Home > Name that audience. > Experience-Overrated? Who Is Our Audience?-Part V

Experience-Overrated? Who Is Our Audience?-Part V

I’ve been writing about who is a composer’s listeners and how to talk to that audience in a meaningful way.  A main point in being able to communicate with people, whoever your audience is, is understanding what a person is made up of.  So far, I’ve written about the physical, intellectual, and emotional characteristics of people.  Well, that’s just a start.

Everything is continually changing.  People too.  Why do we change?  What brings it about?  As we go through life, we experience different situations every second.  Everything we ever do or whatever happens to us creates and alters who we are.   What I’m saying is that experiences are a major dynamic in what makes a human being.

Of course, the topics I’ve written about are important.  We are physical beings.  Music that addresses the complete being must have some physical element to it.  Not necessarily a rhythmic aspect, nevertheless something that gets to you physically.  To be a work of art worthy of the name, music must have some kind of intellectual ingredient.  It needs to stimulate our minds.  For music, or art, to address the human condition, it must connect emotionally.  Looking at these three parameters, it’s easy to see that each one is less concrete or objective than the last.  On the most basic level, it’s obvious when a piece of music is physically moving.  This is cross-cultural.  A rhythm is recognized as a rhythm whether the music is from Africa, Polynesia, Europe, or any other culture.  The physical aspect of music is nearly the most ubiquitous.  I’m not saying that it is completely universal.  There are always exceptions.  However, the physical side of music is usually the most recognizable, and therefore the most objective.

The intellectual component in a work of art moves away from any clear objectivity that the physical factor may have.  Everyone’s ability to understand is different.  Everyone’s interest in listening to music intellectually is going to vary.  No everyone cares if music has a mind-stimulating quality.  For many people today, the physical is enough.  What stimulates someone’s intellect will vary from culture to culture.

Whatever the culture values is what will be intellectually of interest.  Wagner’s, or led Zeppelin’s, hammer of the gods will not be as intellectually interesting to someone whose artistic expression has been limited to a Japanese tea ceremony.  The converse is also true.  A Japanese tea ceremony would probably not be appreciated by someone whose SOLE exposure to music has been Bayreuth or 70’s Rock, but you never know.

I recently read about an interview with Steve Reich where the interviewer told him he lost his virginity to “Music for 18 Musicians”.  Reich didn’t say anything and just stared straight ahead.  I don’t remember who did the interview or if “Music for 18 Musicians” is the correct piece, it’s what I remember though.  Obviously, that person’s experience of Reich’s music is different from most people’s.

Remember, I’m not talking about what makes a piece of music, but rather what makes a piece of art that has some lasting value.  This isn’t about pulp fiction, but rather it is about Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”.

The facet of music that addresses a person emotionally is even more subjective than the intellectual characteristic.  Emotions change not only culture-to-culture or genre-to-genre, not only person-to-person, but they change moment to moment.  What moves someone emotionally today, can possible have no affect tomorrow.

Even farther removed from any objective criteria are a person’s experiences.  We are all unique in this aspect.  I’m a different person if a butterfly landed on my head in Beijing when I was fifteen than if that event happened in Central Park.  This is where writing music can get extremely difficult.  How do you talk to people with very different experiences than yourself?

I’ve always wondered how someone in 1824 in Vienna experienced Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  How different was their experience from the audience at the second performance, let alone how an audience hears it today?  Experience is nebulous.  It is completely different individual to individual.  How does experience factor into a composer’s communication, or rather how can a composer overcome this seeming divide between themselves and their audience?  Why does Beethoven’s 9th Symphony still move people today?  Beethoven’s 9th does have a great deal of physical, intellectual, and emotional qualities going for it, but it does touch the experiences of its audience too. Experiences are not limited to individuals.  Experiences are also cultural.  We have a collective memory, the analytical psychological term coined by Carl Jung as the collective unconscious.  Not even using this term in the Jungian sense as an absolute that is collectively inherited, but rather simply looking at it culturally, we do value, long term, certain things within a society.  We value peace over war.  Western society has valued, until recently, intellectual curiosity.  We can appreciate a complex, yet elegant, work of art or science.  This is why some music retains value.  This is as good an explanation for why Beethoven’s 9th Symphony can move someone to tears 186 years after it was written as much as it is reported to have moved the audience at its premier.  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is physically moving.  It never lets up in its rhythmic vitality.  Every movement is like the little engine that could.  The entire piece is charged with an energy that is nearly unparalleled in the history of Western music.  Intellectually, the listener is treated not only to all the technical musical innovations that Beethoven used throughout the second and third phases of his career (most of which only musicians would appreciate), but there are also many facets of that piece that are apparent oxymorons, but on closer inspection aren’t oxymorons at all.  Why is a piece about joy and universal brotherhood in a minor key?  Why does the piece, at the point where the words are “Joyously, as His suns fly Through the Heaven’s magnificent plan, Run, brothers, your path, Joyfully, like a hero to victory.” begin a Turkish march, which traditionally in Austrian society represented war?  Why is the whole piece so, for its time, damn dissonant and violent?  These, and much more, are intellectual fodder.  They stimulate thought on the listener’s part.

