Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The pit is the stage

Bringing live music back into social dance isn't easy. But when it works, when the musicians & the dancers connect, when the musicians play for the dancers, so they dance their best ... well, you'll never experience this sitting quietly in your seat, passively watching the performing arts. This is one obvious resolution to a perceived "crisis":

" ... it's hard to compete with the Internet, video games, cable television and DVDs, said Lori Kramer, sales and ticket services manager at the Portland (Ore.) Center for the Performing Arts.

" 'I think that it isn't just any one thing,' Kramer said. 'Younger people are used to more interaction, more things going on to keep their attention, other than just someone sitting in a chair playing a violin.' "

Performing arts venues, at a loss for revenue, are frantically spicing up their acts with lights & electronica. But the answer is much simpler, and harks back to when people first boogied to a rhythm: don't separate the performers from the audience. Make a community.

The sterile notion that "western civilization" resides in quiet concert halls is quite modern. Until the 19th century, even church & royal performances were not so solemn. As for "high society" performances: I have here a book from 1781 (Dr. John Moore, A View of Society & Manners in Italy, v.2, p.390) describing a night at the opera in Florence, Italy:

"The Opera at Florence is a place where the people of quality pay and receive visits, and converse as freely as at the casino ... this occasions a continual passing & repassing to and from the boxes, except in those where there is a party of cards formed; it is then looked on as a piece of ill manners to disturb the players. I was never more surprised, than when it was proposed to me to make one of a whist party, in a box which seemed to have been made for the purpose, with a little table in the middle. I hinted that it would be full as convenient to have the party somewhere else; but I was told, good music added greatly to the pleasure of a whist party; that it increased the joy of good fortune, and soothed the affliction of bad. As I thought the people of this country better aquainted than myself with the power of music, I contested the point no longer ... "

Live music ... is for life.


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