My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A lesson in listener profiling

One thing I find difficult about performing is choosing repertoire.  Fortunately I do a lot of accompanying so all I have to do is play what is handed to me.  But when it comes time to play at church or at another event, or when I put together my own program, the responsibility to pick appropriate, or inappropriate music becomes all mine.  

This past Saturday I performed several pieces at my grandfather's memorial service.  Thankfully much of my job was done for me since my father requested one Bach prelude and fugue and an uncle asked for a Spanish dance by Granados.  Because I have been concentrating on my Well-Tempered Clavier project, I decided that the closing piece should be another prelude and fugue.  I suppose you could say that my choice was a bit of a cop-out because the truth is, I simply didn't feel like I had the time or energy to think about the decision for very long.  Well, as with most shortcuts I take, I began regretting my decision once the program was printed up.  What was I thinking?  Two complete preludes and fugues, one of which was quite somber and heart-wrenching?  I don't think I would have been too bothered had it been just the preludes but for some reason it struck me as particularly inappropriate to play fugues at a memorial service.  But why is that?  Was I worried that the audience would get bored and start falling asleep in their chairs?  Did I think the music would go over their heads?  Was I feeling particularly vulnerable because in the service I wouldn't have a chance to prepare the audience beforehand with a little crash-course in fugal writing?  I'm very good at over-analyzing every decision I make and as you can see, I became me own worst enemy in this situation.  I'd like to be able to say that I was able to let go of these worries when it counted, but the truth is, I was still having ridiculous conversations in my head, especially when I went up on stage to play the closing pieces.  

So were the selections I played appropriate?  Was the audience able to enjoy them?  After the service ended, I was quickly brought back to reality thanks to one of the residents at my grandfather's retirement community.  Coming up to me to shake my hand as I was walking off the stage, she told me that she appreciated the music I had played.  She added that it was music that  she could understand and that it felt so good to hear to hear it.  Hmmm...well, I guess I had an answer for at least one person in the audience.  And that answer was such an informative one.  It made me realize that I had, in a sense, been profiling the listeners before I had even walked up onto the stage.  Perhaps I was following the mistaken assumption that complex music, such as Bach's fugues, are too mathematical, too formulaic to be enjoyed by just anyone.  How ridiculous is that?  Especially for me!  How I could I have lost sight of the truth that this music can transcend our assumptions about what constitutes art?  We can look at a snowflake under a microscope to appreciate its intricate, delicate structure that belongs to that one snowflake alone, but we can also step back and see the magic that appears when that one snowflake floats to the earth, surrounded by others. 

When it comes time to perform a Bach fugue again, I hope that I can remember to take that step back from the microscope.  No one can deny the intricacy of these pieces, but no one can deny their mesmerizing power either.

If you are interested in reading another blog post that I wrote about playing for my grandfather's memorial service, please click on the following link:

And below are some videos I made of the Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, book I.  

The Prelude:

And the Fugue:

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