Marmots and Their Orchestral Rationale

What is a Marmot?

It is a type of ground-dwelling squirrel. See below.

What does ‘semantic’ mean?

Well semantics is a study of meanings, particularly to do with linguistics.

So a semantic marmot is a squirrel who studies meanings in languages.

Or semantically:

A semantic marmot is a large, ground-dwelling squirrel of the genus Marmota marmota who undergoes the act or process of applying the mind so as to acquire knowledge or understanding, as by reading, investigating, etc, something that is conveyed or signified with particular emphasis on the systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols.

With that out of the way, perhaps we can turn our attention to more pressing matters. Bear in mind it may be a little difficult to preserve the continuity with what has come before.

I have an issue with a certain orchestra. They play too much standard classical music.

I made a graph to prove it. In doing so I counted all 77 pieces and categorised them as European or not and then Popular Repertoire or not. The results are thus:

So what can we learn?

3.9% of the concert season is dedicated to European music that is not common repertoire. (Common in this context a major/significant and well-known work by a well-known composer (Beethoven, Mozart, etc) that a typical Classical concert-going audience could expect to hear every few years or so)

14.29% of the program features uncommon/new works from non common composers. (This may seem substantial, but these are concentrated in three concerts and are mainly Australian premieres, and half of these are by the same featured Australian composer. They are being performed in much smaller venues and are not being performed in the same concert series as the ‘real music.’)

A grand total of 0% of the popular (well-known) music is not European.

Orchestra, 81.82% of the pieces you play are standard  pieces from Europe that everybody knows. Bad orchestra. Bad.

*Smacks on nose with rolled-up newspaper*

Even worse, if we only consider the main concert series. This figure increases to 95.45%.

Alas. This is the state of classical music. Static. An auditory museum where people to congregate and gush only at pieces that they already know.

As Grainger said:

I firmly believe that music will someday become a “universal language.” But it will not become so as long as our musical vision is limited to the output of four European countries between 1700 and 1900. The first step in the right direction is to view the music of all peoples and periods without prejudice of any kind, and to strive to put the world’s known and available best music into circulation. Only then shall we be justified in calling music a “universal language.”

So in summary. This particular orchestra seems to be doing nothing more than gratifying a dwindling audience of old ladies (of both sexes as Charles Ives would say) who are looking to remark how ‘lovely’ and ‘nice’ the concert was. (As I’m sure is the case frequently with many orchestras.)

And they wonder why classical music is dying along with them. It’s being suffocated in the stale environs and mindless traditions of what classical music is ‘supposed’ to be, rather than an open-minded, living and breathing art form. Which ironically is what those Beethoven Symphonies were at the time they were written.

Alas, this is just a fraction of what I have to say on this topic. But it’s a start.

With thanks to the back of a loose sheet of an application form, who generously donated the space for the above research tally.

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8 thoughts on “Marmots and Their Orchestral Rationale

  1. I wonder which orchestra, but then, it could be just about any! You didn’t mention that the old ladies would be wearing their nicest gowns and best jewellery. Seriously, it’s a major issue which only a very few have managed to tackle successfully (Pierre Boulez for example, for a while at least) and it’s very difficult to see that it might change – economics I guess. .

    • Indeed! I actually wrote a follow-up article (which I didn’t publish) on a different orchestra after moving to a new hemisphere – the results for them were 156 popular european pieces to a grand combined total of 10 from the other categories! While some personalities can draw and maintain crowds for ‘contemporary’ classical music, I think possibly it’s no longer a matter of converting these museum audiences (or appeasing or emulating their style of popular classism)- everything about music written today has to change and thrive in a much much wider world. Perhaps distancing from the categorising labels would be a start…

  2. I got to follow marmots around on Mt. Ranier, then on Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and then I found them at Ein Gedi in the Judean Desert in Israel. They do get around, these amazing little creatures! And they whistle.

  3. Mmm. Which four countries? Germany, obviously, Italy for the opera, France? Russia? What about Sibelius or Nielsen? The UK joins in after 1900, with Britten and Vaughan-Williams. Of non-Europeans, do you count Parry- European by race not birth- if not, I could only think of Toru Takemitsu. In the 60s, with Boulez and Stockhausen contemporary Orchestral music was difficult, but now Tavener, MacMillan are fairly popular.

    And- thank you for the follow. Come and comment, and I may follow back. I have only one recent post on music, though, on Mahler .

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