On Music and the World Cup

Posted on July 13, 2010

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Imagine this: 1500 free tickets are mailed out to 1500 random people in Denver, Colorado for a Colorado Symphony Orchestra performance of Johannes Brahms’ 4th Symphony (a treasure to classical music lovers, but a potential snoozer to non-classical music lovers). Enclosed in the envelope with the tickets is a postcard that explains an unusual twist that should make this performance of the Brahms more…um…compelling. Below all of the date/time/location details, in small but bold capital letters, the postcard says: IF ANY MUSICIAN PLAYS A WRONG NOTE DURING THIS PERFORMANCE, OR IF ANY AUDIENCE MEMBER CLAPS BETWEEN MOVEMENTS, THE STAGE FLOOR WILL OPEN UP AND CAUSE ALL THE MUSICIANS TO PLUNGE TO THEIR DEATH INTO THE BOWELS OF BOETTCHER CONCERT HALL.

It’s not an impossible task for the musicians to play this symphony perfectly, but they all know going into the concert that they may not live past the second movement. After all, they are an American orchestra.

The house is full for the performance, and you can hear a pin drop, even with a large contingent of bloodthirsty classical music haters in the hall. Each note takes on an importance to the audience’s ears that it never would have had the musician’s circumstances not been so dire. And then, during the climactic musical moments of the second movement, the audience realizes something in the midst of their concern for the musicians: there’s something special about this music.

As the final minor chord of the 4th movement sounds and everyone is still alive, the audience erupts with joy, thankful the musicians are still alive, but even more thankful that they now know the potential of classical music to touch their hearts.

A similar situation unfolded in our country during the recent FIFA World Cup Tournament in South Africa. Americans who would otherwise not care about soccer came together to watch our match against Algeria in the name of national pride and in hopes that the US could advance to the next round. In return for our full attention, we were given the opportunity to experience soccer in its purest form. The match was a nail-biter with lots of missed scoring opportunities for both sides, and the score remained 0-0 as the game went into extra time. Then, in the 91st minute, the impossible happened: we scored.

And we weren’t “offside.”

With Landon Donovan’s goal in extra time, team USA not only advanced to the next round of the tournament, but the so-called “Beautiful Game” managed to catch lightning in a bottle here in the States. In one moment, we went from a soccer-neutral/soccer-hating people to a people that could see the potential of soccer to be worth paying attention to.

Can classical music- a.k.a. “The Beautiful Music”- ever do the same thing? Soccer and classical music have quite a lot in common if you ask me. Both have relatively small but passionate fan bases in the States, both suffer from image problems in mainstream America, both often struggle to bring new blood into the fold…the parallels go on and on. So maybe there is something we can learn from each other.

Donovan’s goal shattered one of the great myths about soccer in America: that 1-0 is boring. This accomplishment was absolutely critical for the advancement of soccer in this country, and soccer managed to bust that myth without compromising its integrity, which opened the door for more and more people to buy into what soccer is selling.

What myths about classical music need to be busted in order to introduce more people to the power of The Repertoire (current and future)? And how do we go about busting them without compromising our integrity and the integrity of the music? Soccer had an international stage and patriotism on its side for busting one of their deadly myths. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have either of those elements on our side, so we are forced to be a little more creative. I believe that I have some ideas. I hope that you do too, and I hope that An Authentic Cadence can be, among other things, a place for us to share some of those ideas. Because someday, I want to see 1500 completely random people pack an American concert hall for a performance of Brahms’ 4th symphony and react like this.

I just hope we don’t have to put musician’s lives in jeopardy to do it.

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Posted in: Music, Sports