What do YOU think?

July 23, 2010 at 02:11 AM ·

Ok - this has been stuck in my craw for more than a week now, and I just wanted to see what the members here thought.

I was at work recently (I practice for about an hour before my shift starts), and one of the security folks heard me one morning and struck up a conversation.  He stated that while he "liked to listen to music played on a violin or stringed instrument" he couldn't stand to simply "watch the performers just sit there and play".  It was too boring for him, he said.

When I asked what types of performances he liked, he said,"The types where the performer was dancing and singing along and doing other stuff than just sitting around with the instrument......" 

I really didn't know how to respond because aside from venues like AMERICA'S GOT TALENT, or maybe some local shows and festivals, I couldn't think of any arena where this could be done - especially with the classics.  I was brought up watching orchestras and appreciating good classical performances.  Have we become so hyper-active as an audience that the traditional performances are no longer interesting?  What do you think?

Replies (25)

July 23, 2010 at 02:14 AM ·

Invite him to watch videos of Joshua Bell or Gil Shaham, or any of the younger performers who have embraced the use of body movements to help convey the feeling of the music they play.  Many of the younger performers of the MTV generation and later (well, this really dates me) have basically choreographed their performances with expressive gestures.  As an old guy I was at first put off by this, but I've come to accept it and even respond to it (as long as it's kept within the bounds of good taste) as a legitimate part of violin performance that establishes a communicative link with the audience, especially a younger audience.  (Don't tell him watch videos of Heifetz, though.)

And when I watch this performance from a somewhat earlier era, I have to admit that the performer's somewhat more restrained, but nevertheless perceptible body movements play a role in my response to the music:


July 23, 2010 at 03:10 AM ·

Hi, I enjoy any performance but beleive that the old school of not mooving can bring even more accuracy.  It's simply that the energy and strengh one takes while moving along is some energy and strengh that is lost for the violin technical gestures one is performing.  Why not use 100% energy and strengh for a task that is already challenging and exhausting ennough by itself? 

But I know that I would get tomatoes and potatos, cabbage and turnups throwned at me if I said this publically too often...  Especially for the big sharks of the industry!

I do like violinists in both categories even though I don't understand why one wants to not keep 100% of his energy for the violin???  Maybe it's because my teacher is not from the younger generation? 

But everyone is free to do as they wish of course and this is find! If I don't understand those who move alot, it doesn't mean they are wrong. It's there way of playing and I must respect this even though I have my (amateur student...) opinion!


July 23, 2010 at 11:40 AM ·


You question - Have we become so hyper-active as an audience that the traditional performances are no longer interesting? - hits an important nail right on the head, in some regards.  I don't think that the turn-off is necessarily the lack of movement, but rather than bored-out, uncaring attitude of many orchestral musicians.  As a concertmaster, I tend to be quite active physically, but what comes across is not that; simply the sincerity of one who loves music and the violin and wants to communicate that to the audience.  Every note could be the last one you play, so why not give it everything you've got?

I don't think that all pop/jazz musicians necessarily always move more, but their attitude is different, and in the end, the intention in /behind your playing is what carries to most audiences.

My own two cents on this early Friday morning...


P.S. @ Anne-Marie - think of movement not as such but as part of the commitment in the performance.  Vengerov is a great example - it comes from a true reaction within to the music.  Fake movers (I will be respectful by not mentioning any names) can always be distinguished from that rather easily.

July 23, 2010 at 04:34 PM ·

 There is a woman called Vanessa Mae, you might not have heard of her, who is good on the eye, plays great violin and has all the moves plus some. All the criteria that the guard would appreciate. She plays in all the genres and some of her own. Have i mentioned that she is good on the eye.

July 23, 2010 at 05:41 PM ·

"He stated that while he "liked to listen to music played on a violin or stringed instrument" he couldn't stand to simply "watch the performers just sit there and play".  It was too boring for him, he said."

