What’s the point of going?

Donald Pittenger asks why it’s worth the bother to go to a classical music concert. After all, you can just pop a CD into the ol’ stereo and listen. Why mess with the cramped seats, the small talk in the lobby?

This reminds me of what my son Jim says when we’re getting ready for a hike: “Has anyone been where were going?”

“Sure — lots of people.”

“Did they take pictures?”

“Of course.”

“Then why not stay home in comfort and look at the pictures, instead of hiking four miles up a steep, dusty trail?”

Why, indeed.

Why not just watch the opera on DVD? Watch reality TV actors bungie jumping instead of trying it yourself? Watch people have sex on the internet instead of going out and meeting someone?

Perhaps classical music concerts are the borderline case, where the live experience offers little additional sensory pleasure and much additional discomfort. As Pittenger points out, there’s not a lot of action in your typical classical concert. The most dramatic concert event I ever attended was a Davidson College Symphony performance of Haydn’s Symphony number 45, where the members of the orchestra walked out one by one during the performance until just two violins remained. Talk about excitement! People walking! With Musical Instruments!

So why do I go? Maybe I just don’t have a good enough stereo, but for me, the auditory experience of listening to a live orchestra — even a not-very-good orchestra — simply exceeds what I can duplicate at home. There’s no dimension to the sound on a home stereo; I can’t see the bassoon play over there and hear the sound coming from that spot. My stereo can’t match the power of massive orchestral crescendo, either. Yes, the experience in the theater can be marred by people coughing or (as happened a few weeks ago at a Charlotte Symphony performance) standing up in the front row and leaving during the middle of a piano concerto, then returning during the next movement. But still, for those rare moments when the entire audience is enraptured by a magificent performance, I do think that live classical music performances can be worth it.

In fact, I’ll be attending one tonight, as the Davidson College Symphony performs an all-Russian concert including Borodin’s “Steppes of Central Asia.” I’m looking forward to it.

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One Response to What’s the point of going?

  1. Scott says:

    Oy . . . Anyone who has to ask that question had either never been to a classical music concert or never listened to one correctly. There’s the first simple fact that you just can’t get near the quality of sound on a CD. For isntance, I know Shostakovich’s 5th inside and out, but when I heard it performed at the SF Symphony, I heard things that I’ve never heard on my CD before.

    Another thing is that you just can’t get the kind of rock-your-seat climaxes or hear-a-pin-drop solos out of a CD that you get in a symphony hall. In fact, a surprisingly large number of quality CD recordings don’t have acousitcs that come anywhere near when you’ll get from an acoustically astute recording, let alone an actual symphony hall.

    Then there’s the fact of simply attending to see how this particlar orchestra/conductor will approach a piece, for the thrill of heading out and being among thousands of others who appreciate music. Not to mention, most performances encompass more than one piece, so even if you’re attending to hear something specific, chances are you’ll be exposed to some new music along the way.

    Perhaps most of all, however, is the fact that when you’re at home listening to a CD, there’s about a million other htings to tempt away your attention, but when you’re at the symphony, there’s only one thing to occupy your mind: the music. The fact of actually being at a performance is a great inducement to leave your worries behind and concentrate on the music, which I’ll admit, can be difficult to do sometimes, especially when you’re at home.

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