One of my Chatter collaborators recently encouraged a musician to go onstage in jeans. “I don’t think you should have to wear special clothes to play classical music,” he said. At the time, my reaction was measured. I do like the performance ritual around classical music, and concert dress is part of that. But actually he was right, and I’m ready to go a step further: I don’t think you should have to be a special person to play classical music.
I have long hated the idea of “talent.” I remember hearing a pianist perform some flashy Chopin and seeing an audience member in front of me shaking her head, evidently in astonished disbelief at the abilities of the performer. I don’t want to be “impressed” by music. I don’t want music that makes me shake my head; I want music that makes me nod it. I don’t want to feel separation from the performer; I want to feel affinity, joy, recognition. I want communion.
My early antipathy to classical music exceptionalism was grounded in personal insecurity. I was not a prodigy, so I leaned toward philosophies that did not emphasize early or inborn talent. This was a survival strategy. I have also argued that talent does not exist, and I tend to stand by those arguments. But either way, the truth is that talent is boring. I’m interested in work. Talent tends toward safety and talent wants to be acknowledged. I care about what people do, not how they rate. Now my hatred of “talent” is political. We can no longer afford a musical culture based on invisible subjective hierarchies. I care about what people do. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It doesn’t matter who your teachers were or what they thought about you. Music belongs to all of us. Go out and do something.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues