Q. Does classical music have to feel like church?
A. Yes, but not always. There’s a time for everything. There’s a time to sing with music, a time to dance with music, even a time to ignore music altogether. So this a time to sit still with music like it were a movie and let it carry us on an magic carpet ride or fantasy.
Mostly instrumental, classical music is a drama, cartoon or full movie that we call sonata. Sonatas come in a few varieties. A regular sonata features one player accompanied (or not) by piano, a quartet is a sonata for four players, a symphony is a sonata for orchestra, and a concerto is a sonata for solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra. Because these are all acoustic (non-amplified) instruments, there is an antiquated vibe to the event.
Classical today is such a rare opportunity to make and experience music: it’s not just a different style, but a different medium or language for communicating feeling, action and ideas through music. It demands a different way to listen, which many would rather skip. But the players and audience for it become so devoted, we in fact become true believers, like sports fans, that the music will often win for us a state of nirvana of sorts (epiphany). Concerts feel like church because we worship this music.
But a concert is also good theater; and so theater rules apply. Everyone focuses intensely, a) not to distract anyone, and
b) so we might internalize every sound & their implications. At times there’s a lot going on, and then so much contrast too! Listening itself, the ability to focus and discern patterns, instruments and themes over longer periods, is one of many blessings of classical music. Guessing is good. Repeat listening is rewarded. With a series of waves, the composer and musicians set up a long build to a smashing climax near the end of each work. Inevitability is balanced with surprises when it’s done right.
Taking the church metaphor a bit further, sedate musicians in long black tails might resemble priests in robes, performing these sacred texts from long-dead saints under the authority of a accented bishop, likely from Europe, for our congregation of believers.
Silence then is the most powerful partner to the sonic experience, giving utmost contrast to sound. To listen in stillness, like meditation, letting go of our instincts to react, becomes another great gift. To internalize musical feeling, including dance, is to imagine actively. Simply close your eyes when the music starts, and don’t fall asleep. Focus on the feelings.
Church services and concerts are inherently dramatic: the rules of drama & fantasy apply.
Role-playing, melodrama, unlikely plots and coincidences are necessary for a neat ending. An audience chooses to suspend its disbelief, to force satisfaction and search for deeper meaning in life. There are no wrong answers; only incomplete ones. We bring to classical music the same strategy we use going to a movie, rock show or wrestling event: shut up and look for patterns.
This attitude is to use classical music like a tool. This tool can be a window to other perspectives or cultures, or more commonly a mirror to see ourselves as in a dream state. You don’t have to play an instrument to imagine its patterns. Just listening repeatedly and imagine let’s say cartoon characters acting out the music. In private try singing familiar parts with the track. This is a powerful means for us to review and express our deepest humanity, in a wordless musical narrative that flows like a river. Music doesn’t always need lyrics. Ya-ya-ya works just fine. Conversely, coming up with lyrics for classical melodies can make them very real. Go for it!
When a sonata starts to make sense, it transport us. At the next level, it may transform us and then we might begin to feel part of something larger than ourselves. Singing melodic fragments to yourself, warm fuzzy feelings of oneness with strangers, deep regrets over long forgotten days, finding beauty in everyday things, laughing out loud at nothing, experiencing epiphany with each encounter… this music itself becomes our savior. If you get that far, you’re truly be in the church.
Q. How does wordless music do this
and when can I expect results?
A. Some experience nirvana right away, while others may need 7-12 experiences. Even veteran classical music lovers miss a lot. That’s why many attend talks, read program notes or listen to a piece at home or in the car before going to hear the same piece played LIVE. Live concerts are often better than recordings (fresher, more information); although the difference can be lost on the newcomer. That’s why repeated listening is so rewarding: music accumulates meaning.
Acoustic instruments have their own amplifiers, which add a lot more character to music. There’s no lyrics generally: the music forms its own linguistic dialect, with melodies and structure forming musical sentences, extensions and paragraphs. The main themes are usually contrasting characters, esp. with exaggeration from players. It’s then up to listeners to discover and create meaning, if any. And we usually do this subconsciously, but it may take a few listens before it clicks. If pop-rock were a souped up powerboat, classical music is more like a sailboat. We can also appreciate the slower, quieter and somewhat risky adventure of sailing.
That said… classical music doesn’t always have to feel like a church service. This is the 21st-Century! And CutTime is remaking classical music to inspire newcomers far from the concert hall in lively club settings using amplification, loud hosting & lots of audience participation. Check out our Classical Revolution Detroit series for a fun time that we dubbed New Classical.
Tell your local venues you want CutTime and look at our Calendar for events near you!