I suppose I should feel excited about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, and perhaps it is just my overbearing cynicism that overshadows any true optimism about this, but there’s just something vaguely unsettling about it. It’s hard to place a finger on, but I’ll give it a shot.
It’s kinda like Grandma making a YouTube video. It’s cute, you appreciate she figured out how to work the thing, but there’s something faintly depressing about it. Yes, it’s nice to see Grandma up on the internets, but does she belong there? Wouldn’t you rather see her just making cookies or something? Ya know, something Grandma-ey?
Ok, my analogy is stretching a bit, but here’s the deal. I’m often wary of sensationalist actions and events that seek to thrust classical music into the mainstream, even though many of them are made with the sincerest best of intentions. Similar attempts were made with The Disney Orchestra (which many of my friends were in) and Mr. Holland’s Opus. What did they do? They made a bunch of people feel warm and fuzzy, but their actual effect is questionable. These projects seem aimed more at stirring the guilt of the public for its glaring lack of support than they do at attempting to produce great art or creating a lasting effect on the consciousness of our society, a consciousness that – perhaps unconsciously – views classical music as something arcane and elitist.
Still, I felt kinda warm and fuzzy reading about Tan Dun’s and MTT’s efforts, two genuine forces for good in the classical music world. But you know what else made me feel warm and fuzzy? Charlie Bit My Finger.
My optimistic side tells me that the culture of YouTube is the perfect thing to encourage art and music in young people. As kids, my generation (and all before mine) grew up relatively isolated with our artistic endeavors. Young people now have endless avenues to explore, share, and learn about theirs; it’s the kind of encouragement we could only have dreamt of. Whereas I grew up hiding my classical music side from my friends, young musicians can now seek friends and support in their musical lives with YouTube as their primary tool.
So is it a movement or a Google P.R. move? Or both? Can the classical world be saved by a serious of stunts? I mean, we can pretty much rule out any great art coming from this project, yes? Something tells me Tan Dun’s “Internet Symphony No. 1 — Eroica” (yes, that’s the real title) ain’t exactly gonna be something for the music history books.
What I’d rather see is a long-term investment. A site connecting students and teachers via video, or live-streaming. The creation of an online infrastructure connecting young musicians who could support and collaborate with each other. Something that would benefit many as opposed to the few.
My worry: thousands of young musicians are going to make videos of themselves for this project. 99% of them are going to be assed-out. About a hundred people are going to have a badass time playing a big show at Stern. How does this help the classical world as a whole, aside from publicity? Wouldn’t a better project be something that would help the culture – the musicians, not just the winners of an audition?
Maybe it’s just the classical music world’s first shot at finally doing something with this crazy internet thing. Yes, at its core the whole idea is very old-fashioned. But maybe it’ll be good for Grandma. Maybe just what Grandma needs is to get herself up on her feet to dance around for a bunch of people. Maybe that will get her confidence up so she can actually do something worthwhile. :)