Whether it’s an effluvient violin or a somber cello, a bombastic crescendo or pianissimo sonata—there’s a little something for everyone in classical music. Despite its near universal appeal, casual listeners don’t often have the technical knowledge or avid curiosity to keep the movements, Mozarts, motions, and mezzo fortes straight. Michael Oneil Lam, whose wife is a bass player in the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra, often finds himself in classical concert halls but gets just as lost as the rest of us. On his blog, The Free Arrow, he expresses his frustration.
My biggest gripe about modern orchestra concerts is that I lose my place so easily. The program notes talk about an “icy interlude in the high strings indicating a modulation to the subdominant;” but even if I understood what a subdominant was, the violins are nearly always playing and they always sound high to me so I have no idea when the particular segment referred to by the program notes actually occurs. Thus, I have to look several events forward and backward in the notes and try to pattern-match them to the things I’ve heard in the past 5-10 minutes to have any hope of knowing where I am in the piece (“is this the ‘lyrical horn solo’ or was that the bit a couple of minutes ago?”). After 15 minutes or so of this, I inevitably give up.
Lam proposes an addition to music halls that might make concerts more enjoyable (or at least more intelligible) for new listeners, pedestrian classical fans, and everyday schmoes: a music scoreboard. The board would display the current orchestral movement, the conductor’s name, and time remaining for the piece of music, among other bits of relevant data.
Although such an investment would further strain the budgets of cash-strapped arts organizations, Lam believes the outcome would be mutually beneficial. “With increased engagement comes increased memorability;” he writes,
the audience is far more likely to recount the event later in conversation and to recommend the experience to their friends and family. This would help to reconnect music patrons (both young and old) to the world of symphony orchestra music and all of the talent it encompasses.
The Free Arrow
, licensed under