Getting Real with Classical Music, Part 3

OK, so I’ve written before about classical music checking reality and just giving the general public some of what they want, in order to rebuild trust in our arts institutions and their missions. By meeting people halfway we can start to discover each other, hopefully enough until they become part of us (first), and then vice versa. Cum bai ya is not a bad song, because generosity is the building block of peace. Share the music, food, laughs and family of strangers and we can usually like each other in some ways for life. However, a business model cannot grow by giving away its products… unless it is a charitable organization, which might be why CutTime® is leading this idea.

This idea is the genuine opening of or feeding classical music to the world public; the fulfillment of the promise of public domain. This is not unlike what theater, dance and even museums have been working at for longer than American classical music presenters and major orchestras. How do we make the fine arts real for people who avoid the fine arts? Some double down on the special, rare and authentically European traditional experiences for the people who can afford to pay for it. And oddly enough, I wouldn’t change much. I’d only add some spicy sauces to the menu and take it where donors likely wouldn’t want to go see it anyway.

It should be obvious by now that it’s not enough anymore just to make new public come to you; we have to offer new ways to show how anyone anywhere might access humanity’s legacy to itself; to build new associations that unlock the golden moments. Casual classical for the general public has been noticeably absent from traditional presenters who might’ve done it best. The adoption of smoking laws during 2000s fueled the Classical Revolution movement that quickly established itself worldwide in response to this vacuum. Yet CR favors an organic, slow-growth policy: it is not a bold solution.

The traditional institutions still resist the inevitable, often led by the musicians, who don’t want to see hard-won talent (and money) “wasted on people who are talking, drinking, laughing, blabbing, eating or generally trying hard to ignore the un-namable discomfort of trying to relax while classical musicians play. (This is surreal. Do I have to clap? No.) I’ve seen people have all kinds of reactions to a first (or first time in decades) experience with LIVE classical music: it’s just THAT foreign. (Perhaps moreso with me leading.)


In my experience, people will fall into three categories. Around one third will love whatever you do, while an opposite third will hate whatever you do (and usually leave). The third in the middle, however, will depend on what you say, play or do: and that’s who I work hardest for. What have we got to lose for trying to confront and comfort people with the fact of classical music? No one has ever gotten rough, and I’ve learned how to quickly handle hecklers. Adversity becomes our friend. And party noise becomes part of the setting we amplify thru because we believe everyone everywhere deserves beautiful music. Playing in noise is a sacrificial act of love that slowly proves we can heal or feed almost anyone. (Radical empathy)

This model can be enough for one to live on at the start of this new cultural age, where as long as people find participatory ways into the music, they will grow to expect #newclassical, and maybe traditional too, popping up near them. We can saturate the country while there is this soft vacuum of curiosity for practical information of how anyone can (and already do) use this classical ideas. I’ve learned some techniques to draw out and test methods cheaply; eggshakers being only one impressive opportunity to include audience members in the actual music-making. Idea-generation means breaking some non-plastic eggs.

Dumbing classical music down? Looking at one side of this coin, yes; that is what it amounts to. Except for the shockingly dramatic irony (paradox) that for many people, these are exactly what might bring them into classical music. As opposed to classical product (refined concerts), these are classical process (informative, educational).

The most successful classical institutions will naturally be the loudest, saying that we should keep preserving the artistic integrity (and highest sourcing) centered around the art, the artists and their most authentic forms. But it ignores the fact that art centered around the audience can become another, equally valuable extension of the art form. Afterall, commercial and folk music have always served this purpose, no? Yes. There exists now a huge spectrum of music, from raw to refined, serving a gamut of purposes, from private to social. And with the granular process of all culture fragmenting before our eyes, it’s indeed surprising to notice this empty space for experiences serving up symphony with a relaxed, American host. (Think conductor Thomas Wilkins taken a couple levels further.)


Mixed octet CutTime Players perform aboard the Minne-Ha-Ha


So, CutTime® was created to feed into that void with exciting musicians playing and hosting from the heart in cities across the nation. CutTime ensembles will tour, with and without its founder, spreading the ideas for opening or popularizing symphonic music. There will even be a touring CutTime orchestra that reinvents how full scale concerts can draw future audiences today. Laughs, mixing movements and excerpts, audience games, onstage seating, videos, dancers, poets, rappers, interviews… Doesn’t sound like a symphony concert at all, does it? That’s the whole point.

The dumbing down is also the smartening up of classical and esp. symphonic music! New York Times Music Critic Edward Rothstein in 1993 was correct to say that the American Symphony Orchestra League report “Americanizing the American Orchestra is content with a musical culture determined by demography.” He was off in his final conclusion that “In bringing the racial politics of the streets into the concert halls, it may very well Americanize the orchestra into extinction”, when he should have said “to evolve”.

Can you imagine what would happen if say a third of the country carried around a classical tune in their heads? They’d need a regular dosage. We musicians need to be ready for them, to provide those unforgettable musical memories that matter, the ones including laughter and tears. We could build toward a mass (keep imagining!) of as many casual classical events as jazz, rock or other. It’s competitive, but there are no reasons why various musical choices can’t work in rotation in public and private venues inc. homes.


CutTime Simfonica plays Detroit Public Library

Once classical has fully engaged that ecosystem, the meaning of classical music might lose the old stigmas. The musicians simply need to pitch the music joyfully, interactively and humane. Learning a handful of secrets can unlock this potential.

Thanks for reading and sharing. It’s time to cut classical music loose!

  • Rick Robinson (Mr. CutTime)
Composer Rick Robinson at the mic
Composer/director Rick Robinson scores points for symphonic music at the National Gallery of Art.

What do you think about this?