going to get excited at that? So many indigestible words about Tosca, meaningless epithets like "epic" and "magnificent" in the Symphony blurb. Not exactly red meat that gets you up on your feet singing "Recondita armonia" or "O fortuna."

Trying now to imagine classical concertgoers singing and miming the opening piano sweeps of the Emperor…(because all these pieces are singable, however deep the Emperor might go)…

It's just not happening. We've leached that out of our classical music world. Even if we had a light classical program, Strauss waltzes and Rossini overtures — we just don't read the concert announcement and start to sing.

And the Wolf Trap blurbs feel, as you read them…unfelt (to avoid any harsher word). As opposed to the 90s party blurb, which, again, struck the women at the party as simply the truth.

Related footnotes

Some years ago I was at a large gathering, involving musicians, board, and staff from more than a dozen orchestras. Held in Cleveland, jointly hosted by the Cleveland Orchestra and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Part of the program (optional) was free admission to the Rock Hall. (As it's locally called.)

Some longtime orchestra musicians went, saw some live performance videos, and came back wistful. "I wish our audience cared that much!"

Another time, I went to a Neil Young show with two people from classical music. One was a Neil Young fan, the other hadn't been to many rock shows. And after a couple of songs was saying, "Everyone from classical music should go to a show like this! To see what it's like when an audience cares."

Once the audiences for what we now call classical music really did care that much…clapping during concerts when they heard something they liked…shouting at singers on the opera stage.

Here's a recording of an Italian audience in 1957, rippling with audible excitement while Maris Callas sings a high C.

And I treasure the story of a party after the premiere of one of Shostakovich's string quartets, the third or fourth, can't remember. The quartet played the piece again, and the audience sang along with one of the themes.

I have to wonder: If people in the audience got word of another performance of the piece, would they have started humming that tune?

Original Content: "Everybody dance now!"

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