As you can see, I’ve been on a classical music binge lately, thanks to being treated in recent weeks to some truly amazing violin playing, courtesy of Jennifer Liu (remember this name – seriously, folks), and I’ve been happily getting back in touch with my classical music roots and meshing them with my current research interests by looking them up on YouTube (I’m being a bit facetious here – the only meshing with current research interests is the digital media aspect and the fact that it’s probably preventing me from working on actual research), which has everything ranging from Heifetz playing Zigeunerweisen (a favorite of my brother’s, who played it, and Sabi’s, who sang along) and Cziffra playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 (probably one of my all-time favorite piano pieces…and one I’ve NEVER played, and never attempted) to fun things like “Rachmanioff had Big Hands”, to first-time musicians braving the scathing comment boxes of the Internet by posting clearly amateurly-played pieces (many with good humor).
Today, I ran across a 6-yr-old violinist named Mercedes Cheung playing Zigeunerweisen. Impressive? Absolutely. Does it sounds good? Umm…let’s say I choose to take the 5th on that one. Watching these brings up questions about the spectacle and sensationalism. Let me be a classical music purist for a second and leave aside all my academic training about the myth of high/low/pop cultures. Let’s forget about Howard Becker for the moment. Why is this girl such a big deal? If she were older, say, even a respectable 10, and played like that, she’d probably be laughed out of the hall. Instead…well, I’ll let you read the comments for yourself. Ok, the thing is, the mass media doesn’t seem to have picked up on the fact that this little girl is playing some of the hardest pieces ever written for violin, but just like in the case of Connie Talbot on Britain’s Got Talent, the special part of it all is the age.
What’s even more interesting to me (here’s where this production vs. consumption side comes in) are the comments. The VAST VAST majority of the comments are about how good she is. It leads me to question this idea that I’ve REALLY learned to resist in the last year…the idea that you need to “learn” how to listen to “high culture”. I’m cringing as I write this, because in any other case, I’m strictly against this idea of high culture vs. vulgar/low/pop culture. I don’t feel there should be a distinction…for reasons I won’t go into here. I also don’t think there should be a judging of even classical music, since the classification of “good” in classical music simply hearkens back to the conventions and authorities that define what “good” is in music. The question is, are the viewers deaf to the music because of the fact that Mercedes is 6? Because what she does is impressive? What does that say about the type of music we look for? What does it mean then, to play music? Is it always tied to the identity of the musician – that we would settle for, or indeed in this case, praise, mediocre music because of who the musician? Is the identity of the musician, then, especially in this digital era of YouTube and easy publishing (publish, then filter, remember) more important than the music itself?
I’ve always worked with the philosophy of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” when it comes to playing classical music. I feel like it totally applies in this case. The thing is, I would say I’m definitely being a little bit unfair, because mass media hasn’t descended upon her with its vulture-like claws so I’m probably just picking on Mercedes a bit here as an example of something that happens on a regular basis (sorry, Mercedes – you’re cute as a button, and talented for your age to boot, and I can’t wait to see where you’ll be in 4 years, but…yea). Because this happens ALL THE TIME. Kids playing songs they’re simply not ready for – either technically or in musical maturity. In Mercedes’ case, it’s unfortunately both. It’s not music – it’s a stunt.
Let the hate comments begin… I really struggled with whether or not I should post this, because I feel like I’m being really mean…but in the end, well, here it is. Maybe I’m just too apologetic sometimes?