The headline for Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’s piece in the Critic’s Notebook of the New York Times (July 9, 2017) claims: At G-20, Beethoven Sends a Mixed Message to Trump.
But I believe Beethoven’s 9th, when openly encountered, in fact sends a clear, powerful message to today’s leaders.
As those who work in the arts question their role in the new millennium, there are many discussions about how arts organizations should be reaching people. The author of this paper believes the conversation about how organizations can reach people better can only occur after some core questions have been thoroughly examined and spoken about. Critical to our identity, and thus to our plans and growth are the following basic questions:
We as artists, administrators, and grantors must first invigorate our sense of what the arts are and what the arts mean or can potentially mean to individuals in our society. Only then can we ask ourselves how we can serve our populations, reach broader populations, function as a relevant positive force in society, and effectively promote the arts in our civilization.
The MacArthur grants were announced this morning. There is not one musician (performer or composer) among the 24 recipients. Surely, then, music must have lost its relevancy, right? The arts, and especially music, have been on a decade-long quest for relevancy. This national mandate is older than the iPhone. And what are our results, beyond splashy self-congratulatory pieces? Have we broadened our audiences significantly? Maybe we haven’t tried hard enough. Or maybe there is a fundamental flaw in our panacea.
In the West, the arts have thrived on diverse response rather than socialist-realist national agendas. How irrelevant is music? After all, when a national or local tragedy or happiness occurs, we turn to music, and often symphonic music, to bring more humanity to our lives. Four months ago, a board member of the Bay Atlantic Symphony, of which I am Music Director, told me she sat next to a student in the performing arts center of Stockton University during our performance. The student was crying. Our board member, without stating her relationship to the orchestra, asked if the student was OK. She replied, “the music is just so beautiful.” We were playing Debussy.
Increasingly, studies are showing the overwhelmingly positive effect of great music upon the human intellect and spirit. Higher test scores, better discipline, a greater sense of cooperation with peers all seem to result from contact with great art. It is important to realize that these benefits were garnered, not after presenting children with a snappy, high-tech education “product” with defined “objectives,” but simply after untutored exposure to Mozart. In this light we can confidently rethink certain assumptions about the goals and construction of children’s concerts, placing the emphasis back on the music. Perhaps after all, opening up the confining mental and spiritual boundaries of our lives is the crucial concert experience for young audiences, just as it is for adults.
To the Editor:
Daniel Levitin’s contention about the need always to link music with actual physical movement (Op-Ed Oct. 26, 2007, Dancing in the Seats) is an extraordinarily limited and dangerous position. In Shakespeare’s day, the Globe was populated by a crowd who interacted if not always pleasantly. Yet, in the movie theater (likely the most populated of venues in America today and the world at large, with all its different cultures) there is no room for dance and no expected movement, or interaction. The movie audience sits, just as Dr. Levitin’s disparaged concert audience, “in rapt attention with their hands folded quietly in their laps,” or perhaps with their hands in the popcorn.