Edit: I don’t know what kind of bizarre mood I was in when I wrote this post, but it just reads as mean-spirited and weird. I feel bad about it, and don’t really understand what I was trying to do. So it’s not really worth your time. May I suggest viewing some lolcats instead?
You know how freemasons are funny? With their little rituals and names for each other and symbolism and proud history and how they think it’s all really important? And you feel a bit guilty finding it funny, because they’re just having fun in their own way and what’s wrong with that? But then you remember how they don’t like women and so are fair game for mockery? I was at a classical concert this evening, and it’s basically the same. Except without the last bit.
Classical concerts always make me feel like an intruder at a vaguely-cultish members-only club. They have the same bizarre rituals and in-jokes and childish oddities and symbolic very meaningful things that are completely impenetrable to anyone not in their clique. Thing is, there’s no but. Classical concerts are not harming anyone. People go, people enjoy doing odd things that they somehow know all about, and then they go home and that’s that. This is why I feel bad that it annoys the hell out of me.
Why does the main violin dude get applause? Is he better than all the other violinists? And why is it always a dude? And there’s clearly EPIC politics involved in the hierarchies of orchestras, as there are all sorts of little in-jokes to do with arrangements and different sections, and the audience laugh at odd moments. And I’ve no doubt I could find out why. But it’s nonetheless alienating and annoying.
And then at the end everyone stamps their feet. You know, like six-year-olds in assembly before they’re told to stop, or politicians when they really want to look out of touch and octogenarian. Why would you do that? It’s excruciating. The Last Night of the Proms is the epitome of this kind of thing. It’s full of impenetrable rituals, and everyone’s incredibly earnest about it all. At one point they hang a garland around a statue and everyone finds it really meaningful. Sure, fine, whatever you want to do, but then everyone starts bobbing. And they all look very serious about their bobbing. It’s not a fun bobbing. Nobody is smiling and bobbing. It’s a vital, symbolic, steeped-in-history bobbing. As Claudia Winkleman once said, it makes me want to pull my eye out and feed it to a dog.
I think it’s the taking it so very, very seriously that gets to me. I don’t know why. It’s unfair. But the solo soprano / mezzo-soprano / tenor at tonight’s concert were all pulling faces like this was the most important thing that had ever happened. Ever. This song, this tune, nothing can ever match this one glorious performance. And they clearly don’t think that, so it just rings false. They’re like those artists who go on tv and claim art is more important than politics. They’re either deluded, which is terribly sad, or they’re lying, which is ridiculous. Thing is, again, there’s nothing wrong with this, and I’m being a dick.
I know being annoyed by this is close to snobbery. There’s obviously a link between classical concerts and richer people, and the associated rituals are unique to that echelon of society. So being annoyed by it feels a lot like being snobby about the behaviour of rich people, which is an attitude I obviously despise – that’s just as moronic as snobbery against poor people. But I honestly don’t think it’s the class aspect that gets to me. I don’t like tradition for tradition’s sake. I’m also annoyed by faux-meaningful symbolism, and mass in-groups make me squee (I found sitting in the TAM:London audience a bit uncomfortable). But that’s not a good reason, really. I’m just arbitrarily, unfairly annoyed at people doing weird clubhouse shit that I don’t understand and wouldn’t like even if I did.
Anyway, I was at a performance of Handel’s Messiah, and even aside from the cliqueiness I didn’t enjoy it at all. And I’d actually expected to have a good time – I can quite enjoy classical music, um, sometimes, and was certainly giving it a good try. I thought the choir and the orchestra sang and played very well – I don’t see what more I could ask for, there – but the lyrics in the Messiah are so completely off the charts batshit crazy that I just can’t ignore them. I just find them utter pants, both meaningfully and structurally. I don’t see the wit or skill in thinking up a new one-liner to say how great god is, then repeating it forever, preferably warbling through as many notes as possible in every word. It’s just bloody tedious, and would be no matter what the subject. Singing endlessly about transparent wish-fulfilment fantasies adds a +1 for eye-rolling, though.
The biggest disappointment came after a lot of repetitions of ‘we all like sheep’. I honestly thought for a moment that they were singing something interesting. But then came ‘have lost our way’. Because, you know, humanity is pathetic and useless without Jesus.
I get that religious people obviously like that sort of (demeaning, patronising) worship, and while I can’t understand it, knock yourselves out. But then they made everyone stand up for the hallelujah chorus. See, it’s one thing to do all your weird stuff, but forcing me to join in through politeness is sodding irritating, and when it’s about how people come back from the dead and isn’t that wonderful? Go away. I don’t care how funny or clever or in-jokey or symbolic you’re all finding it, it’s rude.
I am aware that it makes a big difference if you know the music. I may well one day find the music beautiful. Maybe going to a concert and hearing it for the first time is like putting on a new album and expecting to make a judgement after one listen. But in terms of lyrics, I find the average pop song more creative and interesting.
Anyway, other people get very moved by the Messiah, and I’m genuinely glad it does something for them. But I think I’ll skip it in future.
I feel quite bad as tonight was a gift, and I have complained about it on my blog. Um, yes. Can’t really get out of that one. But it was a nice gift, and I’m grateful! Also it is vaguely possible I left without my grandmother at one point, and I am sorry about that too. It needn’t have been this way, though – via Lauren, here’s a version of the hallelujah chorus that I much prefer: