Part 3 of 4 essays exploring the evolution in classical music concert design by the 1781 Collective. The third installation of this series explores how classical music can be framed as a cousin of mindfulness and wellbeing practices, introducing it to a huge number of people in the constant search of self-betterment.
Poor old classical music, eternally condemned to search for relevance and meaning in the 21st-century. Wistfully looking at the ‘good old days’ where it reigned supreme over the cultural preferences of the elite (presumably back in the ‘good old days’ where the working class and plebians were considered unworthy of attention); relegated now to the role of quirky oddity that even the elite aren’t paying that much attention to. Classical music as a genre and industry is currently undergoing a century-long identity crisis, of which it appears it is no closer to understanding its value and potential than it has been at whatever point this ‘crisis’ began.
It’s rather ironic, that the traditional purveyors of classical music, for all of their obsession with purifying, protecting, and worshipping the sanctity of the notes, are unable to either identify what actually makes it valuable to others, or convince potential audiences to listen to it. It turns out that standing on a podium and shouting down to the unwashed masses is no longer the best way to convince people that something has worth and meaningful potential to their existence on earth.
But here’s the thing: classical music is inherently meaningful and worthy, it is a phenomenal product that somehow marries complexity and intellectuality with emotion — something so inimitably technical and rules-based, yet capable of expressing the innermost thoughts and feelings of a person; beyond language, beyond any other method of communication humans have developed. Classical music has the potential and ability to touch people in such complete ways, it can illustrate an entire story of human existence (with its peaks and troughs, melancholy and ecstasy) within a simple Schubert impromptu in only ten minutes. At the risk of sounding braggy, no other art form can achieve this so completely; no other art form can take you on a journey of self-discovery, enquiry, and betterment within the framework of a few bars of Bach played on cello.
In 2019, the 1781 Collective released ‘An Introspective Manifesto’, calling for a development of artistic performances that encouraged performance designers to curate spaces that encouraged audiences to lose themselves within their thoughts and emotions. Facilitated in the ‘Ritual Design Series’, and utilising Narrative Structure to guide the audience, what resulted was an experience bordering on the mindfulness and wellbeing practices ubiquitous in the western world now. Today, we are witnessing a generation of people who are in constant pursuit of self-betterment; be it through meditation, yoga, marathon running, veganism, etc. The great academic and conductor, Leon Botstein identifies that classical music has the potential to offer exactly what these people are looking for — something that enriches their time on earth, that simply makes the listeners’ life better. We wholeheartedly agree. This is the value of classical music.
Tapping into the desire of audience members to experience things that improve their quality of life is a potent method to bringing people closer to our music, and quite simply, convincing them that they need this in their life. And there is an upswell of interest as many musicians are beginning to identify the latent potential of music as a tool alongside other esoteric and scientific practices designed to allow genuine human experiences in an age of digital affluence and omnipotence.
The various methods one can integrate wellbeing practices and focus into concert design can be as simple as having an audience ‘Lie Down and Listen’, or crafting programmes that emphasise a narrative thread which avoid more virtuosic works in preference for introspective works; to developing collaborations with qualified mental health practitioners, or designing a concert experience which encourages the audience to tap into various thought and meditation procedures. The selection of music becomes secondary to the effect of the sound produced (a nod to deprioritising repertoire — e.g. playing an entire sonata, where one movement would suffice; or hiding contemporary composers within a deluge of well-known names — in favour of selecting the best pieces to suit the design of the event), allowing the musician far greater freedom to perform what they feel most passionate about; surely a result we can all agree in favour on.
When they say listening to classical music will help you focus #shorts
Far from presenting classical music as merely relaxing, this element becomes but one of the myriad emotions and experiences that can be engaged in during a single concert. Whilst classical music has been used to ‘wind down’ and ‘switch off’ for decades, what we advocate for here is using the full potential of our product to take audiences on a journey that explores their entire emotional potential; to engage with dark and ecstatic feelings alike; to utilise classical music at its most potent and powerful. Not a dumbing down, but a proper celebration of our great and unique art form — and in doing so, perhaps rediscover for ourselves exactly what our identity and power is in the 21st-century.