Moving and Music Making
21 Monday Sep 2009
Lyle Sanford’s comment on the Imani Winds post has stirred enough thought that I will respond in a new post rather than in a comment to his comment.
On the group’s freedom of movement while music making as suggested by the photo: It’s possible that this is just a publicity photo and that they play some or most or all of their program with music stands – I don’t know, I haven’t seen them perform, but from listening to the audio clips there is no doubt of the freshness and vibrancy of their approach. Lyle, your last sentence is one that I may put in needlepoint. As classical musicians, we are trained to suppress physicality; sit there and play. Perfection is the prime virtue, small movements are tolerated (but not as far as tapping a toe). The prescribed appeal is Apollonian, not Dionysian. Humor or a light-hearted approach is suspect, and movement beyond the minimum is too close to dance and thus suspect and low status as well. Classical music for the past 150 years or so (we could all improvise before that) is based exclusively on literacy – instruments do not make sound when not in the presence of ink, and ink is all, no deviation from the printed page. English comes with a built-in confusion: we say “I have the music” when we mean “I have the printed notes”. German is better in this respect: they say die Noten for the sheet music and die Musik for the sounds we hear. Classical music has become largely a visual experience for the performer (our focus is on the printed page rather than on the aural component, which is a disadvantage especially in the process of learning a piece) and a nonvisual one for the audience (the performer/ensemble sit there, seemingly motionless, wearing uniforms without any color [black concert dress]). Of course, there are many who would say, I come to the concert to hear the music, not be distracted by color or movement. But that doesn’t seem to apply to any other kind of music where performers dress up and move around the stage and make use of lighting (the use of lighting in setting a mood is a hugely unused possibility in classical performances – imagine dance or theater without it). We’ve got our ways and we’re stickin’ to ’em. (the current concept of classical concerts is, in fact, a relatively recent invention – programs and decorum used to be very different not so long ago – but that’s for another day, another post or twelve). I don’t think we’re going away from the page for big ensembles, but for chamber music, perhaps there are ways to find a new balance between Apollo and Dionysus (another post…).
But then everyone once in a while a group comes along who step gracefully outside the box and wow us with their new mix of moxie, imagination, gumption, grit, and gusto – and alleluia for that. The Imani Winds seem to be one of these. It takes a long line of such pioneers and a fair amount of time for the new concepts to trickle down and work their way into standard practices. In the meantime, we can enjoy the performance of this group and others like them and perhaps think in odd moments what we can learn from them and enrich our own musical lives with in the days to come.