It’s a pity when one sees a beautiful princess forced into sexual slavery. It’s one of those situations where it’s intrinsically more depressing than seeing some ‘regular’ person undergo the same horrible indignity.
That is how I felt when I found out that the Pacific Symphony here in Southern California was hosting what they call a “Mixology” where they try to increase the access and involvement of young people to live-instrument music. This is, of course, done in a busy venue. In the case of this latest engagement, they are taking over a restaurant and performing trivia where, if the audience member is successful, they get to determine what the ensemble plays next. They boast that their music selection ranges from Bach and Tchaikovsky to Adele and the Beatles.
I don’t think I could ever bring myself to go to such a thing; to see performers with noble instruments–people who should be keepers of the sacred fire of Apollo dance around for party drinks for the hoi polloi. Perhaps it’s indicative that they have the audience choose the next number for them: it’s certainly congruent with their promiscuous attitude towards the art. The entire situation is just positively inverted. The original goal of music was traditionally conceived as a kind of hierophany–a kind of prayer where one encounters the divine as it incarnates itself in the folds of melody and harmony. It was meant to start with the senses of the soul and work its way, through resonance, into the body.
Yet here, what do we have but the excitement of the lower regions of humanity churning up in the ebullient swell of drink and madness rising up to vomit commands to the performers who are priests of an ancient god. What indignity. I would not be so indignant if these were performers of the folk variety who would play the songs of their people, but instead, this was an intentional attempt by the Symphony company to lure young people into listening to classical pieces. Naturally, instead of demanding that the listeners are of a particular quality and caliber, they’ve chosen to “level” the great works of Bach to be equivalent to rock musicians. They won’t allow the princess to smile, she must also juggle and strip.
It’s obvious that to these conductors and directors that the true worth of these pieces do not lie in their spiritual efficacy or their sublime movements, but merely in the difficulty of their execution. How completely bourgeois to merely focus on the technical, material aspects of musical composition and performance. How often do they recite the mantra of “music is mathemagical!” It’s even more bourgeois to consider that this was a measure done because they are afraid of the dwindling amount of people who attend symphonic performances.
Once again, there is no understanding of the sacred vocation of the musician. Instead, like the Protestant preachers appealing to the slang of the youth, only attendance numbers and ticket sales matter. Once again, the invisible quality of the music is made a slave to commerce. Skill is not at the service of differentiating the sublime hierarchy of music, but at the service of sales. In the modern orchestras of this modern world, Mammon, not Apollo, is served.