Monthly Archives: July 2024

The Key of David

While I was in Chicago last month (to give a slew of pre-concert lectures for the symphony), I took one evening to record a piece that’s been in need of a recording for quite a while now, “O Clavis David,” for choir and organ:

As to the recording session itself, all I can say is, if you hire the right people, you’ll get a good product, and thankfully I had a friend who knew all the right people to hire.

Of course, where organs are concerned you don’t just need the right person playing (which I had) but you also need the right person to record (ditto) and you darn well better make sure you’ve got a quality instrument in an excellent acoustic.

This recording was made at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, which boasts a blazing hot E. M. Skinner organ. When I walked into the church and heard the organist practicing his part, I practically thought he was going to knock my ears off my head.

Luckily he pulled it back (just a little) for the session, but saints alive is that a phenomenal instrument. The piece was written for the Flentrop organ at St. Mark’s in Seattle, which couldn’t be more different, but that’s the thing with writing for the organ — you do your best to make a piece that will work in many different settings, because you never know what you’re going to get.

Costume Party

This first appeared as an essay on Tone Prose, a weekly Substack newsletter about the world of classical music.

The other day I was perusing the r/Seattle subreddit and I came across a question to the effect of: “My boyfriend and I want to get dressed up and go out for a fancy evening. Where in Seattle would we feel comfortable?”

The answers were predictable: “oh Seattle is so casual, you can wear whatever you want, nobody cares.” Indeed, that is true: in Seattle you can wear whatever you want and nobody cares. But I have a sneaking suspicion that’s not what the questioner was really asking.

What the questioner wanted to know is: where can we get dressed up and go out for a night on the town *and be surrounded by other fancy people*?” 

Now, one of the answers on the thread actually did suggest the Symphony and the Opera, and it’s not a bad answer, because those spaces are, at the broadest level, fancier than most spaces you come across in Seattle. But truth be told, most symphony goers dress “smart casual” at best, and certainly not in anything that could be said to resemble formalwear.

If we’re being honest, that’s the case in most concert halls and opera houses throughout the country, and indeed the world, though overall fashion standards are perhaps a tad more elevated in Europe and Asia than they are in North America.

People in the Classical Music Industrial Complex are always talking about how we need to make the experience of going to a performance more relatable, more easy-going, more casual, because that will connect with real people. And indeed, many orchestras, including the Seattle Symphony, have given up their white ties and their tails and adopted the All-Black Visual Succubus attire.

Now a slight tangent: I have a friend, a real dweeb of a fellow, who’s very into swords and sandals and fantasy. He decided to level up his involvement in his hobby and participate in a LARPing weekend. That stands for “Live Action Role Playing,” and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger thing. The idea is, you and 250 other losers dress up as characters from medieval fantasy, go camping out in the woods, and essentially bring a D&D campaign to life, complete with props, magic powers, multiple “lives”, strength/healing levels, baddies, bosses — the whole thing. The way I understand it, it’s historical reenactment meets video games meets kink play.

These LARP people take the whole thing rather seriously (as you might imagine) and so you have to send a photo of your costume even to get approved to participate. I thought it all sounded absurd (it still does) but what my friend said is that on Saturday at 10:00 am, when everyone showed up on the field of battle to start the game, he was overwhelmed by the power of seeing so many other dorks all dressed like warriors and elves and wizards.

Just once, I’d like to have that experience in the concert hall. I think a major symphony orchestra could at the very least try a single concert where a fancy dress code is enforced. We’d get to experience music the way our grandparents and great-grandparents did. You could even program period-appropriate music. It wouldn’t even be that hard! Start with a 1950s night where the audience just wore regular suits, ties, and dresses, and play a mix of Arnold Schoenberg and Leroy Anderson.

But there’s a real chance to level up, and wouldn’t it be fun to go to a concert where not only the orchestra, but also hundreds or thousands of audience members were wearing white tie and tails, ball gowns and jewels? We could have Brahms and Tchaikovsky and Offenbach for a treat. 

Yes indeed, concerts should be LARPing – Listening Attired (as) Reactionary Posh (human beings). Now that’s my idea of a good time!!