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Why Knowing the Music Matters by Jacqueline Ristola

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Last semester the SAO had an incredible line-up of great artists, and I had the privilege to attend most of them. On a personal level, these concerts also proved to be the most fruitful concerts I’ve attended, not just because of the artist’s talent, but my own preparations for each concert were quite rewarding. I listened extensively to many of the latest albums of the performing artists, writing on much of what I heard as well. By processing the music this way, I had a much deeper grip on the content, and enjoyed the concerts much more.

As to why I enjoyed these concerts so much, I do believe knowing the music of an artist exponentially increases your enjoyment of a concert. I learned this the hard way last year, as I was not familiar with many of the artists, or their latest work. Some artists escape this difficulty with music that you comprehend more with your body: Cut Copy and their entourage of Washed Out and Midnight Magic taught me how to dance, plain and simple, and I am ever grateful. But beyond physicality, their music has the ability to unite a crowd of people rather easily. As often as pop is disparaged, good pop can connect people through music (and often dance) that can be incredibly difficult to do otherwise. In other words, knowing the words wasn’t a prerequisite for deeply enjoying the concert (though it could have saved me from some small embarrassments here and there.)

In contrast, Bruce Cockburn’s simple (acoustic guitar, with a few percussion accessories), but profoundly affecting set would probably have been more accessible to me if I had know his work better. Instead, I was hearing many of these lyrics for the first time, which means my brain is capturing the art on a technical level, but not a thematic level or otherwise. It also meant I wasn’t able to notice any stylistic innovations on his part.  In order to understand what the artist is doing differently, I would first need to know what their original work sounded like as well. In short, there’s so much I was missing in the concert that I could have enjoyed with a little more research and a lot of music listening.

In my experience, this semester has illustrated how knowing the music ultimately makes for a more engaged audience member. I nodded my head vicariously to mewithoutYou. I deeply appreciated how the lighting of “All the Rowboats” aesthetically complemented Regina Spektor’s song. I lost my voice from singing along to nearly every song by fun. Aside from physical presence (a whole other important aspect to live performance), being engaged leads to better enjoyment of a concert. I guarantee it.