Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Holst, and the benefit of uniformity

This afternoon, I took in a chamber orchestra performance of four pieces by British composers. Before the concert began, the man seated next to me mentioned to his companion that the orchestra always reminded him of funerals - everyone dressed in black, with dark, heavy curtains draped around the stage as if at a wake*. I was surprised by this admission, actually, because to me, the pageantry is obvious; the purpose of the dark clothing and darkened stage boundaries is to allow the performers to fade into the background, and the music to take center stage instead.
The conformity - or uniformity - of the orchestra serves this purpose. Not only must they all dress alike (so much so that entire clothing companies exist solely to provide "concert black" - imagine if one cellist was wearing really dark blue instead), but they must even behave alike, bowing together and in time. One or two musicians from a section who are out of sync with the rest cause us to wonder if they are capable players; if everyone in the orchestra "did their own thing," it would be horribly distracting, and we would be unable to appreciate the music itself.
So there are, in fact, circumstances wherein conformity to a prescribed system is beneficial; there are instances where we must be willing to give up our individualism for the "greater good." In the case of the orchestra, it is the music; in the case of society, it is the betterment of human life. Of course, as soon as that system ceases to provide a net positive, it and its defined limits of conformity can be discarded. But we should not be disparaging of the system simply because it demands uniformity of its members.
Of course, it also helps when the "system" in question is Holst's St. Paul's Suite.

*The man seated next to me also indicated, rather matter-of-factly, to his companion that watching "a lot" of BBC America - Downton Abbey, presumably - makes one "an anglophile." So we musn't take his opinions too seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I have been listening to Holst's Suite in F for Concert Band all day.

    Good thoughts!

    Now time for some Downton.......


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