On Sunday afternoon, we looked in the paper and found that the Boston Symphony Orchestra was playing Beethoven's Fifth at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA. To those of us of a certain age, the famous opening brings us back to Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Our parents know it as the Victory Symphony or something perhaps a little darker, where the famous three note motif (bum-bum-bum-baaam) are the knock of fate (or the pizza delivery man).
Out in the western Massachusetts, the puffy summer clouds passed before the sun like lazy students before a crossing guard. We found an open area in the shade, far from the musicians, but well within the earshot of the horns and the full orchestra. The piccolo, on the other hand, sparrowed over the heads of crowd. We waited through two other pieces, and, after Intermission, settled into hearing the Beethoven and doing a crossword.
Sundays drift by on a well kept lawn, in the shade of a massive oak, eating cold leftovers with pleasant company, and taking in the divine noise. I hadn't heard the full symphony in a few years and it came back pleasantly. I managed not to embarrass myself by applauding at the wrong time.
The waves of time have slowly eroded my music collection so that I no longer own a copy of any Beethoven symphony. I am no audiophile, but I once owned a Deutsche Gramophone set of all of Beethoven's symphonies. But, it had been on vinyl, and my last turntable drifted off at least twenty years ago. Tapes break; CD's get scratched; and everything else has been uploaded to my computer. Soon, my music and everything else will be teleported up to the cloud and I will own nothing but a password.
My wallet appreciates it. The Von Karajan box set of Beethoven cost $150 twenty years ago. I forked over seven to ten dollars a piece for all of those albums, CD’s, and cassettes. Nobody should be forced to buy four different versions of Foreigner 4 in any media format. For thirty years, recording companies whacked the artists with absurdly low royalties and payments, and then whacked their fans so that we bought the same music in all new formats (but with less art.)
Unfortunately, that bit of digital Robin Hoodism took all of the money out of the equation. Not only did the suits at Sony stop getting my money, so did Sting, the Stray Cats, and Supertramp. Now, because I am an old fart with musical tastes that belong in a nursing home or an easy listening station, most of the artists I listen to got paid in one way or another. I don’t worry about Jackson Browne’s bank account. But newer artists aren’t getting discovered, getting their faces plastered on an album covers, and then sold at Tower Records. They don’t have to audition for a record producer, but they aren’t getting their music sold in malls.
The backlash of the digital revolution could be that we do not want all of music to come filtered through an appropriate algorithm of our age, previous likes, and zip codes. Spotify and Pandora help me drive, grade papers, and clean the garage, but they don’t allow for an audience experience. Sharing my playlists is about as welcoming as sharing my refrigerator; “Oh, you like Ginger Ale too?”
Musicians, should they wish to get paid, must play. In the deep dark past of groupies, roadies, and Deadheads, musicians went on tour in order to sell a new CD. Now, bands put a new CD so that they can get an audience for the concerts. We have slipped back a few notches as an audience. Pandora and Spotify have watered our music and our tastes into one stream. We no longer take the music and put it in our living room or our cars, instead we go and listen to the musicians make it.
Regrettably, that puts most live performances somewhere in the area code of the 1%. Lenox and Nantucket lie right next to each other, separated by an American Express card and an empty Epernay wine bottle. Fitchburg, Greenfield, and Bellingham could be in an entirely different continent; The Symphony does not play there, nor will Guster or even Entrain. Live music comes to those who can pay for it and who have sand in their cars,
While live music has always had its place on island, Nantucket has embraced it this year with both arms and a peck on the neck. In the last fifteen years, the music “scene” on Nantucket has become richer. The Chicken Box has always had music, but now other venue’s are putting it in the center of their offerings. All of the restaurants on South Water Street have music of some sort or another throughout the summer, in addition to concerts at both movie theaters. The Cobbletones burnish the island’s rich preppy aura by the taxi cabs and Island Fuel trucks on Main Street. Outside of town, Cisco Brewers put up two bands a day for most of the summer. For most weeks, you can listen to music from different genres; classical, jazz, folk, rock, and whatever the drum circle is playing this week.
I suspect that most of these musicians aren’t waiting to be discovered by the AOR man. Like many artists, the dream of the mass market riches has become only slightly more realistic than scratch tickets and Mega-millions. Whatever you can make playing in front of beer bottles and chablis is good enough to make you a professional. And, from behind the beer bottle, I would rather be standing on the Belgian stone with other happy people than sitting in my basement listening to the White Album, again.
Music has returned to its porch playing, slightly out of tune, roots. We sit with the musicians, we listen, we dance, or maybe we watch the clouds blow over head and sip Whale’s Tale. Nobody is getting rich playing music now, but everyone is rooted into an eye to eye, ear to ear community of musicians and listeners. The musicians at the Nantucket Music Festival are coming for the audience, and the audience comes for the musicians.. We spread out a towel, put the sandwiches on top of the newspaper, crack open the cold beverages and relax in company. The phones are off (or should be), the billable hours have stopped, and we have no one but each other.
[Photo credit: BerkshireEagle.com]