Today I made what for many of you may be a bold decision, to say the least. I severed my ties with three popular social media providers. If you are a follower on one of those social media providers, I urge you to follow me here. You will receive an e-mail notification each time I post something new.
I suppose because of this brash move on my part, my mind was mulling over various things about social media. My thoughts went to the similarity between social media and music. At it’s core, social media provides a means by which people connect. Old friends are reunited and new friends are made through commonalities such as interests, alma maters, or mutual friendships. People go to social media to share with one another whatever things they enjoy, or for which they have strong feelings. Though they don’t have to go any further than their computer or mobile device, they still have to go somewhere, at least in cyber terms, to be in the place where the sharing of passions and interests take place. What’s more, as we log onto various web cites and apps on those devices, we often do so through our social media accounts, using the meeting place to gain entry into other destinations where we can also share our responses and experiences.
Now consider how and where people experience live music. When I enter into a concert venue, I am immediately with hundreds of other people who share my desire to attend that concert; to hear the program being offered that evening, and to enjoy that genre of music performed live. With few exceptions, besides the people I came to the concert with, I will have limited acquaintance with everyone I see there, though if I am a season subscriber I will likely recognize the faces of the people seated near me, though I may not have personally met them or know them by name. These are like social media “friends,” only instead of sending a friend request, I would introduce myself in person.
There is also the realization that thousands of people in many cities throughout the world enjoy the same kind of music I do, and those who are at this concert with me do. Orchestras in Vienna, Berlin, Israel, Philadelphia, Sydney, Moscow, and on and on the list goes, play from the same repertoire, and perhaps are right now playing the same musical works that I and my fellow concert goers are enjoying right now. Some would argue that this homogeneous programming is problematic; that more diversity should be evident. While I agree that there is too much good or even great music that gets played all too rarely, it is nevertheless true that the music that is played is enjoyed by an audience that spans the globe, much like those who frequent social media cites, or even read music education blogs, for that matter. Think of the social network that would result if every concert going music lover joined a single social network, and conversed with one another there. Such a gathering would exceed one of only music educators, because there are thousands of music lovers who are not music teachers. And I have thus far only referred to those who attend live concerts. I haven’t even mentioned the vastly larger audience that consists of those who listen to recorded music, even to just classical music alone.
There is, of course, one important difference between a community of music lovers and a community such as those often found on social media. Whereas music lovers may argue over performances or preferences, with only a few notable exceptions, people listening to a classical music concert do not berate or pick fights with each other. They are delighted by the muse to which they eagerly give their attention, and quite the opposite of being made contentious, are soothed into a contentment of being together enjoying music, no matter what emotions that music might bring up. The very essence of experiencing music is that it is done in community. Our current practice of listening to recorded music on solitary devices is quite unprecedented in history. Even recorded music prior to the Walkman, was listened to by families and friends gathered together around a non-portable device. From the performer’s perspective, rarely is music performed by only one person, as say a stand-up comedian performs. Instead, music is most often performed by groups of musicians–orchestras, or bands, or trios, quartets or quintets. This makes the making of music as much a social and relationship-based activity as it is a musical one.
This, besides the expressive nature of music, is perhaps the most important thing to impress on students. Music should never be just a commodity to be consumed. Music is something people make. Performers and listeners alike interpret musical works and in so doing are acting for the betterment of themselves and the others with whom they experience the music. Encourage students to perform music yes, but also to listen to it together and discuss its relevance and significance to them. This is especially effective if they, the students, select the music they listen to. The music class can be the forum, the conduit, in which such interactions with music and those who listen to it take place. We can think of students connecting to other students through performing and responding to music as a kind of friend request; and invitation to listen or perform together and in so doing making a beginning at sharing a part of life in which the music is a common thread for both or all involved. Let me conclude by inviting you to enjoy a joyful little piano work with me written by Mayumi Kato and played by Anna Sutyagina. It falls into that category of wonderful music that is too rarely played.