The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained
Visiting a popular concert hall for the first time some years ago, I was lucky to have a fairly genial host whom I’ll call Luddy. He guided me patiently through the obtuse and unfriendly ticketing procedure at the “Will Call” window where I felt rather like I was visiting a sort of bland theatrical version of the Department of Motor Vehicles. When I commented that it hardly seemed the promoters wanted to make buying tickets desirable, my guide explained the situation away by means of a sort of denial mechanism, never seeming to lose interest in pointing out the gargantuan monument to culture the concert hall itself represented.
Although I loved the music I heard that evening, I was struck at the time by how matter-of-factly my guide dismissed my observation that concerts might not be easy to figure out for a first-timer. And he took it for granted that I would find the impressive edifice and music itself a satisfactory recompense for my troubles. And he might have been right, I suppose, had I at least been allowed to authentically enjoy the performance going on inside that hall as I might spontaneously appreciate any other cultural pursuit like a movie or a dance or a hip-hop concert — if I could clap when clapping felt needed, laugh when it was funny, shout when I couldn’t contain the joy building up inside myself. What would that have been like?
But this was classical music. And there are a great many “clap here, not there” cloak-and-dagger protocols to abide by. I found myself a bit preoccupied — as I believe are many classical concert goers — by the imposing restrictions of ritual behavior on offer: all the shushing and silence and stony faced non-expression of the audience around me, presumably enraptured, certainly deferential, possibly catatonic; a thousand dead looking eyes, flickering silently in the darkness, as if a star field were about to be swallowed by a black hole.
I don’t think classical music was intended to be listened to in this way. And I don’t think it honors the art form for us to maintain such a cadaverous body of rules.