Thursday, August 6, 2009
Theme Thursday - KISS
Two shoe salesmen were sent to sub-Sahara Africa in the early 1900s. One sent back a telegram that said, "Miserable-stop-no one wears shoes-stop." The other sent back a telegram that said, "Wonderful-stop-no one has shoes yet!-stop."
3% is the internet stat I found for the number of people who say they are subscribers to seasons at the orchestra, have their radios dialed in to classical music, and prefer that style to other music. 3%. You can look at this statistic in two ways like the salesmen above. Classical music is dying on the vine; its audiences are shrinking and its miserable; it's been given the KISS of death. Or there are so many to reach! I believe this music transcends time; I know that my children's children will hum many of these glorious melodies.
With the advent of shows like American Idol or bands like KISS, who were showmen first, musicians far second, I've had to do a lot of talking about performing versus entertaining. I believe they are different, and that as pianists we musically need to have both skills. In the land of classical concerts, people sit quietly, reverently, and showmanship is pushed aside to a point for the integrity of the music.
The truly wonderful musicians may not necessarily be strong performers. In the classical realm, one is expected to be musically strong, but if you perform too much, you are often a "ham" or distracting listeners from the music. I've seen conductors try to be warm and engaging, teaching somewhat from the "pulpit" of their stand in the front. This has been met with both enthusiasm and mistrust.
The larger audience is looking for a visual as well as aural experience. Look at strong pianist performances of the last few decades; they are/were wonderful entertainers. Average music lovers know Liberace, Billy Joel, or Elton John's name sooner than they could name three classical ones, (even Cliburn, Kissin, Lang Lang), maybe. Today's listeners want to be entertained, in general, as well as moved musically.
So, we stand at a potentially wonderful crossroads. Which salesman will we be?
Here's our friend Lang Lang, in a practice room at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. He apparently learned this technique from Daniel Barenboim, a famous conductor and pianist. This "orange technique" helps relax the wrist and the hands too! Have you seen Lang Lang? Somehow, he's cool!