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October 29, 2007

How NOT to increase interest in classical music

I didn't see it on Saturday, when it appeared in the Times, but there were letters about it today. The "it" is an op-ed piece by Daniel Levitin, arguing that since music and dance typically go together, we should let people dance during classical music concerts.

That's more or less the argument. If you think it's more subtle than that, sue me.

I'm perfectly willing to alter the custom at classical music concerts of not applauding until the final movement. The argument for keeping it is that one movement often flows musically, if not absolutely immediately, into the next -- a flow that would be interrupted by applause. But how often do you hear the musicians themselves stop between movements to re-tune their instruments, fumble with pages, adjust their chairs, etc.? Applause seems perfectly appropriate -- and often well deserved -- at that point.

But Levitin's argument is silly. He's suggesting we encourage audible responses during the music. If you've ever listened to classical music at a concert hall or on a CD, you'll know what a huge range of dynamics a lot of classical music has. At one moment, you're struggling to hear a single bassoon. A few minutes later, the whole large orchestra is playing fortissimo. To allow listeners to experience this aspect of the music, there needs to be silence.

Go dance in your own room, bud.