“I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend.” Freddie Mercury
My youngest brother is a conservatory trained percussionist…..which means he’s played for a LOT of rock bands. Classically trained, he likes playing for rock bands more than orchestras. Why? The atmosphere. According to him, most rock musicians are not the spoiled brats we imagine but many of the classical musicians he’s worked with are. He’s got some radical opinions about classical music and why we struggle to keep it alive. And most of all, he questions what we are willing to put up with in the name of “genius.”
We throw the term “rock star” around willy-nilly in the classical world. This composer is a Rock Star and that pianist is a Rock Star and the other conductor-du-jour is a Rock Star. What does that mean in our musical genre? A visual artist friend of mine thinks it means we have a talent (whether music or another art) others find so magical and special they are intrigued and awed by it. Rock Star status may also mean we are given a pass on rational behavior, since anyone so talented and so much a genius at the keyboard (or with such a heavenly voice or such a wonderful conductor) should not be expected to behave like a mere mortal. And yet, the real Rock Stars are not exactly like that.
Little Bro tells me rock musicians are all about the fans. Most have paid their dues, whether in garage bands or by playing dives, sometimes selling CDs from the back of their cars to get exposure. They are grateful to the people who have made them what they are and show their gratitude by signing autographs, CDs, tee-shirts and various and sundry body parts all without (mostly) complaint. Up close and personal, most are nice, normal people who are driven but humble and have worked hard to get where they are. The unusual Green Room demands we hear about—like only blue M &Ms or a special brand of bottled water—are really not demands but a strategy of making sure a venue is paying attention to details. Blue M & Ms are not important, but the distance between laser lights or fireworks or speakers, for safety reasons, are. If venues pay attention to the silly stuff, chances are they will be paying attention to the important stuff too.
He tells me we put up with “conductors behaving badly” too often and given the usual subject of my Blog, I would have to agree. How do we change, and better yet, how do we change our out-of-control colleagues’ behavior? Perhaps a change in attitude is in order. In my opinion, it boils down to one word: respect.
Do you respect your singers and do they respect you? Do you have good things to say about your colleagues in the choral community and do they have equally good things to say about you? And what about local competing choral organizations, do you respect them and their mission, perhaps slightly different from yours? How do we foster a climate of respect, tolerance and collegiality within our own choral community and the choral world are large? Is being respectful so hard? Is acknowledging others hard work, talent and accomplishments so difficult? Does it make us feel uncomfortable to give someone else a compliment because we feel it might diminish us and our achievements? I don’t have the answers, but I do know for the good of choral music, our singers as well as classical music, we need to find the answers.
Speaking of rock stars, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were friends as well as rivals and respected each other. We can all agree, in rock and roll and music in general, these gentlemen are legends. If Ringo and Mick can respect each other, we should be able to respect our colleagues too.