“I’m a pretty accessible guy.” So said Richard Dare when announced as New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s president and chief executive officer. And New Year’s Day, despite a houseful of visitors who had been present during the prior week, he proved it true. He agreed to an interview via E-mail with Examiner.com barely three weeks into his tenure. And his impassioned answers merit a column of their own. In fact, he’s written at least a couple columns that are on-target with the topic.
Richard Dare has taken over from André Gremillet, who left the posts in September to become managing director of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In his welcome speech, he had declared his fondest hope for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), namely: “In the next five to ten years, we want to make sure that every man, woman, and child in New Jersey gets to experience great music.”
One way he proposes to draw New Jerseyans to the concert hall is to make the concert experience itself less daunting, more relevant. This may require upending concert-going traditions deeply entrenched for the last century.
Take applause as an example. Newcomers to the concert hall often find themselves applauding when they “shouldn’t,” sometimes getting roundly shushed for it, which can be pretty embarrassing. The shusher rudely sends the message that it’s impolite—how ironic—to applaud until appropriate moments. The newbie assumes that a whole protocol about Classical-music concerts lurks out there somewhere that needs to reveal itself.
What both the experienced concert-goer and the newcomer don’t know is that withholding applause until specific moments is a relatively recent development. At some point in the not-too-distant past, someone decided that spontaneity doesn’t belong in the concert hall. It became proper to applaud at predetermined moments, not before.
Another potentially off-putting tradition involves enshrouding the concert venue itself with hushed veneration. That notion reinforces the idea that music should be experienced in total reverential silence beginning to end. And by “end” we don’t mean the conclusion of each major section (or, movement) of a composition—where pauses often occur, allowing everyone to release suppressed coughs and to shuffle in their seat—but rather, the end-end.
Someone also decided that formal wear was required, if not for the audience, certainly for performers of Classical music. But that’s grist for the mill of another column.
The Huffington Post’s online news magazine has carried two columns by Richard Dare that have sparked lively debate: “The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained” and its follow-up, “The Danger of Writing About Music.” In them, he posited, “Why not reclaim your music today?” and “Classical music belongs to the audience—to its listeners, not the critics, to the citizens, not the snobs.” The earlier column suggested, “Perhaps it’s time to tell our own darling leaders to bug off and in place of their formalities simply allow ourselves to react to classical music with our hearts just as we do when we meet other forms of art.”
The columns intended to initiate meaningful online dialogue that would produce workable solutions both for those who wish to experience a concert in total silence and others who are more inclined to applaud frequently or otherwise show enjoyment of the program more spontaneously. Instead, in the main, posted comments took the form of a diatribe questioning his ‘reverence’ for the ‘sanctity’ of music, even casting doubt on his lucidity. So Examiner.com asked how he proposed to accomplish such bugging-off and the replacement of formalities with the ‘permission’ “to react to classical music with our hearts just as we do when we meet other forms of art,” particularly at NJSO.
Richard Dare’s response?
Well the first step is to come to the concerts. Come hear the music played by the NJSO. Truly listen. Hear it live. Enjoy it. Be moved. Let the experience work with you, even change you. I can’t yet say how the NJSO’s audiences should go about connecting with the music, because I am only now just beginning to meet the audience, the NJSO’s fans, to learn who they are and what they aspire to do with their lives.
His answer included an anecdote that strikes at the crux of the matter. He attended “a wonderful NJSO concert at NJPAC.” Seated nearby was a young lad “who began quietly perhaps absent-mindedly singing along with the orchestra as its melodies rose and fell.” What would you do if you were Richard Dare, sitting there, taking in both performances? He explains the conflict within himself:
Did a part of me wish he would be silent so I could enjoy the musical experience alone, have the experience all to myself? Sure. That’s probably natural. But an equally strong force within me found the young boy’s gentle vocals quite charming. The music was moving him personally, connecting to his heart. And given his age, I would hardly want to stop that from happening!
This begs the question: What would you, dear reader, have done in that situation? Would you quell the boy’s enthusiasm by a stern rebuke to revere the performance in total silence—and thus risk traumatizing the tyke, turning him against Classical music altogether—or would you forego your preference to enjoy the program undisturbed? What solutions could accommodate both the dyed-in-the-wool concert-goer and the enthusiastic newcomer, who we hope will keep coming to further performances? You are invited to leave a polite comment below, but please keep to the point.
At his December 11 welcome as president and CEO, Richard Dare said: “It almost seems like society has reached a point where . . . [it’s] difficult to talk about important things without sounding ironic. I think a remedy to that is great art—especially great music.”
Tomorrow’s column will include Richard Dare’s further insights and ideas, as well as his comments on audience behavior at Classical music concerts until the first half of the 20th century.
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