Thursday, April 24, 2014
in the domain of music the importance and influence of its dissemination by mechanical means, such as the record and the radio—tho redoubtable triumphs of modern science (which will probably undergo still further development)—make them worthy of the closest investigation. the facilities that they offer to composers and executants alike for reaching great numbers of listeners of acquainting themselves with works they have not heard, are obviously indisputable advantages. but one must not overlook that such advantages are attended by serious danger. in john sebastian bach's day it was necessary for him to walk ten miles to a neighboring town to hear buxxtehude play his works. today, anyone living no matter where, has only to turn a knob or put on a record to hear what he likes. indeed, it is in just this incredible facility, this lack of necessary for any effort, that the evil of this so-called progress lies. for in music, more than in any other branch of art, understanding is given only to those who make an active effort. passive receptivity is not enough. to listen to certain combinations of sound and automatically become accustomed to them does not necessarily imply that they have been heard and understood. for one can listen without hearing, just as one can look without seeing. the absence of active effort and the liking required for this facility make for laziness. the radio has gotten rid of the necessity which existed in bach's day for getting out of one's armchair. nor are listeners any longer impelled to play themselves, or to spend time on learning an instrument in order to acquire a knowledge of musical literature. the (wireless and the gramophone) do all that. and thus the active faculties of listeners, without which one cannot assimilate music, gradually become atrophied from lack of use. this creeping paralysis entails very serious consequences. over saturated with sounds, blase even before combinations of the utmost variety, listeners fall into a kind of torpor which deprives them of all power of discrimination and makes them indifferent to the qualities of the pieces presented. it is more than likely that such irrational overfeeding will make them lose all appetite and relish for music. there will, of course, always be exceptions, individuals who will know how to select from the mass those things that appeal to them. but for the majority of listeners there is every reason to fear that, far from developing a love and understanding of music, the modern methods of dissemination will have a diametrically opposite effect—that is to say, the the production of indifference, inability to understand, to appreciate, or to undergo any worthy reaction.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
vanya and sonia and masha and spike
i don't go to many plays. i could probably count on one hand how many first-run plays i have attended. i like to wait until all the votes are in and counted, until whichever play has been inducted staunchly into what we call, for lack of a better term, the great western canon of theater drama—alongside the various masterpieces of tennessee williams, eugene o'neil, arthur miller, harold pinter, simon gray... (yes, a selection of twentieth century playwrights, whose works have, over a period of fifty years, hammered out a distinct dramatic language and have ensconced themselves firmly into our collective dramTic psyche—more on this later...)
so recently i joined our illustrious theater going public whose lust for new plays is often mistaken for a desire to support the literary arts rather than for what it really is: just another excuse to get out of the house... not that there's anything wrong with this. the theater has this great tradition—most of what we consider great opera was debuted to deaf ears, squelched in the detritus of screaming, munching, drinking, gossiping and much much talking. the theater was in the pre-facebook, pre-instagram era (sorry) a social place, a place to mingle and hear the days news, the days scandals—lorentz hart was on the mark when he penned "she likes the theater but never comes late..." NOTICE TO THE LITERATI— (i am now whispering in your ear) "we're not supposed to take all this too seriously. "
on a side note: the conductor leonard bernstein likes to tell an anecdote about a performance of the rite of spring, right between parts I and II which transitions violently from the "Danse de la terre" to "cercles mystérieux des adolescentes" (Mystic Circles of the Young Girls). there is quite a dead space of silence which occurs and in the midst of this silence bernstein hears two old ladies near the front row stentorian "...and i always use lard..." in the many years since, while conducting the rite, he have never not heard these words—never!
so, no displays of indignation, after all , it's not the spanish inquisition, it's just plain olde american theater.
regardless, i feel compelled to ponder the following notion— have we completely lost our collective dramatic psyche? have we completely abandoned our once cherished english language, our strict adherence to the steadfast laws of english composition, to the long tradition of storytelling, characterization, plot-points and literary themes etc... ???
the answer is yes and the current exponent of this new literary trend is christopher durang's "vanya and sonia and masha and spike."
i'm not interested in doing a review of the play, my buddy and i did that ad-nauseam on the car ride home (we decided that it needed to be a drama and that it needed to written by Tennessee williams,) but rather explore the idea that it's entirely my fault that i did not enjoy or "get" the play.
i'm convinced that there are social and cultural and artistic relativists out there that will try to convince you that some native on some dark continent banging on some log—or some siberian throat singer straining the remnants of vocal chords tarred with those new fangled american camel cigarettes is on par and synonymous with our great western musical canon. just as i'm convinced that the hackneyed prat falls and cheap grandstanding in durang's play is the musical equivalent to bach's die kunst der fuge to the front of the house, the season ticket holding, theater going, "patron"izing lackeys who had nothing better to do on a friday night and don't have the wherewithal to get the days gossip from facebook or twitter...
i have to believe that spike's pathetic utterances and grunts were truly hilarious and not just the sound and fury of a loyal entourage, fearing the demise of theater and too embarrassed to guffaw and grimace at these pathetic literary gum balls. like vanya's overlong monologue (possibly the only redeeming feature of the play, though poorly written and even more poorly delivered by what i can only assume was the understudy's understudy... we missed david hyde pierce and sigourney weaver for that matter) i too long for the clarity and artistic excellence of a bygone era (not the simplicity and superficiality of "leave it to beaver," which was vanya's lament—hmmm... we did learn that these were children of literary and academic parents..? why the holy fuck is this couch potato whining about the demise of ozzy and harriet and the rotary phone and not george's monologue from "who's afraid of virginia woolf" or at the very least, "i claudius..?" )
there were too many anomalies to mention and like i said, i'm not going to critique the particulars of the play as it would take a lifetime. i will say that it's possible to learn more from a bad play than a good one, at least in terms of what not to do (or watch)—the illusive and mystical elements of great theater being too mysterious to quantify and too dangerous to emulate.
because nothing gelled in any kind of literary sense that i could relate to, i am convinced that i am a remnant of a now fading dramatic epoch, a dinosaur among cows in the pasteur imbued with the enzymes able to extract protein from grass (wait, don't dinasaurs have that enzyme? fuck it, i'm on a roll)—there is something that i am missing, something that is over my head and i refuse to believe that out culture has degraded to the point where that native banging on a log is equivalent to jascha heifitz navigating the cadenza from mendelssohne's violin concerto in e flat.