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Monday Morning Roundup


by Stephen Becker 15 Dec 2008

ROLL TAPE: Texas Ballet Theater announced this fall that, as a cost-cutting measure, its performances of The Nutcracker would feature recorded music. It’s the first time in 20 years that the group will not be accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. And it seems going to tape is an emerging trend across the country. […]

CTA TBD

ROLL TAPE: Texas Ballet Theater announced this fall that, as a cost-cutting measure, its performances of The Nutcracker would feature recorded music. It’s the first time in 20 years that the group will not be accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

And it seems going to tape is an emerging trend across the country. So much so that New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay lamented the practice in an essay this Sunday.

Macaulay writes that he’s witnessed performances during which recorded music has worked well, but that there’s no replacing the magic that can happen when musicians and dancers are perfectly in sync:

“We are likely to start hearing more taped performances of The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty. This prospect depresses me beyond measure. You need to be a regular dancegoer to know quite how much difference a conductor and orchestra can create between the same cast’s performances of the same ballet on Wednesday and on Thursday. Where there is taped music, sooner or later you’re likely to see taped dancing.”

BAH HUMBUG: It’s Dec. 15 — have you had your fill of holiday music yet? It seems the Scrooges of the Internet have. The last few days at the malls and grocery stores seem to have pushed them over the edge in their ability to stomach another Christmas carol.

That’s definitely the case for Howard Mandel, who writes the blog Jazz Beyond Jazz. He hits on a point that has also driven me crazy over the years — with the hundreds of holiday songs out, each with hundreds of interpretations, why do we get waterboarded by the same dozen or so recordings?

“The loop is too short, that’s part of the problem. Come on, djs! Throw some curves! Where’s Mae West’s (or Marilyn Monroe’s, or Marianne Faithfull’s) “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”? Bing Crosby or Prince drooling “Merry Christmas, Baby”? James Brown powering or George Clinton slandering “Up on the Rooftop with Good St. Nick?” They don’t exist?”

Amen, brother.

At least the Wall Street Journal tries to make some sense of it all. Daniel J. Levitin, a psychology professor, writes about the science of music and why some songs drive us crazier than others. His argument marries well with Mandel’s:

“Why do holiday carols become annoying? When we like a piece of music, it has to balance predictability with surprise, familiarity with novelty. Our brains become bored if we know exactly what is coming next, and frustrated if we have no idea where the song is taking us. Songs that are immediately appealing are not typically those that contain the most surprise. We like them at first and then grow tired of them. Conversely, the music that can provide a lifetime of listening pleasure — whether it’s Bruckner 1 or Zeppelin II — often requires several listenings to reveal its nuances. And the best music offers surprises with each new listening.”

And there’s the rub. Those same ol’ chestnuts don’t offer much in the way of surprise, so our brains shut down after the first measure. But mix in a rare interpretation of a holiday classic, and the ears may not bleed so quickly. To that end, might I suggest this. Or this. Happy Holidays.

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  • Anne

    If you’re tired of the same old holiday songs, you’ll want to tune in to KERA radio on Christmas Day, for a special Art&Seek presentation: Christmas Anthem with Gini Mascorro. I’ve seen a draft of the playlist Gini plans and it is anything but ordinary. Ho ho ho.

  • Michelle Taylor

    I recently went to see Texas Ballet Theater perform The Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall. I am happy to report that the magic was still there. Even without the live music. I was thrilled to be able to continue my family’s holiday tradition of attending this wonderful ballet every year. The dancers were flawless and I’m more than willing to give up live music if it means keeping this company thriving. Bravo! Texas Ballet Theater! Bravo!

  • Michael

    My kids and I attended the December 23rd performance of the NutCracker at Fair Park Music Hall and witnessed first hand the horrors of recorded music- we counted several times in which the dancer started dancing before the music played and noticed one time the music suddenly kicked in. Also, the clock chiming 12 times was badly out of sync with the chimes in the first part of the act. I knew right then something was different and sure enough when my kids leaned over the orchestra pit there was no orchestra! They nickel and dimed us with the valet parking, seact cushion rentals, photographs, and refreshments. Without a live orchestra, the ticket prices should have been cut in half!