The Performing Arts

Personally, I love the performing arts (especially classical music and ballet), but lately I’ve been pondering how people fall in love with them.

They get a bad rap as being boring, and tend to be until you get to know them better. For example, I wasn’t a huge fan of theater until I worked as a stage hand for a school play, and didn’t like classical music until I played in band. Independent of being involved in the production of a performing art, how do people fall in love?

Additionally, do you feel the advent of the Internet is helping or hurting this process?

I grew up with classical music; my grandfather was involved in bringing classical performers to town. I didn’t care for it all that much then, mostly because it was complex and unfamiliar.

I went back to it as an adult and started being a fan after hearing the William Tell Overture performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). I knew the ending, but I hadn’t realized that two other sections (“Storm” and “Dawn”) were familiar, too. I had gotten a classical education by watching Bugs Bunny. :slight_smile:

As far as theater, that was big from the start. Not just local theater (I was in the local community theater when I was twelve for Damn Yankees), but also Broadway. My music was showtunes, and I went to various Broadway musicals and plays when I was growing up.

Ballet, I just don’t warm up to (I saw it at SPAC and was always bored by Balanchine, but didn’t mind Jerome Robbins).

Opera, OTOH, was a delight. I had an epiphany when seeing Lucia di Lammammore. Lucia was white. Her brother was back. They were in Scotland and singing in Italian! It was just wonderful to contemplate.

Classical music is moribund, however (Opera has been moribund for years). The Internet has hurt it, and it’s been exacerbated by music streaming. It’s impossible to tell a good recording from a bad one, and the convention makes it very confusing, since you’ll find hundreds of things titled “Allegro.”

Theater, however, is still going strong.

It still limps along in the form of movie soundtracks. There are lots and lots of “classical-like” pieces accompanying our movies. Some become classics on their own (“Last of the Mohicans” comes to mind.)

There are still Operas being composed. The recent “Fallujah” is of some interest. (I don’t care for it, as it’s in a very modern atonal sort of form. But…it’s opera!)

Short of calling it falling in love - I definitely had an earworm session for Mahler’s Ninth - quite often just running a loop of how quietly it begins, over and over again, in the ole noggin, sometimes envisioning a huge sailing vessel, slowly, steadily, departing. At first I thought it had many maudlin elements, and then bombastic ones, but then I was like, fuck that - this is the most sublime, supreme, majestic, goose-bump-inducing, throat-lumpy, tear-duct-churning, humbling, soul-wringing shit I’ve ever fucking heard, so, call that what you will.

Simply for access to lots of great classical music that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to track down with such immediacy and ease, the internet’s certainly been a big help that way.

This is probably tldr but performing arts is a big topic.

I was lucky enough to go to an elementary and middle school that were supportive of performing and going to see both live theater and live music. So I was in plays and choir and played instruments and went to go see plays and live music from a very young age. Early exposure is probably key. That said for most of my childhood I didn’t really care.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I “got” live theater. I was 15 and taken to see two plays, a production of a play called “Art”, a production of Godspell. Godspell was performed at Ucla and was done like street theater with as much of the action being in and around the audience as it was on stage. Art was in a smallish theater space and stared Alan Alda. Being that close to the action had a profound effect on me and it was actually the moment that Alda walked onstage that everything clicked.

Those shows sort of made everything make sense. That was it for me and I spent the next 17 years fairly obsessed. Getting an arts degree and becoming a professional stage manager then director then briefly running my own Shakespeare company. I even taught theater for a while and started an after school program for elementary school aged kids. Little things can change your life.

I picked up an appreciation for ballet because of the dancers I met and made friends with professionally and in college. I got to watch Baryshnikov perform from backstage once. He was 57 at the time and it was still jaw dropping watching him dance. It’s not a love, but good ballet is great.

As for music. I have been playing music since I was 8. I don’t remember my first concert. I still love going to rock concerts, particularly at small clubs. It almost doesn’t matter who is playing. I spent a ton of time a punk shows as a teenager. Played in a band through college and into my late 20s. I didn’t really start to listen to classical music or Jazz until I was in college though. Both were conscious choices to learn about the art form. But live music is just about my favorite thing. I took a Jazz appreciation class and had to go see 10 live jazz performances over the course of the semester as part of the class. I fell in love with a particular jazz club near me that focused on small combo jazz and never looked back. It was easy to get to and the cover was cheap and I went a lot until I moved away.

After that I decided that I wanted to learn about classic music. I tracked down the great courses class on how to listen to and appreciate music and then a bunch of Greenburgs other lectures. I don’t see live serious music much though because I am the only one I know who is interested. So that’s mostly recordings. Can’t make myself care about opera though, and goodness knows I have tried.

