Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the score, the authority of

By the way, some weeks ago I saw the damnedest thing. One of the best things I'd witnessed in a while, and one of the worst… on the same bill. The second act was so baaaaaaad that MLM and I just packed up and left after barely three minutes. I mean, it was lame, lame, lame… lame.
Well, okay, we've all been spectators to lousy performances, so why am I writing about this one? It brought out something interesting in the audience’s reactions, illustrating something about our desires and expectations of music and performance in a way significant to those of us who practice improvisation and not-one-hundred-per-cent-idiomatic performance practice, and, in particular, those of us who sometimes perform for skeptical, unversed, and/or hostile audiences.
During the first act (the one that MLM and I thought rocked), the audience in general was unruly, loud, boisterous. Actually, I didn’t mind too much (I’ve played clubs with worse), but for MLM (who is more familiar with concert audiences) it was a major distraction. But, like I said, I really did not mind the audience’s general unruliness. However, here’s the deal, come the second act…


Well, actually the silence followed several “shhhh” noises (from, as far as we could tell, some of the the same loudmouthed individuals from the first half), which in turn followed on from comments such as “this bodes well: They have a bass player.”
So what triggered this self-imposed, self-policed reverent silence? What cued these individuals—who were more than happy to mumble, talk, laugh and shuffle ’round during the previous act?

I think they were responding to the music stands.

Both acts, IMHO, displayed a certain lack of presentation skills and theatrical know-how. The second act was certainly not more ‘professional’ or ‘serious’ (for starters the guitar player spent the whole of the setup time noodling away with the amp turned up)…

…but, hey, they at least were (apparently) ready to read from parts.

I’m not about to do a ranting piece of ‘the state of culture in our society.’ I don’t believe that this audience was stupid. I might be persuaded that they’re not fully conscious of what they were doing and why, probably unaware of the implication of their actions and behavior, but I don’t believe they were acting out of ignorance per se. Our little cultural economies put enormous value on texts, scores, parts and notation, and put enormous value on traditions and practices that employ these texts, scores, parts and notation (however much that may be a pantomime act). The audience that night were responding to this. They knew the second act had greater worth.
They weren’t dumb, they just weren’t thinking.

No comments: