I took part in a place-making workshop last week in Detroit. Despite the usual negative reports, my hometown is actually receiving huge private investments from billionaires, local corporations and major foundations, revitalizing central areas from Midtown down to the river. In these workshops (my second), a cross-section of about 40 artists and civic planners heard a short presentation about how cool parks draw residents together with food, music, things to do, people-watching, and novelties that identify the city. Then we walked the space for the proposed park, (nothing more than a dirt lot at this point) and began to brain-storm for unique ideas to make it another HELL YEAH place to visit.
One of the choices we were asked to consider was what could be done to experiment with the space, sooner than later. What were some quick, dirty and cheap ideas to see if people would come if there was something going on there? Some examples in other cities were sandlots for volleyball, simple jungle-gyms on sand, benches for parents, food trucks regularly camped out and picnic tables. Such flexibility at low cost could jump-start the whole chicken and egg cycle so they might plan and upgrade the location all at once when the money was in place. People would become used to showing up.
Well, this leads me to further justify ideas like Classical Revolution, the grassroots movement that began in San Francisco in 2006 presenting concerts and open jams in non-traditional spaces. CutTime launched the Detroit chapter in 2010 and it immediately became apparent that it’s utmost flexibility, looseness and affordability gets people used to showing up for classical. It not only features musicians playing for non-musician friends (and strangers), but each chapter experiments quick, dirty and cheap… to, in effect, bring balance to the careful, traditional fine art form. It removes high class as a reason for attending. And if you don’t get it, let me tell you why that’s actually very refreshing.
People enjoy classical concerts for many different reasons. For veteran subscribers those reasons will often be a combination of social and professional as well as inspirational. Perhaps the rarity of the occasion with classical music lend us senses of grace, ease, intelligence, purpose, clarity, history, etc.. People dress up, are especially civil, and hopefully experience some of the highest achievements of humanity. Some will say they enjoy we can all feel classy together; feeling special or perhaps even the upper class lifestyle we cannot afford. I believe this has more to do with classicism and must not be mistaken for classism. The humanities of the former can unite us all, while the class warfare of the latter can divide us.
This raises a whole host of negative associations, even consequences, intended or not, and conscious or not. Because when we make classical music about class, then we reinforce exclusivity, elitism and much worse, to claim false ownership over the humanitarian legacy of the music long in the public domain. Butts-in-seats for concerts means we find ways to signal this-is-also-for-YOU. If classical can show a side that is humble, spontaneous, folk, spiritual, open and humanist, it can begin to fill in that buffer zone between groups. I’m not usually one to speak of tearing down walls. Just like I love the walls of my house, I truly enjoy the fact that classical is classical, rock is rock, jazz is jazz, and world is world. But having some hybrids (half-breeds) that form bridges networking music together, connecting the wider world is a truly world-class idea.
Because of my ethnicity and having to cross culture boundaries for my chosen profession that often I must switch views of the coin called entertainment. Consequently, I always took from classical music the virtue of humanity; of being part of a larger community despite the insular quality of professional performing arts; of expressing the human condition (pathos) in concert. Perhaps it was also the effect of being one in a group of 90 playing together with a sense of coordinated purpose: to make the music truly matter. I wonder if society isn’t becoming too individualized (fragmented), too crowded and too empowered to WANT to work and play together in harmony… but I love seeing that it does happen… although most often following some tragedy. The great romantic composers expressed tragedy, spiritual revenge, recovery and sometimes transcendence too.
Now chamber music, performed quick and dirty in clubs and restaurants, can become a regular presence in the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Will this new presence quickly create droves of new single-ticket buyers and subscribers: undoubtedly NOT. Will it reverse long-term the message this-is-not-for-you in the classical music industry and lend permission to non-core music lovers to open themselves and their children to the possibility traditional concert performances are a golden ticket: ABSOLUTELY. Will it employ thousands of young classical musicians and spinoff creative new hybrids too: HELL YEAH! While it will remain a road less travelled, we can widen the path to make a bigger difference.