Friday, October 30, 2009


I'm going to make a confession here that will sound strange: I don't like listening to music all that much. Oh, there are times when I can get into it, and I do enjoy turning on the radio and listening to the flow of programming, but in general, a lot of music just bores me. When I do listen, I prefer hearing either the best or someone who's learning -- I find both instructive. Many nicely polished performances are missing that spark of something real and warm that is so compelling in some of the old recordings, for example.

Few concerts actually appeal to me enough for me to spend the time and money attending them. The only reason I've been to as many concerts as I have has been because of my husband, who is an avid jazz listener and who also has wanted to hear classical music since he met me. But many times I have to get into a mood in which I close my eyes to the cost of the tickets and just go with the flow.

Why is this? Well, in the case of orchestras, I know most of them are just going through the motions, playing the classical top 40 over and over and over again, year after year after year. It's really a terrible shame that this is so, but there is little vitality to these types of concerts, despite the tremendous amount of talent that is often on display. They all seem to put together bland programs designed to appeal to the least ambitious, most conservative ticket buyer. I know this kind of thing has been said by many others more qualified to complain than I, but there it is.

As for soloists, recitalists, and chamber groups, it is more or less the same deal for me. Instrumentalists -- violinists, violists, cellists, wind players -- play the same handful of concertos when they solo with orchestras, and more or less the same group of sonatas and other recital pieces when they play accompanied by piano. There are some people I remember finding interesting for various reasons, or maybe it was just the circumstances under which I heard them -- perhaps if they were people that I knew, or they were playing a piece I was interested in because I was playing it, too. I always liked the Guarneri Quartet, for example, but I can't exactly tell you why.

But I must emphasize that I am embarrassed to be admitting this (on the Internet, where thousands of people can read it, yes, of course) and wish it were all different for me. I envy people who can listen attentively and then come up with incisive commentary afterward. I have never been able to offer a sincere yet thoughtful critique of other people's playing, which is especially awkward after a concert by a friend, or during a rehearsal. Every once in a while, if I'm tuned in to the piece or the performer, I can say something useful, but more often I'm standing there stammering, "Uh, that was really good!"

One exception to my listener ennui: since I have gotten back into playing the piano, I have been fascinated with seeing and hearing pianists play. However, I still don't know what to say to them after I have heard them play.

Criticism is something they ought to teach at music school. It should be a required course, along with the one in which they teach you how to earn a living.

The fact is that I'd rather play than listen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree! I really don't listen to music anymore. I had to give up the harp professionaly and teach nursing. My musical outlet now is the piano and I have become fascinated with the instrument and the people who play it. I enjoy practicing again and discovered my ear is my best friend. Consequently I save it for my own hours. On occasion I will attend a concert if there is something extraordinary involved. I have moved to a rather limited music city when it comes to classical. Therefore my piano is my lifeline to the musical me. Just some thoughts.....Jim