Last Saturday, I had the privilege of spending my evening at the State Theater in downtown Minneapolis where David Byrne and St. Vincent presented a concert together in promotion of their recent album release, “Love This Giant.” For those who may not be familiar with these musicians, I will gladly paint you a picture: Byrne is a musician, artist, filmmaker and writer - a true renaissance man best known for founding the Talking Heads, an American new wave band active from 1976 to 1988. St. Vincent, or rather, Annie Clark, is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist renowned for her most recent solo album, Strange Mercy 2011.
Their collaborative performance was truly a feast for both ears and eyes. I laughed. I cried. I danced more than I ever have and nearly peed myself out of enthusiasm for their music. This powerful experience of live music forced me to reflect upon the tradition of live performance, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.
During the upstart of the recording industry in 1906, John Philip Sousa commented on the emerging institution: “These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy . . . in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs.”
Prior to the introduction of “talking machines,” people had to gather to listen to music, as Sousa made clear in his objection to the recording devices of his day. Sound was evanescent – it could only be heard live. The ability to record sound has made listening to music a much more personal and often solitary experience.
Although I do not believe this is a problem in the slightest, it remains a curious behavior to me. We so often close ourselves off to our surroundings by closing our ears with those notorious white buds. It is a beautiful thing that we can listen to any music at any time and in any place; however, would it not be more beautiful to share that experience with those with whom we are close? Or anyone, for that matter? As I bopped along to the sweet sounds of Byrne and St. Vincent last weekend, I felt connected to the strangers surrounding me. We all made the decision to be in that place that night and were all swallowed up by the same remarkable sights and sounds in the room. It was an exhilarating event that had a similar emotional impact on many people in the space, thus bringing us together.
In addition to feeling the connectedness of the audience, the opportunity to see and hear a favorite performer live can engage you so much more in his or her music. Professional musicians are no longer selling their products as they once were so must play more concerts in order to financially sustain themselves. Attending live performances offers support to individual artists and the general music industry.
So, as students living in rural Minnesota, what can we experience here? This weekend, your peers will be presenting their musical talents in Skoglund in celebration of Homecoming Weekend: the St. Olaf Band will perform Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Manitou and Viking Choruses with the Norseman Band and Philharmonia will take the stage Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Besides our own revered ensembles, St. Olaf will host many musicians in the Pause and the Lair this school year keep an eye on my column-I will try to highlight these events as they approach. The town of Northfield, as many of you know, also offers a plethora of opportunity to hear live music at The Contented Cow, The Tavern, Hogan Brothers and The Chapel, among others. And, if you feel like crossing the bridge, Carleton’s Cave will host a variety of bands and music events in the coming year. Thanks for reading, and please support musicians!