Jimbob's Journal
Classical Music
by Jim Harris

Chuck Berry said it over half a century ago: "Roll over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news," and the news hasn't been very good for classical music ever since. I would define "classical" music as any music that can be experienced through both the brain and the heart, and possibly one or two other organs.

Inexplicably, the industry list of top selling "classical" albums today includes; sound tracks from animated cartoons, "new age" (audio Prozac,) "Ambient" (background,) "electronica" (where's my gin and tonica?) and "world" (as opposed to non-world) music. The only offerings even remotely connected to real classical music are patchwork compilations of disembodied sound bites ripped from the contents of larger works, such as the best three minutes of Beethoven's 5th, or the cannon (not the canon) part from the 1812 overture.

In all fairness, the American classical music community has brought this mess upon themselves, having let serious music become the exclusive domain of the hoity-toity. An audience full of these folks is about as animated as an oil painting. If anyone should dare to hum, whistle or sway more than two degrees in any direction, they are shot with a thousand withering stares.

By contrast, in Russia, classical music has long belonged to the working class, probably because all of the other classes were executed, but still, the end result was good, in that folks didn't have to dress up in order to hear the Nutcracker Suite.

Another nail in the classical coffin was the emergence of "atonal" composers, who spent all of their time trying to write music that was neither in tune nor pleasant to hear. Kind of like the Stealth bomber, a lot of complex work put into creating something of which no one would ever be aware.

Then along came the "Avant Garde," - French for "space cadets" - who created works intended to not only "stretch the boundaries of convention," but more importantly, to get grants.

These works often utilized groundbreaking techniques like having someone blow into the wrong end of an oboe, or climb inside a piano and howl like a wolf to produce "sub harmonic sympathetic vibrations." Also included would be "concept" pieces like John Cage's "Four and a Half Minutes of Silence." The voluminous program notes for these works invariably took longer to read than the pieces themselves. Safe to say that no one ever yelled "encore," other than in jest, at the end of any of these performances.

The present-day purveyors of classical music, while returning to more conventional forms, have been attempting to sex up their product in order to capture the interest of the general, jaded public. Female musicians are now frequently pictured, on posters or CD covers, lying seductively on the floor, fondling their tubas or glockenspiels or whatever, although albums by male artists still usually just have a painting of a nineteenth century fox hunt. No one has yet figured out how to make male classical musicians look sexy.

I have a few suggestions: Maybe a photo of the artist banging on his tympani with large turkey legs in a viking costume. Or two musicians in pointy boots, tights and puffy shirts sword fighting with cello bows. As for spicing up live performances, how about having the conductor swing from a vine like Tarzan, or, after leaving the stage at the end of the piece, return for the encore on a motorcycle and jump through a flaming hoop into an enormous gong.

These things, I guarantee, if implemented, will bring people back into the concert hall. Trust me. Tchaikovsky might even approve, but probably not Beethoven.

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