Well, each to his own, but I think he's missing the whole point of music. It's an audio thing, surprise, surprise! Ears required ...  and yes, a little sincere visual stimulation does enhance the experience. I grew up listening to vinyl recordings of music which I enjoyed, and still do. When I've been to a live performance from a band or artist, to me it's only been marginally better than the audio. Admittedly it can be a bit off-putting to see a row of still serious faces, but it's the sound that counts. Yes, Vanessa Mae is visually pleasing and a very good musician too, but it's still the sound that counts for me.

Natalie mcMaster is a flddler player who often plays and dances at the same time. OK, it's a skill, and she does it very well, but what's the point? All that body movement to me is just one huge distraction. I do appreciate and enjoy some forms of dance, but when music is being played I'll use my ears more than my eyes.


July 23, 2010 at 06:57 PM ·

Just tell him he's a moron and he should get a few brain cells injected.

July 23, 2010 at 07:02 PM ·

For some people, being still indicates serenity and concentration, but for others it seems to communicate fear of popping the soap bubble of the music and terror of screwing up.  I don't find watching or listening to fearful people enjoyable.

As long as the performer looks comfortable and like they are enjoying themselves, I'm happy.  For some people, that's still and content, for others it's moving around.  What I dislike is anything that indicates that the performer is uncomfortable, wishes they were somewhere else, or wishes I weren't there so they could commune with Haydn all by themselves.

So that's really all it comes down to -- a performer who's happy to be there, and happy that the audience is also there.  Depending on who we're talking about, that can mean stillness or motion.  Also, sure the music is auditory, but if that's all that were needed, we'd be listening to CDs.  Live music does have a different feel to it, and people go to listen to live music for lots of reasons.  There should be a difference between a recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra and actually going to Kimmel to see and hear them, even if that difference is just provided by the musicians appearing to be engaged, whether seated or not.

July 23, 2010 at 09:11 PM ·

Unfortunately, I think Peter is closest to right, if less than diplomatic.  People are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts and need constant distraction and stimulation to make sure they don't have to spend any time looking inward.  Music is powerfully evocative.  People have gotten used to videos, huge stage shows,all of that, to distract them from what the music, of whatever genre, might actually evoke in them.  Classical asks the audience to pay attention, listen, concentrate, all those things currently unfashionable, but doesn't tell you how to do it.  Sometimes, God forbid, you even have to do all this for a long time- not just three minutes at a stretch.

July 24, 2010 at 01:45 AM ·

Cristian, I agree that some artists as Vengerov don't fake but without naming names others want people to tell comments on their look/style/presentation before their playing!


July 24, 2010 at 01:15 PM ·

"Just tell him he's a moron and he should get a few brain cells injected."

"Classical asks the audience to pay attention, listen, concentrate, all those things currently unfashionable, but doesn't tell you how to do it.  Sometimes, God forbid, you even have to do all this for a long time- not just three minutes at a stretch."

And we wonder why audiences for classical music are dwindling and geriatric.  With all due respect, these sorts of attitudes turn away people like the security guard in the original post who might be capable of being touched or moved by classical music and who might develop an interest in it if it were presented in a way that is less stiff and formal and livelier than the funereal concert-hall atmosphere that has come to prevail.  I'd recommend reading some descriptions of performances and audience behavior back when classical music was truly a living art--in the 19th century. 

And there's no reason why different standards shouldn't apply for different genres of classical music.  Soloists ought to be able to engage in showmanship--that's what composers of concertos expected.  Do you think Saint-Saens expected soloists to perform the Intro and R.C.  like high priests of a stern and unforgiving god while the audience sat through it in solemn and rapt reverence?  (Which is not to say that Heifetz wasn't mesmerizing in his own way.)  But there's no reason why a little tasteful showmanship can't enliven performances of, say, op. 131, too.

July 24, 2010 at 01:46 PM ·

"...he couldn't stand to simply 'watch the performers just sit there and play.'  It was too boring for him."


Well, he is a security guard.  Doesn't he just sit or stand around? 

Seriously, most popular music is about the performer.  That is probably his comfort zone.

