A NIGHT at the SYMPHONY
 
By Bob Fink
Reprinted: Aug. 29, 1984 Star-Phoenix, [XC Extra]
 
M usic is the love of my life. So when a friend had an extra ticket to an all-Beethoven concert I was happy to go. I hadn't been to the symphony in 20 years. I explained why was that unlike tonight, the program is usually like this:
First is Beethoven, or some other popular composer. Then Mozart (or some other popular composer) is put last. In the middle is the obligatory Stravinsky, or Bartok - or one of those other "moderne" composers whose music is "atonal" (without any key) and discordant.
So, to get to hear Mozart and Beethoven, you have to sit through the noise or else wait in the lobby (and risk being arrested for looking sinister. Makes you feel like going "Bach into Haydn" in order not to get into Treble. You might hear some musically-literate guard place a hand on your shoulder and say "You are under a Rest! -- For too much sax and violins").
But tonight it was to be ALL Beethoven.
When we got to the concert hall, I was amazed to see only half an orchestra sitting there! The ones I had seen years ago were twice and three times the number of players. The decline of the financial fortunes of the arts had become so intense that only the bare bones (or trombones?) -- only a minimum of players able to fit the score were there.
I knew the players would, therefore, have to really be good as every mistake would be noticed. In a larger orchestra, a violinist, for example, who might be a bit off, would have the deviation hidden by the mass of tone produced by all the other violinists. As the errors tend to be "canceled out" this way, many orchestras sound better than their players might individually. But tonight they had to be on the mark. (But in other concerts with atonal compositions -- should I say "decomposition" -- how would anyone ever know an "error" was made?)
And I was impressed by the playing. There were a few minor mistakes, but nothing major nor diminished.
So the talent was still there. It wasn't a full house, but there were a lot of people.
Why have symphonies all over been losing support, favor and money?
In the course of the evening, my suspicions about that were confirmed.
Many in the audience "liked" classical music, but few understood it. A number of new people began clapping in between the movements of the symphony. (But they only did it once, after feeling the icy glares of those "in-the-know" burrowing past the raised hairs on the backs of their necks, when they committed this faux pas.)
I smiled and clapped with them, so they wouldn't feel lonely. But it came home to me again: The whole atmosphere of this kind of event. Many are afraid, feeling there is a "wall" that separates them from others who, stern as Mount Rushmore's  visages, tap one finger unerringly aware of every note, every beat, each nuance.
What does it all mean, these masses of notes? Much is likeable on the surface especially Mozart, who always provides clear and lyrical melodies for the uninitiated.
My friend, hearing this train of thought (as, boor that I am. I was muttering and "dancing" in my seat throughout the wonderful music), said, "What do I know? I'm just a dumb lawyer. But I like classical music. Does it matter to know what is going on in detail?"
He read the program notes. But as these were a brief orgiastic reverie of flowery nonsense about the "tempest-tossed innards of Beethoven's soul," ad nauseam, they explained nothing.
I told him that to know what was "going on" would increase the enjoyment 100 times. But, the way concerts were given it was all archaic. No wonder there was only half an orchestra. Not only for years have they had to play all that modern, atonal, arrhythmic noise that has been foisted upon them by the modernists, through use of their powerful perches in universities (and losing attendance at concerts from that) but also, they are playing to untutored audiences who have no idea what a sonata is, much less sonata-form.
We are taught virtually nothing in substance about the arts in grade school (aside from dates, names and scandals: e.g., Van Gogh cut off his ear and sent it to his lover., etc).
What the "benefactors" save in taxes (and governments lose in revenue) by not funding education which really teaches the arts is no doubt a greater sum than now given to the arts and symphonies and theatres directly!
These problems are contributing to the decline of the arts. It's like watching the disappearance of Latin:  Inexorable -- unless public policy is changed.
New policies could include tickets at a less "caste-system" oriented price. If they can't fill the good seats anyway, why have those attending sitting mostly in poor seats, rubbing it in to students, etc?
Subsidies could be given allowing conducters, artists and performers to make paid visits to schools to explain their art and promote events.
Relax the formal "holy" atmosphere. Conductors could make short remarks about works to be performed. Excerpts could be played as examples of things to listen for. At the very least, program notes could have better explanations, written in our native language.
For example, the Beethoven 5th Symphony was on this night. Everyone (almost) knows the basic four-note theme (Da-Da-Da-Dummm -- see picture above for the notes). Sticking only with this four-note rhythm, Beethoven wrote the symphony based upon it, building a beautiful architecture from the barest mud. Could you know this and fail to enjoy the work all the more?
Why do we need the sanctified mystique surrounding the "Symphony" (a word said with awe and dread) that keeps so many away, and turns the arts, firstly, into dependency upon wealthier classes and secondly, into a cloistered relic hidden away from the vitality of daily public life as a result of that dependency?
It was all-Beethoven. Tonal music -- not atonal (as Henry Pleasants wrote: "Modern music is neither modern nor music"). The crowds came. They were willing to hear it, novice and seasoned alike. Surely there is a lesson there.

Link: A Night at the "Oopera"
Vz NOV2003
All art © Greenwich/Bob Fink. Dec.1999 -- TEL# (306) 244-0679 or (306) 931-2189
1829 Arlington Avenue, Saskatoon, Sask., Canada. S7H 2Y9
Enjoy some MIDIs
OTHER LINKS:
http://www./greenwych.ca/fl-compl.htm
1997 award-winning essay, Neanderthal Flute plays notes of do, re, mi scale, internationally reknowned & featured in such as: Scientific American, Science, Globe & Mail, London Times, more;
http://www.greenwych.ca/natbasis.htm
On the natural forces pushing diatonic (do re mi) scale into existence across time & various cultures;
http://www.greenwych.ca/evidence.htm
Essay "Evidence of Harmony In Ancient Music (and World's Oldest Known Song)";
http://www.greenwych.ca/og-ez.htm
http://www.greenwych.ca/readings.htm
(Publicly available books on the origin of music, 1985, 2003);
http://www.greenwych.ca/og-mz.htm
(Book on Origin of Music -- Libraries only edition);
http://www.greenwych.ca/serend4.htm
(Amazing computer program composes music -- nominated by Discover Magazine editors for their 1996 awards meet. Explains evolution of program)
 
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