We mostly listen to recorded music, and we likely hear it alone—in a car, through headphones, maybe through a set of speakers at home. This kind of listening space is simultaneously ephemeral—in that it is fundamentally malleable—and monumental—in that its infinite repeatability aspires to cultural permanence.
It’s fair to say that we yearn for more opportunities to enjoy music in less formal spaces. But can you still have a valuable musical experience while ordering a drink, chewing an hors d’oeuvre, or making conversation?
Is a lavish setting one of the chief preconditions for our enshrinement of cultural objects?
When we listen together, the space in which we convene affects our impression not only of the sound but of ourselves. To what degree are we as audience members encouraged to use our musical experiences to imagine ourselves as royalty of a different era?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but to teach only the composers discussed in someone else’s textbook, chosen by someone else’s narrative, would surely be an impoverished and lazy approach to pedagogy.
A thought experiment: you’re a performer, opening a score for the first time. On the first page of music, in small print, just under the title, a phrase catches your eye: “To Milton Babbitt.” Really? “Oooh,” you might think, or, “Yikes!” But deeper reactions follow. “What’s the story here?” you wonder.