Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Rock & Roll: Making an Argument for the Value of Performances in Schools
This one is the most basic: performances in schools or bus trips for performance-based artistic experiences does give the opportunity to teach audience skills and etiquette, sometimes the only real opportunity children receive.
Why do I even comment on this? Simple! I have become so soured on attending live musical performances, a passion that I have held since I was a child and attended my first concerts, both classical and pop. I went to my first Dick Clark Caravan of Stars concert when I was 10, and just before that, I caught a glimpse of a Leslie Gore show at what was then the Lowe's Theater in downtown Syracuse (now our fabulous Landmark Theater) when my mom needed to meet up with a local deejay for some publicity matters for her local community theater company. I was hooked.
I became hooked on music at an early age. I love telling students that the best part of being my age is that, at 55, I have lived through the entire age of Rock & Roll and I continue that path now. I received my first radio for my fifth birthday, a gift from my birth father. I slept with a transistor under my pillow in my tweens. I got a record player for my 45s and a subscription to the Columbia Record Club when I was approximately 11, again from my birth father. These two gifts were the most treasured gifts I ever received from him, true indicators that in some way he did understand me. It may have been better if he helped me pay for more of my club selections but that is all water under the bridge now.
I have gone to more concerts than I can count. In elementary school we also came to school dressed in our finest once a year to board a bus and head downtown to the Onondaga County War Memorial for the annual series of school concerts by the young Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Karl Kritz. It was heavenly, especially since I was also enamored of the Sunday youth concerts on TV conducted and narrated by Leonard Bernstein. I had an incredible crush on him. But I also had crushes on Pat Boone when I was 5, Ray Charles when I was 8, and Peter Noone when I was 10. I have always had eclectic tastes.
Once the live music bug bit me, I was insatiable. Concerts at the War Memorial, the opening of Jabberwocky at Syracuse University when I was in middle school, S.U.'s Manley Field House, the State Fair Arena, concerts in parks, bands on the fraternity porches every home football game, music was everywhere and my babysitting money went towards buying records and listening to music live.
I have continued that passion throughout my adult life as well. I often can connect with the disengaged Rock & Roll kids in class by their tribute Tshirts, especially if they are wearing an artist who I have seen live. Better still if that artist is dead. I have seen some of the greats and that is a terrific point of connection and engagement with students.
But these days, I have found the live music experience sadly flawed and uncomfortable. This is not because the music is less exciting but because we, as a society, have lost the respect for the artists that entails a sense of etiquette. People are so used to music being the background of their lives that they carry on as if they are in their living rooms rather than in a performance venue. They cannot sit in their seats for a 90-minute performance. Even more annoying - they cannot shut up!
Now, music and theatrical performances are no longer the $3.50 that my ticket to the Who or Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or Jefferson Airplane once cost either. I have to make a calculated decision when I buy a ticket to see a performance I am interested in because it could be the difference between paying a bill or an evening of entertainment.
I have had several occasions in the past few years during which I have been so distracted from the experience I have paid for by rude, self-absorbed audience members that I have asked them to please restrain themselves. I believe that I am polite in my request but still obviously annoyed. The irony is that, in each of these instances that I have advocated for myself, I have been shunned and even tormented by these same rude individuals who decide that I am encroaching on their rights. It is absurd.
It happened again last night. I went with a friend to the Turning Stone Casino Showroom to see Zappa Plays Zappa. I spent the whole day in anticipation. We had great seats center stage one level up so Dweezel was at eye level as he fingered his guitar. A young couple came in with their beer cooler and sat in the two seats in front of us at the 8-top. And they talked throughout. Since the sound level was elevated, their talk was often shouting. They also took many turns getting up to pee, disrupting my friend and me and the people in the table next to ours each time. Then they talked more when they reunited at their seats.
At one point, the gentleman sitting across from us was about to blow. The young man in front of him, an obvious musician with a keen knowledge of the Zappa legacy, had his hand over his ear facing the chatty duo, the people behind were obviously agitated, and I was missing an incredible sax solo with the dialogue being shouted in front of me. "Excuse me..." The young man turned to me, stopped in mid-sentence, "What?" "I want to hear THAT..." pointing to the woman on stage. "WHAT?!" "You are talking LOUD."
He quieted down a bit but my friend reflected later that he sensed that the couple was annoyed with me, that I had been a "buzz kill" for their fun night out. Too bad. They were being a rude aspect of the experience and poor audience showing no respect for the talent on stage. And they were diminishing the quality of my investment.
This happens in movies as well. We are a self-centered society with our phones, our media, our false sense that everything depends on ourselves, nothing else is as important as our immediate needs. Our ring tones blasting in all environments, even the White House Press Room and church. We need a bit more Emily Post and we need to put kids on buses with expectations that they sit in their theater seats and truly listen. If they listen well and have the knowledge that will help them listen before they walk into the performance space, they will learn and they will enjoy. And maybe, when they are middle-aged, they will remember the day they dressed up and went to the symphony.
p.s. Thanks Dweezel! You carry the torch really well and you have put together a great band. I was outside of time and space, at least most of the time. Frank is dead. Long live Frank.