This past weekend I attended a performance at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Despite the fact that as a BU student I can get 75 dollar seats to any performance at the BSO for free, it was my first time attending the world renowned orchestra.
Though I play no instruments and though I wouldn’t call myself a singer I thoroughly enjoyed my evening in the beautiful concert hall. My date- a choral conducting graduate student- rattled on about the textures in the pieces played, the technique of the conductor, and the clear structure of the melody in the second piece in relation to the seemingly structureless organization of the first. I, however, left the performance unable to adequately articulate what it was that I enjoyed about the music.
I knew I liked the epic-ness of so many instruments playing at once, but I assume one would find such a quality of any orchestral piece. I knew I appreciated the complete lack of jaw tension displayed by the lead soprano. I knew I respected the perfection of each and every musicians performance. Yet, when it comes to unpacking what it was that caused me to enjoy the actual sound of the music I come up blank.
Perhaps it is that I have little experience with orchestral music and therefore have little to compare what I heard to. However, part of me truly believes that in order to speak intelligently about orchestral music one needs a background in music theory, or at the very least the ability to read and play music.
Theater seams to be more universally accessible. Though not everyone has an intimate understanding of music, everyone has an intimate understanding of language- we all use it on a daily basis. Everyone has an intimate understanding of interpersonal relationships- we all explore them on a daily basis.
An exception to the “rule” that theater is more universally accessible than orchestral music is Mac Wellman.
A week ago I saw a performance at the Paramount center called, “The Madness of Small Worlds,” which included three short plays- two of which were monologues by Mac Wellman. At the end of the performance I was speechless. Fellow classmate, Andy, and I found little to discuss after the show.
I did not feel taken care of as an audience member. I did not feel important as an audience member. I felt like I was the victim of some cruel joke and the mini bottle of Smirnoff espresso flavored vodka I was given as a “party favor” did little to remedy my less-than-stellar experience. The most articulate thing I could say about the performance was that it made me feel like Wellman’s goal was to brain wash me but that he had failed to do so.
The actors were charismatic and attempted to bring meaning and logic to the seemingly nonsensical text, but I still found myself zoning out- spending chunks of time just listening to the music being played in the background or counting the bricks on the back wall of the stage.
The biggest difference between Mac Wellman’s show and the BSO’s: the orchestra was playing their music for me. Wellman, however, seemed to be producing his writing for himself. The performance felt masturbatory. It made me feel neglected.
However, now, having written this entire article, I realize that perhaps that was Wellman’s goal. Perhaps Wellman’s goal was indeed to make me feel neglected or like someone had unsuccessfully attempted to brain wash me. If that was his intent, I suppose he was victorious.