Don't Squirm, Listen Carefully, And Enjoy That Concert!

CLASSICAL music used to be enjoyed by aristocrats; the general public has been paying for that ever since. Such concerts now have a protocol of shoulds and shouldn'ts that sometimes discourage people from attending. I, too, like most people, hate to be caught burping in church or clapping in the wrong place; nobody likes to play the fool. If you wonder when to clap, don't. It's safer that way.

Beyond that, the easiest way to unenjoy a concert is to go with the grim determination to enjoy it - even if it kills you. The conviction is impressed upon most of us from childhood that if you don't like classical music you're plebeian; you have no taste.

In the old movies run in high school music appreciation class, the actor-listeners visibly reached ecstasy at the height of every phrase with an arched brow, bulging eyeballs, or at least glistening eyes. If you, a mere high-schooler, could not share their joy, you knew you were uncouth.

In actuality, few concerts send anybody to ecstasy for even a moment or two, though some come close, if all conditions are right. But even the great touring artists when asked about their remembered great moments in music over a long career will say something like, ``Well, there was this concert in the '50s, in Minden, Nebraska....''

There are numerous other ways to sabotage your enjoyment as a listener; the following list is by no means complete.

First, you can go because you should go. A friend has told you that Darius Dimplefinger is the greatest new pianistic talent of the age. After the concert, your friend will pounce on you demanding your verdict, which had better affirm his or her musical taste, if you know what's good for you.

One reason we all love to hear the greats perform is that we are officially relieved of the necessity to judge them for ourselves. The great critics have done that job for us.

Another way to unenjoy a concert is to eat a heavy meal beforehand. You settle in, thinking, ``Here I am in San Francisco, hearing the Berlin Philharmonic with von Karajan conducting. This is supposed to be nirvana, but I can't keep my eyes open. The music is boring; life is boring; I'm so boring....''

You're supposed to concentrate. You look around and everybody else is concentrating, or pretending to, so as not to appear plebeian.

Composers sometimes invite your mind to wander. Sometimes they are being profound. Sometimes they are pulling your leg.

When classical music is serious and compelling, it puts the listener on a pedestal and affirms his human value and perfectibility. It challenges you to live up to your humanity, to expand your awareness, to grow. This alone may be reason enough to discourage people who merely want to be entertained.

Good classical music leaves flattery of the audience to other musical genres.

It's easy to lose concentration, to feel that maybe the message of the music has passed you by. Some music does take study to appreciate, but most of it - if it is good and well performed - will reach out to you on an emotional level, if you're not trying too hard to enjoy it.

The best way to unenjoy classical music is to worry about the shoulds and shouldn'ts, instead of concentrating on what you really see, hear, and feel on your own.

Dissatisfaction guaranteed.

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