Monday, March 23, 2009

Embedded, from the Opera Ball to the Pancake Breakfast

There is no musical genre as resource- and personnel-intensive as opera, and yet, despite the extravagant costs and the fairly limited potential size of its audience, opera and the institutions which produce it continue to maintain prestige and position even through the deepest of downturns, when other musical institutions, even those requiring much more modest resources, are seriously affected.  There are several reasons for this special status, both artistic — opera is a unique amalgam of activities and can present spectacle, virtuosity, and complexity for both eyes and ears — and social, but I suspect that the social considerations are the more critical.  Opera is embedded in local social networks, and often wealthy and powerful networks, with the prestige of these networks lending opera the aura of importance, class, value, and indispensibility.  

Which isn't to say much of anything new, except perhaps this: New music doesn't need the scale or the prestige of opera, much less the institutional status.  Indeed, it would probably lose much of its essential character — its novelty and urgency — if placed under such institutional care.  However, to thrive, even at the margins, new music needs a similar social embedding, a connection to civic life.  No, nothing as large in scale and extravagance as the annual Opera ball, rather something more like the annual pancake breakfast the local Little League holds, an event that brings a community together in regular intervals, does some useful outreach and fundraising, and does so in an informal and comfortable way.  That said, we can skip the paper plates and plastic forks (can we stipulate that there is nothing worse than eating syrup-drenched pancakes off a paper plate with plastic forks?).

1 comment:

Alex said...

What's worse than paper plates is styrofoam plates. The forks poke right through!