We are the architects of culture. Our tensions are the stones and our tranquility, the arch. The concert hall is a composed world that we make for ourselves. In chamber music, like our city, everything imaginable can have sound. Each concert expresses these emotions through actions performed in order and rhythm. Through a musical gesture or a musician’s gaze, we recognize the pleasure of the musician in making music. We, then, recognize that his pleasure becomes our pleasure in listening. In that moment, the performance space transforms. The city is cast, structure and beam, from notes and our commitment to them. It is in the listening that we build the city of our dreams.
I had the opportunity to work with a brilliant creative director of a media company with a sparkly 212 area code recently. He asked a very simple question which ended up turning out to be not quite as simple as it first seemed, “why chamber music?” Why do we listen to chamber music? Not just trendy new music chamber music but all chamber music. What are the personal benefits one gets out of listening to chamber music?
Why Chamber Music? Because we are the architects of the culture in which we want to live and be remembered.
What a question: “what are the personal benefits one receives from listening to chamber music?” Naturally, I was excited to jump into this pool of ideas. I often think about why we perform chamber music. I also often think about audience development and engagement. But, this asked me to think about it from a different perspective.
The concert hall is a composed world in which everything is formed in sound even more fully than in sight. We choose to commune with the sounds of our world, and sounds we imagine to be beyond our world, in the confines of the performance space. Naming emotions, I bet that each of you could think of a corresponding chamber piece that elicits those feelings in a peculiar and unparalleled way. Listening to George Crumb’s “Black Angels”, for example, changed my perception (as a lowly undergrad) of chamber music, what it could be, and the sensations or insights it could engender.
That moment that chamber musicians begin to tune is this thrilling point in which we know the various elements of the concert are beginning to come together. This. This is the starting point. From here we will go so far. Together. As they play, let the musicians draw you in to the focus point of your choosing. This is the purest expression of their most human gifts. Doesn’t your heart swell to see the joy in their faces? The eye contact connection from person to person as they finish a musical phrase and plunge to the next without hesitation. In listening, we get to be part of that magic — witnesses to great skill in action.
Barraged by noise in a practically constant fashion, we are so used to tuning out noise. It’s a special moment and attention that we bring when we choose to actively listen to sounds. When we choose to let the listening be the most important thing in that moment of our lives, we are building the world in which we want to live. We want to fill our imagined cities with the most interesting and enthralling sounds. We choose the concert hall because this is what it promises us. We choose chamber music because this is where that imagined city comes to life in our minds.
Being an architect of culture may sound a bit lofty or pretentious. However, we choose it everyday. We choose to support the markets and coffee shops that adhere to our worldview. We tell our friends about the soft and hard goods that make our lives more comfortable. For better and worse, we are lucky enough to choose our own realities. Why chamber music? Because that is the complex and exquisite sound of the world in which I live.
Let’s Tweet It Up!
Please allow me to be your Twitter new music sidekick! You can find me there at @mezzoihnen. Also, feel free to click any of those little birds in the post above for ready-made tweetable bits on “Why Chamber Music”. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What made you fall head over heels for chamber music? Share with me on Twitter or in the comments below.