Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sound of Music Hall

A proposed renovation of Cincinnati's venerable Music Hall has been in the news lately.  The building is obviously historically important but there are many people openly questioning some of the details of the plan...namely, the reduction of seating capacity from 3400 to 1900, the removal of the grand chandelier and some other "improvements."  I'll leave it to others to debate the merits of the renovation plans.  My observations deal with the untold, underlying story.
When I was in fourth grade, it was pretty much expected at St. Al's in Bridgetown that you would at least give music a try.  We had the wonderful Sr. Frances Jean, who could play nearly any instrument, offering lessons for any student for a nominal fee.  I wanted to play the saxophone but after one look at my gangly arms (and the fact that her orchestra was short handed), she convinced me that the trombone was just right for me.  Eddie, who lived next door, chose the trumpet.  Lisa, across the street, played flute.  Although not always the most cooperative trombone student, I plowed through my lessons and recital books in an endless repertoire of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Cucaracha," sounding somewhat terrible but having fun.  So much so, I guess, that I continued to play through high school at LaSalle and undergrad at Xavier.  (Lisa and Eddie didn't continue beyond grad school.)  Many years later, after meeting my wife, I learned she took clarinet lessons in grade school.  Like I say, playing a band instrument was fairly common in the 60s and 70s but the experiences carry on into adulthood.  In a recent conversation among musicians, Holst's "The Planets" came up and I had no problem joining the conversations because we played excerpts once during one of our concerts in college.
In addition to learning and playing a variety of basic and, often, obscure, musical arrangements, it was not uncommon to be surrounded by traditional music in other ways as a kid.  Warner Brothers cartoons often featured melodies from classical and opera mixed into their scores.  We might not have known "The Barber of Seville" was composed by Gioachino Rossini in 1816, but we kids knew the melody very, very well.  It was also not unusual to hear such music in commercials and in movies.  Too bad such music is rare in kids' shows today.
My point is, maybe Music Hall wouldn't have to shrink by 1500 seats if only the current and next generation were exposed to more genres of music.  I can honestly say my mp3 player has music in every format from classical to country to alternative to classic rock to jazz to pipe organ music and I attribute my love of all styles of music to my early exposure in band.  Of course, the competition for kids' attention is much more difficult these days.  Playing a "real" instrument takes time, patience and lots of practice--a sort of antithesis in the instant gratification world.  In addition to competition, classical music, in particular, is very expensive with CSO seats ranging around $80 a seat per concert.  There are no solutions to be offered here and I confess this is more rant than realistic response.  Mandatory participation in music appreciation might not be a bad thing, though (along with "art" and "theater"), as it would fill in gaps not supplied by the internet, facebook and digital gaming.  "Appreciation" of something doesn't have to mean some young person has to enjoy or even like it....rather it means they understand it and the intelligent thoughts behind it.  As a side benefit, if even one percent of the next generation does like it, it could mean adding future seats rather than subtracting. 

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