Thursday, November 1, 2007

Communal Music

With the advent of so many different forms of technology, people have radically changed their means of music consumption. Records, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, radio, TV, iPods, and the internet (to name but a few) offer seemingly unlimited ways by which a consumer can plug into her/his chosen music.

I fear we are losing - or have already lost? - an important means of experiencing music (new or old, classical or popular): together as a family, ensemble, or social group. The communal aspect of music is central to the (assumed) origins and main purposes of music at its core - to bring people together to share in a common experience and a common emotional journey. After all, what good is telling a story if the storyteller is never actually present, and the audience consists of a single, inattentive person who gets to choose where, when, and what will story be told?

In the past century, the music listening experience has grown into one of an extremely individualized and isolated nature. Rarely do we listen to music, let alone actively participate in making music, with other people. Popular radio delivers an easily-digestible stream of music, which we can listen to - or not - with little effort.

Not everyone is an excellent performer, I realize. I know I for one lack great technical skill in any instrument. But I have worked to become proficient at singing and playing the piano. These are the elements I can bring to the story. Even if someone has no discernible musical talents, simply listening as part of a group, whether to live or recorded music, is a way to share in the telling of that story.

What I advocate is an intentional effort by every one of my readers to find some time at least once per week to experience music with another person. Make a listening date with your significant other to explore some unfamiliar music at Pandora ( Check out a DVD of an opera or musical you've never heard but have heard about, and invite some friends over to watch. Or, if you're musically inclined, start an ensemble that meets for 30-60 minutes each week to play some music together. The focus can be an established body of classical repertoire such as string trios, popular music to learn by ear (piano, guitar, bass, drums), or an improvisatory composition-generating jam session with whatever instruments you can get your hands on - anything to get yourself playing with other people regularly.

I've started a music listening club that meets once a week to listen to and analyze music we're interested in. Since we're all composers, the selections tend toward pieces from the Twentieth Century with which most of us are not familiar - but should be. I am hoping to find some people to commit to a "jam session" in the future, but I haven't yet found the time.

And of course, that is always what it comes down to - schedules and priorities. Is the joy of experiencing and/or creating music something that truly interests you, or are you content with passively listening to the same radio station and three CDs, by yourself, once every week or two? Of course, I pose this question to myself as much as anyone else.

But your replies would be more interesting than mine. So say something!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for telling me about your new blog. I like the thoughts on communal music. That's part of what got me so excited about shape-note singing a couple years ago (although I've pooped out since then). Anyway, I'd love to be part of a jam session, so let me know if it happens before I leave DC. G'night, Phil.