Experience vs. Objects

According to a widely-reported article originally published in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, recent research has shown that there is indeed a correlation between consumer consumption and reported happiness. The surprising aspect of this link was the realization that ownership of objects did not contribute to an enhanced state of joy. The euphoria derived from material purchases was found to be weak and short-lived. Instead, it was those people who spent money towards the savoring of new experiences who reported a direct correlation between their purchases and their continued levels of joy.

As artists, I believe that we inherently and innately apprehend this phenomenon. Musicians will often spend their bottom dollar on concert tickets or travel to festivals, and conversations among professionals often veer toward reminiscences of life-altering concert experiences.

I am no exception to this rule. I only consider an object to be precious when I have utilized that material good towards the creation of memorable experiences. My favorite purchases remain the trips to beautiful locales, the extravagant meals, the drinks imbibed among friends. And especially the concerts.

For me, two concert experiences stand above the rest as influential events that would shape my remaining experiences.

The first was a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra that I attended as an undergraduate. They used to sell $2 tickets on a first-come, first-served basis beginning one hour before concerts for seats in the last two rows of the auditorium. These seats were renowned for their horrible views and exceptional acoustics, and every week I would stand in line with a friend waiting to hear whatever music was on that week’s subscription concert. I learned a great deal about the tradition of the orchestra in these lines, listening to the long-time regulars reminisce about their favorite performances. For me, these tickets served as a lifeline, helping me to immerse myself in classical music in order to fill the lacunae created by my previous obsession with rock. And it was a performance of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto with Schlomo Mintz as soloist that finally turned the tide and allowed me to viscerally experience the power of orchestral music. After that concert, I was a convert to acoustic musicianship (albeit, one who still enjoys electronic sound!).

The second was a solo recital of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards by Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Symphony Center in Chicago that I heard while working towards my Ph.D. This performance—entirely from memory—captured the grand religious statement of this massive piece in a way that wrung every possible emotion from the gloriously exhausted audience.

And so in these difficult economic times, I urge composers and other musicians to continue supporting your peers, to continue to experience live music making. Each concert that you attend might be that transcendent experience that remains with you for the rest of your life. And scientists confirm that your money will be well spent.

5 thoughts on “Experience vs. Objects

  1. jaybatzner

    It kills me that most music programs have to implement a “recitals” course that requires students to attend, say, a dozen concerts over the course of the semester. If students aren’t naturally motivated to hear music then they should probably quit the game.

    One of the best experiences I had was when one of my main GA duties was recording every recital that happened at the University of Kansas for about 2 years. I heard so much music! You can never hear too much music…

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  2. mclaren

    Jay Batzner remarks If students aren’t naturally motivated to hear music then they should probably quit the game.

    Here again we encounter the strange prejudice that if you aren’t attending a live concert, you aren’t hearing music.

    Most people listen to music privately today. Streaming audio, iPods, CDs, mp3 downloads. The live concert represents a distinctly minority activity.

    You’d hope that at some point the alternative classical community would recognize this fundamental change in the audience’s listening habits, and come to grips with it constructively. For example, by providing audio commentary on new music that explains what’s going on, compares new compositions premiering today with audio excerpts of earlier music, and so on. Or perhaps even better if symphonies and chamber ensembles were to put YouTube snippets online in which they play fragments of new music and discuss it in ways that will intrigue and excite the audience.

    This stuff of only writing about contemporary music without ever taking advantage of any of these new media to publicize and explain and expand on new music, and only acting as though live performance is “real” listening, ain’t gonna cut it. We’re headed toward a Peak Oil global warming world where people can’t race around in their planet-roasting deathmobiles anymore to all those nifty live concerts. Private listening via electronic media is here to stay, and at some point the contemporary music community is going to have to embrace that reality.

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  3. jhelliott

    As much as I love Messaien and Pierre Laurent Aimard is an amazing performer of his music, it seems like quite a bit of hyperbole to claim that he, or anyone performer of any one piece, can “wring every possible emotion” from any audience. That said, I will never forget the Philadelphia Orchestra’s debut with Eschenbach at Carnegie playing “Turangalîla.” It was amazing, absolutely riveting and unforgettable.

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  4. smooke

    JHElliott-

    Ah, yes. My memory is of being totally exhausted, wrung out, nearly unconscious. But memory does have a way of playing tricks on us. A tad hyperbolic? Certainly! Part of the fun of describing memorable experiences.

    I’ve never heard Turangalîla live. Much to my disappointment. Sounds like that was an amazing experience.

    -David

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  5. jhelliott

    David — Hearing Turangalîla live was awesome and I highly recommend it if you have the chance. It is sad that this piece, which brought the audience to a roaring ovation, is not performed more. Then again, perhaps finding an ondes martenot player is not so easy…and as a Philadelphia native I am a crazy fan of the orchestra. What better piece to put a great orchestra through its paces?

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