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Karen Allendoerfer

Okaaaay

October 4, 2008 at 12:03 PM

I was planning to write something different in this blog. Last night a well-known fiddler came to our town and gave a concert. It was reasonably priced and took place in the high school auditorium. I took my two kids, ages 5 and 9. I was looking forward to this concert all week. We skipped soccer practice and karate to go.

Unfortunately, however, this was not an experience that was going to turn "the public" on to fiddle music unless they were already favorably disposed to it.

First of all, the concert was advertised as a show by the professional fiddler and his group. His picture and a picture from the cover of one of his CD's were on the flyer. But as it turned out the first half of the concert consisted of the middle school and high school orchestras playing, together and separately, with the fiddler as conductor and members of his group in the sections. They were dressed and seated like traditional classical orchestras. These groups played well, and it sounded like they had learned a lot. But it wasn't why we had come--we had come for a professional fiddling show. And the student groups were not mentioned anywhere in the advertising. Furthermore, all of the music on the program was new and/or unfamiliar, and while a small effort was made from the stage, it was not particularly well explained or introduced. There were no program notes.

What struck me most, however, was how awkward the auditorium/stage format was and how generally inappropriate it felt to the music, even in the second half, which was the professional fiddling set. The auditorium was overheated and dark, and my son fidgeted, whined, and tried (unsuccessfully) to sleep. The fiddler himself, who, from what I could see from the relatively large distance between us, was a friendly, folksy guy with a warm presence, wasn't really able to connect with the large audience. Maybe others felt differently--there were some scattered heads bobbing in time to the music--but I felt too removed from the action.

Finally, during one of the pieces in the second half, the audience started clapping to the beat, led by members of the student orchestras. Everyone perked up, even my little whiner. We needed more of that.

I'm not mentioning any names here because I don't feel this would be fair to the musicians. They played well under difficult circumstances, and my daughter told me, enthusiastically, about the demo they did in her school earlier in the week (whereas the concert itself was "okaaaay"). I applaud their dedication and the hard work they did with the kids. I don't want to just complain and not offer any suggestions. So here's my main point: Big traditional auditoriums are not the place for fiddle concerts! Have it in a gym, set up tables, make a "coffee shop" out if it. Involve the audience and/or the kids differently by having them play shorter pieces in smaller groups. Don't make the kids wear black gowns and suitjackets like they are playing a classical concert. Keep the lights on. And don't overheat the room. It's only October.

From Dottie Case
Posted on October 4, 2008 at 2:05 PM
Karen...I took a class this summer in my graduate program that required me to attend a number of concerts and write reviews on them. Because of what was offered here in my area in the available time frame, I ended up going to concerts of everything from Rock Groups to a Classical Piano Trio, and in venues ranging from a High School multi-purpose room to a Concert hall, to an outdoor lakeside venue, as well as Historical churches and an old theater in renovation.

What was most striking to me (and something I'd paid almost no attention to before that) was how crucial it was that your concert style match your venue. I was shocked by how 'wrong' some perfectly acceptable concerts felt when held in the wrong place/setting, and how a right setting could greatly enhance the works.

One concert was a choice of 'night' pieces, by piano, organ, flute and English horn. The setting was a lovely old historical church at dusk, with poetry reading between pieces. It was a stunning partnership.

Another concert was a set of rock bands, sort of 'battle of the bands'...only it was set in an 'in-renovation' historical theater. Bad choice. Electric instruments fought with the room acoustics, there was no place for enthusiastic fans to gather or dance (no mosh pit:) in the room filled with theatre seats, and the 5:00 start hour seemed incredible unsuited to the first metal group. What would have been well received in a club became almost an embarrassment in a theater.

Seems like your experience mirrors mine. Definately made me realize that it'd be good to consider setting/hour and amibience carefully when planning performances.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 4, 2008 at 9:20 PM
Dottie, that's very interesting, thanks for your input. What you write makes a lot of sense. This concert I wrote about was overall a good concert, but the venue just wasn't good. It's a more challenging problem than people think.

My son (the 5-yo) this morning said, unprovoked, that he liked the HS orchestra the best. According to him, "the songs the grown-ups played were too long." But he really liked a the high school "songs". So he got more out of it than I thought he did.

I'm of two minds here: sure, we should keep working to make these kinds of things more accessible. But on the other hand, even when the venue is not right, good music still can shine through and touch people.

From Kim Vawter
Posted on October 5, 2008 at 4:28 AM
Having attended many high school concerts, there is nothing worse than an overheated auditorium! Glad you blogged about your experience here. I am sure that the kids probably got some fun out of going with you on a musical outing. It must have felt "special" to them non the less.
From Juergen L. Hemm
Posted on October 6, 2008 at 9:33 AM
Hi Karen,

you're blog entry is right on target. Fiddle music is not made to be listened to - it's made to be danced and/or sung to. By the way, I believe this is true for the timeless "traditional" music all the way up to the Strauß and Lanner waltzes.

André Rieu always makes a point of encouraging his audience to get up and dance in the aisles.

Sorry you had such a bad experience. In my opinion, the only appropriate occasion for listening to fiddle music while being forced to sitting still is in the car where I use energetic fiddle and bluegrass pieces to protect myself against "highway hypnosis".

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