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!


  1. my first visit to your blog. Wonderful video of an unusual technique. I like your sentiments about opportunity for classical music. Yes, the glass is half full.

  2. I listen to WOSU classical radio every day. Have you heard Billy Joel's classical album?

  3. I find 3% a bit low. I mean The Boston Pops draw quite a crowd! I'm all about the music, itself; performance after. You are right in that they are two completely different things. Van Cliburn is a favourite but on the other end, there was Victor Borge( adept at both ). I mean, a lot of kids "re-discovered" Swing, so maybe classical isn't far behind??? One can hope...

  4. a great question to ponder today...when someone truly figures it out...they are so fun to watch.

  5. 3%, eh? I'll bet it's ahead of Polka though...

  6. I remeber Lang Lang from one of your earlier posts. He was playing a piece with blocks of wood! Love him.

    Still laughing at VE's comment.

  7. That 3% sounds suspiciously low to me. Who's the source on that? Most of the people I know are tuned into WGBH, Boston's NPR station (I'm listening to it right now). And Subby's right, although the Pops isn't the only orchestra playing in Boston; along with the BSO there's also the Boston Philharmonic and the Handel & Hayden Society, as well as a lot of smaller chamber emsembles. And they all play to full houses all year long. So there's something wrong with that 3% statistic.

    @ VE about polka - Dude, in the upper midwest and around the Great Lakes polka rules the world! Out there there's no such thing as a wedding without polka, and most of the urban centers have at least two radio stations - BIG radio stations - that play nothing but. New England or the West Coast may not have much of an audience for it, but the Great American Heartland considers polka as its main musical fare.

  8. Willow-I like Billy Joel's classical ideas, and play his music, but haven't performed them in a recital.

    Roy and subtorp-I heard the 3% from Benjamin Zander, the founding conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. I don't know where he got the stat. I figured he'd know. He's dealing with those figures all the time?

    Lang Lang didn't do the skit with the blocks of wood; but both of them have great personalities!

    And polka? Let's just remind everyone I live in Minnesota! Hey!

    Great comments-looking forward to seeing your kiss themes.

  9. My first visit here too ( I think)- thank you for the introduction to Lang Lang- like the way you worked the theme :)

  10. I like it, myself, but to be honest I have never been to a classical concert. :(

  11. @VE, ach mein Herr! Erste ist Polka, ja?

    @Roy, d'oh! Of course...silly me to not mention that...

    Chris, just wondering where Zander got his info from...?

  12. Really only 3%? Wow, that's not much.


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