Beethoven doesn’t let you off easy.  He knows life is hard.  He knows the path to joy and enlightenment is complex, dangerous, risky, and possibly never ending.  Beethoven puts all of this in the music.  A lesser composer writing a piece about joy would put it in a major key and leave it at that.  Beethoven not only used a minor key; he used d minor.  Before equal-temperament, keys had qualities beyond major equaling happy and minor equaling sad.  D minor was considered a melancholy key.  This was Beethoven saying; perhaps we’ll never get there.  He wasn’t simply sad about it, but rather he was despondent.  D minor also gave him the opportunity to use D Major at different points in the piece.  D Major was the key of triumph and rejoicing.  This was the key that choral music praising Heaven was traditionally in.  Specifically, it is the key of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus.

Beethoven knows that the search for peace, joy, enlightenment, union with God, whatever you want to call it, is not easy.  He knows it’s a war.  He knows, like the original meaning of the word “jihad”, it’s a war within yourself.  Here are his reasons for minor keys, Turkish marches, dissonance, and violence.

It seems evident that creating art is not a haphazard process.  A great deal of thought is put into it.  While the original impetus may be inspiration, the real creation of any work of art worthy of the name is thought and hard work.

An artist needs to connect with whatever definition of audience they wish to use.  They need to see the audience as a whole, intellectually interested, emotionally mature, culturally knowledgeable body.  This way, you wind up with something worth listening to.

Next week:

Putting it all together.

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Categories: Name that audience.
  1. June 11, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    I’ve always wondered how someone in 1824 in Vienna experienced Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  How different was their experience from the audience at the second performance, let alone how an audience hears it today?  Experience is nebulous.  It is completely different individual to individual.  How does experience factor into a composer’s communication, or rather how can a composer overcome this seeming divide between themselves and their audience?  Why does Beethoven’s 9th Symphony still move people today?  Beethoven’s 9th does have a great deal of physical, intellectual, and emotional qualities going for it, but it does touch the experiences of its audience too. Experiences are not limited to individuals.  Experiences are also cultural.  We have a collective memory, the analytical psychological term coined by Carl Jung as the collective unconscious.  Not even using this term in the Jungian sense as an absolute that is collectively inherited, but rather simply looking at it culturally, we do value, long term, certain things within a society.  We value peace over war.  Western society has valued, until recently, intellectual curiosity.  We can appreciate a complex, yet elegant, work of art or science.  This is why some music retains value.  This is as good an explanation for why Beethoven’s 9th Symphony can move someone to tears 186 years after it was written as much as it is reported to have moved the audience at its premier.  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is physically moving.  It never lets up in its rhythmic vitality.  Every movement is like the little engine that could.  The entire piece is charged with an energy that is nearly unparalleled in the history of Western music.  Intellectually, the listener is treated not only to all the technical musical innovations that Beethoven used throughout the second and third phases of his career (most of which only musicians would appreciate), but there are also many facets of that piece that are apparent oxymorons, but on closer inspection aren’t oxymorons at all.  Why is a piece about joy and universal brotherhood in a minor key?  Why does the piece, at the point where the words are “Joyously, as His suns fly Through the Heaven’s magnificent plan, Run, brothers, your path, Joyfully, like a hero to victory.” begin a Turkish march, which traditionally in Austrian society represented war?  Why is the whole piece so, for its time, damn dissonant and violent?  These, and much more, are intellectual fodder.  They stimulate thought on the listener’s part.
    +1

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