Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The speed of scary

What makes something scary?

One of the great ironies from last week's concert is that by far the most reaction-grabbing item on the program was the first: the famous Toccata and Fugue in d minor by (perhaps) J. S. Bach. This was the item I just HAD to play. And it isn't a surprise that it went over well. People know it. And most people like what they know and know what they like. Even the music streaming service Pandora has been party to the phenomena. Put the entire world of music in all its infinite variety merely a click away and most people are still not curious enough to try something new. When I post something off the beaten path it can go all week at the top of the pianonoise homepage without a single click. Something famous on the other hand might get a lot of attention. Despite most people knowing very little of the classical literature, those same people will naturally assume that if they don't know it it must not be that good. Which means they'll never find out they were wrong.

But fear, one reasons, ought to be another thing altogether--or perhaps the reason for the avoidance of anything new. Fear is something you experience in the face of the unknown. Not simply because you might not like something but because it could genuinely harm you. Fear is not the guise of the familiar; it is the costume worn by the thing without a face, or even a recognizable human form. It is unknown, unnamed. It is a force, a concept.

In other words, it is a little strange that people came out to a concert that was supposed to be scary in order to experience the familiar; the part where the guy in the phantom costume launches into the Toccata and Fugue on a gothic sounding pipe organ. We all know that image and that sound. There isn't anything scary about travelling a path well lit in the mind.

Then again, that is part of what makes Halloween what it is, I argued. It is a chance to be afraid in a safe environment, to laugh at our fears. And for many of us, it isn't really a scary holiday at all. It is more of a carnival.

Afterward, there was plenty of chance to be afraid. The rest of the concert consisted of pieces that most people did not know. These were all pieces from the organ repertoire. All of them deserve to be heard, all could qualify as "scary"--mainly just through being in minor keys, really--and all offered a chance to experience something new and be changed by the experience. And several people found that they really enjoyed that. Which made being "your host" for the evening really gratifying. After all, as an organist, I am a keeper of a very impressive crypt full of some amazing music, and most of the year it is behind several layers of rock and a fence with a mental KEEP OUT (you might not like it) sign. It isn't easy to access, even for the intrepid traveler. Even our classical radio station doesn't play organ music. Where would you go to hear some if you wanted to?   (::cough:: pianonoise)

We do have a small group of organists in town, with their own chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and they do give concerts sometimes (attended usually by 30 to 50 people). Friday night was a full house (200-250?) and some of them (I could tell from the comments afterward) made a real connection with some new music. That is about as rewarding as it gets. And if others were merely entertained--well, it's not so bad, either. I'd like to think Friday was pretty entertaining as well. Usually after one of these events, which feature about 45 minutes of music and a half hour of commentary, someone tells me that I missed my calling as a stand up comedian.

I was also told that my talk was informative. This is a good combination, it seems to me. I'll try posting it by next week so you can make up your own mind. Stay tuned.

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