There are some classical musicians that have cultivated that sort of presentation.  Besides other violinists already mentioned, you could direct him to Nigel Kennedy's performances.  He has developed an extroverted stage presence...

July 24, 2010 at 08:40 PM ·

Of course, sound is what music is, but when you're performing as a soloist, you can't just stand totally still and play. Even if the expression in your playing is great, people want to see some of that expression on the physical side. You don't have to dance around the stage or force yourself to move around. It should be a natural movement or facial expression that arises from the feelings that the music gives you. It's not something that can be taught, but something that each person develops by themselves. By doing so, you can show the audience that you are enjoying your music and even helps them to relax. 

It's also a part of performing, it is necessary to have a strong stage presence.


July 25, 2010 at 01:27 AM ·

Have him watch Janine Jansen on youtube....plenty of emotion and expression.

July 25, 2010 at 03:08 PM ·

 Well, what I think is simply to disagree with him.  I find watching concerts on TV or on DVDs to be pretty boring because the associated visuals aren't interesting enough to me to hold my attention and keep me seated on the couch.  I never got into MTV either, I just found it excruciatingly dull.  I'll get up and do something else while I keep listening, though--to all sorts of music--I just don't care to sit there and watch.  Live concerts are better because there's a lot more going on, visually, but even there I can only stand sitting still and watching for about an hour.  I tend to get antsy at long concerts where I'm not playing my own instrument, or eating, or lolling on the lawn, or having something else to do with my body.

I think that maybe most people aren't really wired to focus only on auditory input and auditory sensations for long periods of time.  Some who are especially gifted in that area must be able to pull it off--and become professional musicians or high-level music connoisseurs.  But the general music-listening public (under which I include myself, and your security-guard friend) needs some other kind of sensory input too in order to keep themselves engaged.  Your friend likes the visuals, I seem to prefer something more kinesthetic or tactile.

July 26, 2010 at 01:47 AM ·

It's very hard to change an adult's attitude or way of experiencing things, but it's not unheard of. Rather than try to convince him that  he needs to change his thinking, attitude, approach to music, you could explain that what sets music apart from the other arts or forms of entertainment ( in case he doesn't make a distinction between the two or lumps all of it together) is the hearing and listening element. It's a little like going to an art show and seeing paintings on the wall and wishing they would move or be active in some way when it's the visual element that is the essential thing to ponder.  For music, it's the sounds that are expressed emotionally through the musician. The visuals can add to that, reinforce it, or complement it, but if they become the main thing one hooks into than the most important part of music, the actual sounds, is lost and that is a shame. There's nothing wrong with genuinely feeling the music and have some of that come out as movement- after all, when we talk we often gesture with our hands, our bodies, our face changes expression, etc.  so obviously we are doing things, even if unconsciously, to reinforce what we're saying but if we're communicating through talking then obviously what our words mean is the most important thing. It's the same with music- the most important part of it is the actual sound and what that communicates to the listener. If he's willing perhaps he could watch some of the Leonard Bernstein videos from The Young People's Concerts or the Ominbus Series. He does a great program on Beethoven's Fifth and What is Jazz.  The same goes for Michael  Tilson Thomas' Keeping Score series of videos. Then, there's the Simon Bolivar Orchestra video with Gustavo Dudamel-  Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibtion, and the Beethoven Triple with Martha Argerich & the Capucon brothers. If they come to your area maybe he'd be willing to see one of their concerts- it's a riveting, extremely exciting experience!

July 26, 2010 at 01:53 AM ·

Reading Karen's post reminds me of a conversation I've had many times with my kids- "Why does our dog act so weird?"  The answer usually comes down to how humans and dogs perceive the world.  Dogs use their sense of smell first, hearing second, and sight is a somewhat distant third.  We humans are so strongly sight-oriented we often are hard pressed to understand that other creatures rely far less on sight than we do.  We also tend to discount or distrust our other senses.