So, for me some of it was due to exposure at a young age, some was my own curiosity and wanting to learn about a new art form. But it all sort of builds on itself. I guess the Internet made a difference. It’s hard to say. It makes it easier to explore and learn about some art. I can listen to a ton of classical music and have learned a ton about it and whay I like because of the Internet. The options for good theater on the net are more sparse. Sparse is wrong, the options are mostly bad. If you want to see interesting theater you still need to go in person. Sometimes this means going to see different state or continent. But in general it’s hard to really get the full experience of a live performance if you aren’t actually experiencing it live.

Hey, I have very strong associations with seeing both those shows too! Not by any means the same productions, but I think there’s something about them, theatrically, that just opens up a window on theater for people who may not already be theater buffs.

Hmm, Godspell has the “new angle on the Bible story” thing going on, and Art is sort of a revelation about the sort of “serious” play that involves people babbling incessantly about intellectual subjects in a very limited stage setting. All of a sudden, in both cases, I found myself caring about characters I didn’t expect to, because I assumed them to be stock figures either from the well-known biblical narrative or from chattering-class satires and pastiches a la Woody Allen movies.

Yeah, other than that? Early exposure and then just experimenting, as you say, especially with music.

I think one very underappreciated factor is trying to impress a crush. I owe a lot of wonderful discoveries and lifelong passions in music and theater to the mundane fact that some guy I liked liked the stuff.

Then I started learning to sing, and like anything else, when you know how it’s done you really appreciate the people who can really do it! That’s the way to learn to love opera, IME. :slight_smile:

What exactly are your criteria for declaring these things “moribund”? Struggling in certain markets, sure, but I think they’re healthier than you claim.

Opera is basically just recycling old works. Sure, there is occasionally a new one, but most of those just fade into the background. If you look at most opera companies, they consist solely of older works, with something new every couple of years or so. The audience for opera prefers old favorites and too much modern stuff gets poor attendance – a big issue with the costs of mounting opera keep increasing.

Classical is undergoing the same thing.

Compare this to the Broadway musical, where there are several worthy examples every year.

The companies are doing fine, but mostly by sticking with favorites. But it just doesn’t look like it’s artistically vital these days, especially outside two or three large cities.

Here is St. Louis there are four professional companies who are putting on a total of 13 operas this year. Of those 13, five have been composed within the last eight years, and four within the last three. Opera Theater of St. Louis has done either a premiere or a revival of a recent work in at least each of the last four season, and plans to continue to do so into the future. Companies have, in fact, figured out that they need to alter their approach to keep the industry alive.

If you’re just looking at the big repertoire houses, sure they’re doing, well, repertoire. That’s what they do. That’s not the sum total of opera.

“Moribund” means on the brink of death. There are still thousands of opera performances every year. There are hundreds of new works being written. Some of them are entering the standard repertoire. Many of them fall by the wayside. That’s been the case for every art form ever.

There have been some alarming attendance trends in the last few years, but there are still plenty of healthy companies out there who are doing something about it. Audience building, outreach, and commissioning relevant, accessible new works.

It’s not dead yet!

When I was a kid, back in the 50s, there was a sort of day camp near us that focused on the performing arts. There were classes in things like acting, dance, arts & crafts, singing, instrumental music, poetry, stagecraft, lighting & sound, costuming, makeup, clowning and puppetry. In addition to taking several classes, I played violin in the orchestra, with gave concerts throughout the summer, in addition to being the pit orchestra for musicals.

I also played in the school orchestra, from 6th grade ultil high school graduation. I was the concertmaster, and played a senior solo. I was fortunate in attending a high school that had a well-known music department. We had 3 orchestras and 4 bands and I don’t know how many vocal groups. The main groups went on tour every year.

And I was in the drama club in high school and college, in spite of extreme stagefright.

We always had music at home. My father had a substantial collection of classical 78s, which I still have in the basement. And he was also active in community theater groups, so I was always taken to see him in various plays. And of course I regularly attended Cleveland Orchestra concerts, either with my family, friends or through school.

Then, when I moved to NYC, I immersed myself in the performing arts. Season tickets to the N.Y. Philharmonic, the Met, ballet, etc. I saw Nureyev and Fonteyn in Swan Lake. I was in the audience in Baryshnikov’s N.Y. debut. And of course Broadway . . . all the way back to seeing Streisand in Funny Girl.

No, classical music and opera are not dead, they’re just evolving through new formats, just as they always had. Edison’s wax cylinder didn’t kill it, and neither will the internet.

It’s all about exposing kids to the performing arts at a young age. I credit my parents with exposing me to classical music and dance when I was very young. And I was lucky enough to grow up in a school district with great music and theater programs. Unfortunately not all kids grow up with that. I think you also need to get kids out of the classroom and into concert halls and theaters where they can experience the real thing.

My husband used to raise money for a major symphony orchestra, so I’m familiar with the financial challenges they face these days. Many symphonies are trying to appeal to younger audiences by performing soundtracks from films and video games. The hope is that once you get them in the door, it may spark an interest in other classical music and keep them coming back.