The composer David Lang has a great editorial in today’s New York Times.
It’s “a pitch for new music.” You know how much I love puns. And as a kid I enjoyed baseball, at least the one or two games a year that I’d go to with my dad and my brother and, once in a while, my mom.
Anyway, back to David Lang and his great piece on baseball and classical music. You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts worth highlighting.
Somehow the legendary magnificence of baseball’s past doesn’t get in the way of enjoying what is happening in baseball’s present. Can we say the same thing about classical music? Not always. Our love of the past can enhance what we hear but I often feel that the appreciation of classical music’s glorious past can get in the way of truly hearing the music being made right now.
It turns out that classical music fans do a lot of the same remembering and measuring as baseball fans. Both baseball and classical music have a great sense of history, a tremendous respect for the past, and a slew of nerdy people like me [and me!] who want to know all the details. Both are made of people who argue passionately with each other about who was the greatest.
The strange thing is that music fans and baseball fans remember the past with very different results; appreciation of the past helps baseball fans enjoy the game in front of them, while sometimes classical music’s illustrious past can keep us from enjoying what is happening right now.
It is a real problem — listeners who come to hear new music searching for only the composers and performers who can fly up immediately to some musical pantheon will almost always be disappointed. Not because musicians are worse now, or aren’t skilled, or inspired, or serious, but because “greatness” is not an objective measurement. It is the end result of an unpredictable communal process of the sorting of memories; the listeners of the future will decide if something is memorable through the simple act of remembering it.
I think what baseball projects, and what classical music needs, is the sense that one goes to a live event not to experience greatness, but to experience the possibility of greatness.
The possibility of greatness: yes.