Ann Marie's security guard probably has this perspective more strongly than many.  It would be interesting to know roughly how old he is.  My kids are much more used to visual stimulation than I am- video games provide way more of it than the chess set and Monopoly board I grew up with.  Movies are much more visual than books, of course, and people raised in the age of the VCR have probably seen way more movies than those of us a little older did growing up.  Non-classical concerts play into this with videos, light shows, fireworks, scantily clad women, etc.  I'm not sure that a more expressive performer, such as Joshua Bell or, on the podium, Gustavo Dudamel, is going to provide the visual stimulation so many people want.

Bill W. mentions the greying of the classical audience.  My hunch is that the classical concert goers have always been a little older.  They've come to a point where they are more willing to sit still for a symphonic-length work, they're more willing to listen to something more subtle than pop, and they have the scratch for the tickets.  Maybe the security guard, with some additional years and maturity, will be more willing to let his ears, rather than just his eyes, take him for a ride.

July 26, 2010 at 07:55 AM ·

Here in the UK Daniel Baremboim gave a Reith lecture on the radio about how it had become a visual age. He complained that even in the lift he had to endure the Tristan Prelude just before going to concuct it.

These days on TV all interviews are conducted with backgrounds of moving images (I don't have TV now but that is what I see on others). Also on radio, we have musical examples but always with voice over. (Except on Radio 3 our classical station). It seems that people can't listen anymore, or watch a fairly static image like an interviewee without a distraction in the background. Or listen to music without some vocal explanation going on.

We are now a very sick race. Perhaps the end of what we call civilisation might be a good thing?

July 26, 2010 at 10:43 AM ·

Maybe I should not listen to the radio while driving my car. The moving images might disturb me and precipitate the end of the human race.

July 26, 2010 at 10:56 AM ·

Hardly dare mention it on this forum but Roger Waters (ex Pink Floyd) did an album called "Amused to Death" which sort of boiled down to bemoaning the lack of attention span and where it might lead us.

July 26, 2010 at 11:27 AM ·

There's a place called Covent Garden market in London which is famous for street performers. I think your security guard would enjoy this.


Unfortunately, many members of the general public equate dancing around with quality. Whilst it's impressive what the buskers are doing, their main goal is to make as much noise as possible, look as lively as possible, in order to attract the biggest crowd, and therefore make lots of money. None of them are under the delusion that their performance is of a high standard from a musical point of view. I wish the general public was more discerning though!

July 26, 2010 at 12:28 PM ·

Ann Marie's security guard probably has this perspective more strongly than many.  It would be interesting to know roughly how old he is.

@ Lisa -

I would put him roughly in his early to mid forties.  The shocker for me was when he explained that his own daughter took violin lessons for years, but he didn't attend many of her performances because sitting and watching the school orchestra play was "too boring".  He kept saying that performers who "just sat there" couldn't hold his attention.  It didn't matter what they played.  They either had to dance while they played, sang while they played, or frolicked around on stage with another performer. 

I asked if his daughter still played, and he said no.  Not surprising - especially if he vocalized his attitude about music like that to her.


July 26, 2010 at 04:44 PM ·

If this guy was unable to even watch his own daughter in a school concert he's a tough case.  An evaluation for ADHD might not be a bad idea!  As a security guard, he has probably found a job where he's moving around doing things rather than being stuck at a desk in a cubicle, which would probably make him certifiably nuts before lunchtime.  He'll probably never fill a seat in a concert hall, but maybe he'll enjoy classical on his car radio from time to time. 

July 28, 2010 at 09:56 AM ·

 Seems like a simultaneous climax. Did you feel the earth move?

July 28, 2010 at 10:13 AM ·

Fraid I'm like the security guard:  Its not easy for me to stay in my seat for an entire performance of anything.  And I probably have ADD (my son was diagnosed with it but I grew up before it was invented).  I need multiple sensory inputs - thus I enjoy a play but have a hard time sitting through anything that is uni-sensory. 

OTOH if its spectacular (last one was James Ehnes performing) I can get absorbed in it sufficienly to behave myself...

July 28, 2010 at 10:12 PM ·

 There was a woman called Vanessa Mae. I remembered she was easy on the eye, and she played the violin nicely. She helped me with my attention deficit.

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