The cultural experience

The Paramount before the Marsalis In Iowa concert

I got us tickets to the Marsalis in Iowa concert because I wanted a cultural experience. I was hoping for some orchestral jazz. I thought maybe I’d be able to expand my ability to enjoy jazz in general and support the local orchestra.

What I discovered were the limits to my ability to appreciate sound for its own sake. I could not get past my thoughts about what music should be just because I heard it an artistic performance venue. In particular, the selection that did me in and made it impossible for me to sit through yet another listening of Copland’s Symphony #3 (which I don’t particularly care for because I think people overplay it) was this number: Saxophone Concerto No. 2, “Under the Wing of the Rock”.

It is a technically difficult piece for saxophone. Branford Marsalis played it brilliantly. I could not understand it as music, only as an intellectual exercise.

It struck me as the sort of thing composers write to prove that a particular instrument is capable of atypical sounds when in the hands of a true master. As the roommate put it, it’s the sort of thing that’s written on a dare.

It’s the sort of composition that true masters learn while cursing the name of the composer. When/If you learn to play it, it shows both the true range of the instrument and your skill as a musician.

Oh, the cursing!

I could hear the technical difficulty of the piece, but I realized I was supposed to believe that I heard music, too. I looked at the beautiful venue. I looked at the intensity of the performers. I tried to internalize what I heard as music.

I failed.

I could not make my brain recognize the music of the piece. All I heard were technically difficult sounds to make. All I saw were people performing their hearts out and making nothing but noise.

We left at intermission because I couldn’t make the mental leap required to make the experience anything more than a cultural experience that I didn’t have the combined experience and education to do more than appreciate on an intellectual level at best.

At least the piece allowed me to learn something. Recognizing my limits gives me greater insight into my own biases.

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