The classical music blogosphere has touched several times recently on one of the biggest problems with the way our art is marketed: we don’t know how to write about it. In fact, most musicians don’t know how to speak compellingly to laypeople, much less their own colleagues. If we can’t seem excited about what we do, why should we expect anyone else to get jazzed enough to show up or to buy a recording?
If this magical art form is to survive, we must change the way we describe what we do. The vocabulary has become stale, tired and it’s no wonder that classical is relegated in modern times to scaring away teenagers and providing (albeit artistic) white noise in stodgy restaurants. This crisis of communications, layered on top of many years of arts cuts in education, has made a bed out of apathy and ignorance, and while we’re lying in it, few are getting any sleep.
Of course, as our summer concert series (now in its fourth season) can attest, we’re big fans of new music around here, and applaud not only courageous composition, but innovative presentation.
But there’s the rub: those are exactly the buzzwords that get all of us in trouble. “courageous”, “innovative”, “experimental”… these things mean nothing to people who barely know who Bach is, much less Cage, Adams, or Muhly. And those who already partake of classical still need motivation to show up — we need to help them understand what they’ll experience. If we can’t describe what our music is like, why should anyone care?
So here’s the challenge, starting right here: we need new words, and we must start thinking about the best things we do in terms of how others might experience them. You may already think you’re doing this, but the mountains of calendar announcements and press releases that we receive each week don’t tend to show it. This perspective has been echoed (repeatedly, in various ways) by fellow bloggers Greg Sandow, Lisa Hirsch and many others. Most recently, we found a hint of the same from Andrew Mellor, who writes in Gramophone about the excitement that comes from classical music… and how we might change the way we tout new studies about its benefits. Just as a starting point, try at least one of these these next time you write a concert description, a press release or even a Facebook event:
- Visual Thesaurus — This extraordinary website offers a mindmap of options, allowing your brain to wander in a remarkably functional way. Consider subscribing for unlimited access — at $20/year, it’s a steal.
- Have words you like but rarely use? This is inspired by the wonderful poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge: Put them on a slip of paper and start to fill a bowl. When you get stuck, grab one. Even if it’s not the right one, it may kick your brain off its usual track.
- Start at the other end. What don’t you want to say? People often forget that a thesaurus offers antonyms (or opposites) as well, and a little exploration there can have a profound effect on your writing.
- READ. Consumption of better writing can change your brain, and it will start to show in the way you speak and write. Think of it as sightreading practice (which we all do every day, of course): just 15 minutes a day reading high-quality content will add up. Mere months from now, you’ll own words and phrases you’ve never much used before. Need an easy way to keep up? Try a content reader like Feedly, where you can enter your favorite arts blogs (or other sites) and have headlines linked and stacked up for you as if you had a savvy assistant standing at your door in the morning, ready with mail and coffee. (Well, it doesn’t actually make coffee. But we’ve submitted the suggestion.)
Afraid your writing isn’t good enough?
Don’t let it stop you. The best way to get better is to keep practicing. As a non-writer, you may lack the grammatical hangups that can keep more experienced wordsmiths in a adjectival rut. Think of it as jazz: riff on whatever you feel when you sing or work through the score for your current project, piece something together, then hand it off to someone who can craft and tweak it a bit. Don’t let your fear of words keep you from expressing your joy about your next project. That passion is your best asset. We just need to find better ways to get it onto the page, so all of us can spread the word in ways that get pulses racing among our audience members.
Need something great to read?
Try one of these:
- The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. This is the way music history should be taught: story-based, witty, with plenty of clear connections between cause and effect. Ross may change the way you think about compositions of the last century or so.
- Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music by Anna Beer. This best-seller (yes, classical does have them!) is a well-told collection of stories you’ve probably never encountered. It will offer context for what you already know, and reignite an appreciation for what these women actually were able to accomplish in very inhospitable times.
Top: Inspired by Martin Walls / FreeImages
Glove: Original photo by alex ringer / FreeImages
Car: Photo by Gyom Seguin / FreeImages