Thursday, August 09, 2012

In search of the lost emotion


This 1972 Decca LP of the monks of L’Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes was the first recording of Gregorian chant that I bought, and in the eight years I have been blogging Gregorian chant has featured here many times, particularly as sung by the Benedictine community of Saint-Madeleine du Barroux. In 1972 the monks at Solesmes were speaking to the inner analogue with their LPs, but now their brothers at Le Barroux are speaking to the outer digital by streaming their Divine Offices online, complete with iPhone app for those seeking mobile spirituality.

Le Barroux’s iPhone app is one of the more dramatic transgressions of set and setting, but it is symptomatic of a widespread problem. There is now, thankfully, a general understanding of how eco-systems mean that pollution in a stream can destroy life in a faraway ocean. But there is virtually no understanding of the workings of esoteric systems (eso-systems), as evidenced by the fallacy that a transcendental experience in a Provencal monastery can be shared by an iPhone user in New York.

Eso-systems are as relevant to classical music as they are to Gregorian chant. Music is a complex, interlinked and poorly understood eso-system that links composer via performer to listener. Of course classical music must change. But deploying developments such as mobile technologies in isolation and without regard for their overall impact is part of the problem, not the solution. Classical music’s declining audience engagement is due more to a failure to take a holistic viewpoint than to changing demographics or musical tastes, as the results of research by psychologist Dr Adrian North explain:
“….the degree of accessibility and choice has arguably led to a rather passive attitude towards music heard in everyday life: The present results indicate that music was rarely the focus of participants' concerns and was instead something that seemed to be taken rather for granted, a product that was to be consumed during the achievement of other goals. In short, our relationship to music in everyday life may well be complex and sophisticated, but it is not necessarily characterised by deep emotional investment.”
Classical music depends on emotional involvement. Yet research shows that increased accessibility and choice results in decreased emotional involvement. Could the message be any clearer?

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