A selfie can be more than just a selfie. In the gallery setting, selfie-taking subverts a pact that has existed between museums and visitors since the Enlightenment Era. Museums offer a transformational experience and communion with creative genius in exchange for the focused attention of its visitors. But when we walk through a gallery today, we are accompanied by our invisible audience and the lure of self-presentation in the digital era. The average museum visitor spends seven seconds in front of an artwork—how you choose to spend each second counts.Because it is not about the artwork, it is really about you. Everything in the universe is nothing but a background to your life. I think this is a partial explanation, not only of why the appreciation of classical music is less these days, but also why efforts to popularize it are not likely to succeed.
There are a couple of ways to listen to music: as a journey that takes you out of yourself to places you haven't been, or two, as a moody soundtrack to the wonderfulness that is your life. Guess which genre is which? It seems as if a lot of people listen to music in the latter sense, that is, they don't really listen to it. For some of us, listening to a great piece of music is one of those peak experiences that enriches your life and expands your awareness. But for a lot of us, music is a kind of acoustic carpet or wallpaper, nice enough, but just providing an unobtrusive context for your life. It's like the role of the painting in the museum: background to your selfie!
While I don't want to cramp anyone's style by saying they don't know how to listen to music, it is likely that a lot of people really don't--it is a learned skill. You have to learn to focus your attention and concentrate on something entirely invisible for extended periods of time. I remember when I was an undergraduate, I had a couple of friends over who were not musicians, just acquaintances from residence life. For some reason the question of the seriousness of music came up--I really don't recall the exact context--but my response was to play a recording of the Guarneri Quartet playing the Grosse Fuge by Beethoven, all the way through. They listened to the whole thing and, by the end, a bit shell-shocked, acknowledged that yes, that's a pretty serious piece of music.
These days, if you want to show the appeal of classical music you put on a show, have fancy lights, a pandering introduction, play short, easily digestible, glitzy little pieces and hope to win over a few listeners. But I suspect that one likely result of that strategy is to demonstrate pretty clearly that this music is lightweight flotsam and jetsam and for something serious they should go back to listening to the soap opera drama of Beyoncé.
Let's just listen to the Grosse Fuge so you see what I mean. Blogger won't embed the Guarneri Quartet clip, so just follow the link:
Here is the Alban Berg Quartet in performance:
And for an entirely different kind of journey, here is the Cavatina, a slow movement from the B flat quartet, op. 130, the quartet that the Grosse Fuge was the original finale for:
UPDATE: One fascinating thing about this piece is how Beethoven notates the subject of the fugue. You notice that the players lean on each note all the way through with particular intensity. Beethoven achieves this with very simple means: he writes the notes of the subject not as quarter-notes, but as tied eighth-notes:
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This makes the players dig into the notes differently than if they were just quarters. The tendency then would be, since each note is followed by a rest, to leave the note just a bit early.