Jesus these New Amsterdam people are the END. The living end. First I hear Corey Dargel's NewAm debut is going to be out at the end of this month (more on this soon), then I hear they've signed composer/bandleader/blogger extraordinaire Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, and then, I hope you all caught this Times article on the scintillating composer/performer/doctor/lawyer/Indian chief Caleb Burhans, whose itsnotyouitsme project is also down with the NewAm fam. The best part of the profile:
Mr. Burhans took a job as a substitute in the Rochester Philharmonic, which was sometimes rocky. Once, when Mr. Burhans turned up at a rehearsal with his hair dyed purple, the orchestra’s managing director asked him to do something about it before the concert. Mr. Burhans turned up in a witch’s wig, cut short. The next week he tried to dye his hair a conventional red, but because of the purple die, it came out crimson, so he shaved his head. “I found out that one of the trumpet players was going around saying that I was making a mockery of classical music because my hair was purple,” Mr. Burhans said. “And I had a really intense conversation with the managing director, where I said: ‘You know, I’m just trying to help classical music, because if we don’t get more people like me coming to these concerts, this orchestra is going to die. The only people who are coming are old people, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot.’ And he said: ‘Yeah, you’re right. Sorry.’ “But I made a sign that said, ‘I Make a Mockery of Classical Music’ and started wearing it around.”
I loved this quote because, among other reasons, the visual self-presentation of classical music is such a peculiar one. Lately people are rethinking this notion that a classical ensemble has to be a mob of old folks in black tie, for better and for worse. It makes sense, to a certain extent, that you want your orchestra to be wearing a uniform. After all, the goal of a classical ensemble is uniformity of sound, that no individual obtrudes from the texture. There's also the notion that, just as the players onstage are supposed to disappear into the ensemble, the ensemble should diappear into the sound of the ensemble, that you should forget about the people you see in front of you, and think only about what's going in your ears. The ideal of most classical performance is to communicate the composer's ideas; the performer is not a creator, but an interpreter.
But there are problems with all of these assumptions. Every act of interpretation is also an act of self-expression, though this may be more obvious in some contexts than in others—if you stand under a girl's window with a guitar and sing "And I Love Her," your hope is not that she will run off and marry Sir Paul McCartney. (That would end badly for all involved.) And classical music's attempts at a null visual component have themselves become strong visual signifiers, the black tie and tails increasingly out of place in concerts for jean-and-t-shirt audiences.
So while I'm tempted to say, oh, come on, don't be in an orchestra with purple hair (wasn't that an episode of Daria or something), it's about twenty times as silly to pretend that the audience is going to somehow enjoy the concert less because of one purple head in the band. Let's loosen up a little.
I'm just going to warn the classical music kids—who, and I am including myself in this, do not tend to have the greatest fashion sense in the world—that there are also style choices that are worse than the no-style-choice of classical convention. I think I saw one of these sweaters onstage at a new music concert once, and the huxtability of the performer seriously distracted from the music he was playing.
But the real reason I like this quote is, hello, T-SHIRT IDEA!!! From now on the Daniel Stephen Johnson CafePress store is going to be selling these puppies in a variety of styles and colors. Or better yet, one of these! This is the front and this is the back. All items are modestly priced, unless you are Caleb Burhans in which case they are free if you ask politely, and all proceeds go to support my CD buying habit. Thank you that is all.