Another weekend, another idiotic article in the NY Times. In a recent op-ed piece, Daniel J. Levitin argues that classical music audiences should be allowed to dance, sing, and generally participate in concerts - citing such spectacularly relevant examples as Ludacris and U2 concerts in his defense.
Dr. Levitin should stick to hip-hop.
Even coming from an academic, this is a ludicrously impractical suggestion. As anyone who's been to a concert knows, the worst thing about live classical music is the audience - between the lovebirds whispering sweet nothings in front of you, the fat lady snoring five seats away, the guy with the hacking cough in the back row and the 243 people who think that the longer you draw out the process of opening a crinkly lozenge wrapper the less annoying it is (not true, people!) it's hard enough to appreciate the beauty of the music when the audience is supposedly silent. Imagine if they had carte blanche to make all the noise they wanted! Never mind the ridiculous image of row upon row of 60 year olds trying to keep up with the percussion in Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps, can you even begin to conceive of the god awful ruckus this would create? How many people would actually be able to hear the music with all this humming and stomping going on (and by music, I don't mean just the overall rhythm or the general tune, I mean the sound of each instrument clear and distinct)? And what about the slow movements? If we're going to let audiences go wild in the more strident pieces, how do we ensure that they stay quiet in the softer ones?
Ironically, Dr. Levitin himself provides the best evidence against his suggestion. Speaking of the naturalness of wanting to dance and sing along when listening to music, Dr. Levitin cites the example of little children, "swaying and shouting and generally participating whenever they feel like it". Have you ever been to a concert where someone had brought little children? They are the most annoying thing ever. They whine, they chatter, they shout in their shrill, high-pitched voices. Typically, they lose interest the moment the music gets even slightly soft / subtle and then they sit about fidgeting in their seats and loudly asking their parents when they can go. I'm opposed to the death penalty, but if bringing little children to classical music concerts were made a criminal offense I might consider changing my mind. And this is the golden example that Dr. Levitin would have the rest of us embrace. Tchah!
Don't get me wrong. I totally empathize with the urge to get up and dance listening to say, the final movement of Beethoven's 7th. But that's why we have stereo systems: so we can indulge ourselves - leap, twirl, wave our hands around, play air-piano or air-conduct - all in the privacy of our own homes. Would it be great if you could do the same thing at a live concert? Sure, if you were the only person allowed to do it. If everyone did it, everyone would be worse off.
As for music as a community activity - sure - but that's what we have nightclubs for, so people can relive their atavistic tribal past . I don't go to concerts to be part of some community, or to commemorate some primal ritual I read about in Anthropology 101, I go to concerts for the music, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some stupid theory get between me and Mozart .
And if we really want to resurrect old customs in order to bring us closer to our roots why don't we start with something less objectionable. Like head-hunting, for example.
Meanwhile, over at Slate, Erik Tarloff has a listener's guide to telling the difference between Mozart and Haydn. Amusing stuff, if only for the way Tarloff bends over backwards to try not to be too partial to Mozart and doesn't really succeed. Also, see the end of the article for a whole new (to me) perspective on Haydn.
 There's no reason, of course, the nightclubs shouldn't play more classical music - in fact, I have the perfect piece for any dance floor - the Dies Irae from Karl Jenkin's Requiem. If Dr. Levitin seriously wants more people dancing to Bolero, that's what he should be arguing for.
 Fortunately, I think there's little risk of anyone taking Dr. Levitin seriously. Which is the only explanation I can imagine for him writing this in the first place - it's easy to be provocative when you know your views are inconsequential (it's the principle this blog runs on); that, or the man's been OD ing on Schoenberg.