Andre Rieu, "Classical" Music, Entertainment, and Art

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"]The image represents André Rieu in Atlantic City[/caption]

If you've ever been bored in front of the TV and have stumbled upon PBS, you've probably seen Andre Rieu perform with his 5o-or-so member orchestra. The Today Show did a special on him last week an replayed it this morning. I couldn't find it online, but plenty of his performances are on YouTube.

In short, the sequence talked about how Andre was raised in a musical family and his father was a classical conductor. I assume that they were referring to the genre, not necessarily the actual Classical period.

Supposedly, Andre didn't like the "stuffy" atmosphere that was present in the Classical music world and sought to fix that because "music is an emotion" and served a higher purpose. I suppose you could say that Andre felt as if the uppity sense of the Classical world and the fans of it ("that pop music is just too...catchy")was destroying the culture of the art and he desired to make it a fun experience. If you watch any of his performances on PBS, you'll know that there are all kinds of parts added to the "show" to make it entertaining.

That's the word I was hung up on.  Entertaining.

When I studied music, I came to understand it as a form of art; it was sometimes in attractive forms, sometimes not...but still art.  Often, because it is a form of art that many people are not as skilled at, musical performances of any degree bear a sense of entertainment.  I enjoy going to recitals of singers who are better than me because I am not as good as them-I can learn from their performance and interpretations.  At face value, that logic would hold for a non singer...because someone who doesn't sing well is by definition not as good as the performer meaning that they would find a degree of entertainment inside of the performance.

However, if you have been to a "Classical" performance (recital or otherwise) in recent years and you observe the audience, you'll do well to glean a few details that might lead to a better understanding:

  1. If it is not an incredibly popular artist or series, most of the crowd will be at least in their 60's.
  2. Those who are musicians will be there with eyes wide open and critiques flowing.
  3. Those who aren't either a)Seniors or b)Musicians will be a few winks away from sleep.

Obviously these are generalized statements and will in no way hold true across every performance, but do have a ring of truth to them.

The logic from above just doesn't work. I've noticed it in the declining ticket sales of the Fine Arts Series in Branscomb Auditorium at Florida Southern. I've noticed it in conversations with others.  I've noticed it in observing performances and the audiences of them. Perhaps you have too.

I think the key is that a musician (or one who sympathizes...I know the broad statements seem a bit utopian-don't be offended) has a bit of a higher understanding about the composition, about the technique, and about the practice of performance.  This knowledge stimulates some sort of intellect that seeks to learn more. That learning is entertainment. It is enjoyable and will keep one who is intrigued by those thoughts on the edge of their seat at every phrase and breath.

But that's not the typical world. Most people don't understand. And because their idea of "good music" hinges around the backbeat and clever rhyming of words...this type of art is no longer as "entertaining" as it once was.

In the Baroque and Classical eras, music wasn't the "stuffy" thing we think about as now. It was meant for dancing.  It was meant as background music. It was meant for parties. It was an art form, but entertained as well. It was all they knew. Gradually, over time, this shifted. What would have been considered "catchy" melodies in Bach's time were replaced by "catchy" melodies in Beatles' music. Sure, people went to Beatles concerts, but as recordings were easier and easier to come by, people played that music at parties. Even now, you cannot walk into a club or bar where music isn't playing.

The interesting thing about Andre Rieu is that he appears to have caught it.  He seems to understand this disconnect between the art of years ago and the culture of today. In making it funny and adding showmanship he has made it "entertaining". He is incredibly popular.

What was funny about the Today show piece this morning is that they spoke about how the "Classical" world has turned their nose at Andre Rieu's efforts. They say it cheapens the art.

I try to be a little more positive. I think it brings an awareness back to a culture that forgot.

It probably only "cheapens" the art because our culture has been..."cheapened". The music on the radio today is much more simplistic than even Beatles songs. And The Beatles were known for having A LOT of catchy music (I mean, just compare their stuff to Dylan and you'll understand). But Andre Rieu is taking a form of art and entertainment that he enjoys and bringing it back to the masses in a way that will get everyone's attention. I don't think it can be considered "cheap" if it is referring back to the art of old.

Better yet: his main crowd...Seniors.

I guess I'm saying this: Artists tend to want to bring attention to the art that they view as "sacred". That's fine. But in the end it was just a creation by a human. Talented, brilliant, genius humans are born everyday.  Let's celebrate the past and the thoughts and art forms of old.  But let's also recognize innovation.  Let's call what is good good and what is bad bad.

And finally, let's all get over ourselves just a little bit.