I recently had an interesting conversation with my friend Sam Baker, an enthusiastic drummer who lives in Brooklyn. Our musical backgrounds are very different: Mine, a classical tapestry with a subtle design and a paced structure. His, an "in your face" attitude filtered with percussive strokes made of thunderous rage.
Despite these seemingly polar opposites of expression, we nonetheless saw in our conversation that we both had the same common goal in our risky endeavors in this obscure world of music we are now swimming in and hopefully, we won't drown.
So there we were, Sam and I, at the Bushwick Country Club (Best bar in Brooklyn!) with a couple of pint sized $3 PBRs in front of us, debating the endless debate about what it is we musicians are trying to express in our music and how we strive to put it across. Naturally, the question came up as to what relationship we classical-based composers have with the listening audience. For myself and most of my colleagues, this issue is very difficult to deal with. Because in the classical world, it is widely believed that the living composer either doesn't give a damn about the audience or he panders to it like a prostitute to a pimp. A true rock and a hard place for me.
I told Sam that I knew in my heart I wasn't fully satisfied with either of these scenarios, but I could not fully put into words what my real intentions are. For me, it seemed inexplicable. That is, until Sam said to me: "It's obvious! You want to engage the listener. All musicians want to do that!". And when Sam said that to me, I started to feel this enormous weight being lifted from my back.
As he and I discussed this issue further, the term "Engaging music" seemed to have a nice ring to it. As if it could be some kind of future movement in the arts. Something that could appeal to anyone, classical listener or not (Although I'll hold off on that for now, until I figure this out some more). Nonetheless, the term "engaging" is such a great word. It has little or no baggage of it's own. It can be applied to any style of expression and is not directly associated with any one style alone. And most importantly, it accurately describes what every great artist from any background wants to do. As far as Sam and myself are concerned, we want to do engaging music!
For me, the term "engaging" implies that the composer wants to lure the listener into his or her unique sound world. What that world resembles is not as important, as the fact that it must have some kind of addictive allure which entices and then traps the listener till he's powerless to ignore it. Kind of like a drug addiction, but without the bad consequences. Of course the listener can press the "stop" button or leave the auditorium in mid performance, but that would feel so unnatural to do. The listener must see it through in order to get this incredible high that cant be achieved anywhere else. All of this can easily be done once the listener is "engaged" in the first place.
OK, I know there's more work to be done with this idea. I guess this isn't the musical equivilent of Einstein's theories. I'm sure there are other details I have overlooked. But I must say that this "engaging" concept feels very good insofar as I've been able to test it. You have to start somewhere.
Thank you Sam!