Outside the Box

 Contemporary Classical Music at a Rochester Rock club.  An exciting experiment in thinking--and playing--outside the box.


What is the protocol for going to a classical music concert?  Here are some steps:

1. Put on nice dress clothes.

2. Eat before the concert.

3. Unwrap your candy before the downbeat so you don't make any noise.

4. Sit quietly for 40 minutes, applaud, stretch your legs for 10 minutes, sit quietly for another 40 minutes, applaud again, this time a little longer, go to your car and go home.

These are by no means set in stone, and to be quite honest, there's nothing inherantly bad about any of these suggestions.  This way of consuming classical music has been in place for probably 120 years, and is an honored tradition around the globe.  For many people, this is the preferred way of listening to live classical music, and I sincerely doubt that this methodology will go away any time soon.

But for a number of people, this means of distribution just does not cut it.  While it may be enjoyable every so often, the whole process can at times seem at least constricting, and at most intimidating.  Enter the Eastman Percussion Ensemble:

Michael Burritt and the EPE play "Peaux" by Iannis XenakisMichael Burritt and the EPE play "Peaux" by Iannis Xenakis

Friday night last week, at a rock n' roll club called Water Street Music Hall, this collection of percussionists from one of the nation's leading music schools took the stage and the floor in a non-stop, seamless, energetic, and decidedly modern set of classical music.  Members of the crowd stood, enjoyed a drink with their friends, chatted, yelled in approval, danced, clapped, and generally had a good time.  We heard everything from solo snare drum to conch shell to watering can to marimba.  Here's a new use for a guitar:

Banging on a guitar!Banging on a guitar!

New Eastman professor of percussion Michael Burritt soloed with three accompanying musicians one one piece:

Rock-Star marimba playing from Michael BurrittRock-Star marimba playing from Michael Burritt

And I got conclusive proof to my theory that an unruly crowd of classical music hooligans can be immediately calmed and made to focus with silent intensity!  After a particularly rousing rhythmic event from one of the chamber percussion groups, there was a duo that followed right after.  The two players had in front of them two sets of wrenches set up like a keyboard, and played them with malletts.  The resulting sound was intoxicating and otherworldly--and quite soft.  The crowd of 100 hushed quickly, drew their attention to side of the floor, and soaked in about 5 minutes of quiet wrench music.  I was so excited!  I often contend that good music played exceedingly well will elicit close listening and attention from an audience, even if the mood preceeding is not one of quiet.  And  my hypothesis was proven correct!  Then again, by that point some in the crowd may have already had a couple beverages and therefore be more easily induced into calm...(so what if I speak from experience).  Here's the wrench tune in action:

Wrenching silece from an unruly crowd.  Sorry, I couldn't avoid that one.Wrenching silece from an unruly crowd. Sorry, I couldn't avoid that one.

Clearly, this kind of concert-going experience is not for everyone.  But neither is the "traditional" kind.  Why not present classical music like this more often?  Why not have a concert in a venue that's not "supposed" to have classical music?  Why not have a string quartet play in jeans and thermal shirts and knit caps at a bar?  Don't we listen to classcal music because we love it so much?  Well then why don't we present it in places where more people can hear it, and then they can enjoy it just like we do?  So what if people enjoy it in a different way than you or me--the important part is that we all believe classical music is good for us and good for society.  

What do you think?  Where else could we bring classical music?  A country music festival with some Brahms chamber music?  A hip-hop show with some Philip Glass?  Maybe I should stop writing and book some gigs...