As a composer, one of the steps in the creative process that I often find mentally difficult to grapple with ...
…or the more pertinent question…are churches the best places to hear live music? I’ve been thinking about this lately as my friend, Liz Parker, is pretty adamant that performances of classical music would be better attended if they avoid churches. As Liz stated in a recent conversation on Facebook, “church is associated with somewhere you have to go, rather than somewhere you want to go.” I definitely see her point although I know there are still a lot of people out there who like going to church for spiritual reasons. Would those people also possibly not go to a concert since they don’t want to mix their religion and entertainment?
Last week, I went to a wonderful performance of chamber music by two musicians. The concert took place in a very historical and large church in mid-town Toronto. As much as I enjoyed the music, I couldn’t help but imagine how much more beautiful the music would have been if in a much smaller space. The cathedral ceilings were so high and there were so many pews, the musicians didn’t have a fighting chance of filling the space acoustically. Ambiance wise, there weren’t many people, or at least so many empty seats created that illusion. I think there’s something neat to experience a live concert in a crowded room rather than an empty-ish one.
That’s not to say ALL music performances are bad in a church setting…could you enjoy an organ recital or choir performance anywhere else? The reason why those work is that composers composed the music with that space specifically in mind. David Byrne talks masterfully about this in a Ted Talk…
So it seems to be a sin for someone to perform that Beethoven sonata or Chopin Polonaise in a church unless it’s in a smaller sanctuary with a lower flat roof (or at least that’s what I remember of my acoustics class in University:)).
Being a pianist, I’ve had a chance to perform countless times in churches over the years. I’ll be honest and say that it’s never been that enjoyable. I so desperately want to fill the space with sound and I just can’t…too much space, even with a 9ft concert grand. I feel even more sorry for my students at my studio recitals who have not yet developed the aural skills or technique needed to try to fill the room. But we live in a music culture where churches are aplenty and eager to rent out their space to help keep their ship running. And we musicians reciprocate often by obligation and aren’t able to create as great an experience as we could.
So what’s the alternative? Well, if churches continue to be gung-ho about hosting concerts and doing community outreach that way, what about converting other parts of a church into a performance space? A lot of people are eager to get rid of pianos so having a second piano in the performance space / aka community room would be beneficial. A more intimate setting would be awesome. I did a concert in Truro, Nova Scotia on the Green Keys Tour back in 2010…it was a great setting.
How about more concerts in unique places? Let’s break down the barriers of where music should and should not be performed.
So should churches host concerts? Maybe not as often as they do now. No offense to churches, but I think that would be a good thing. As an old friend once told me, “if things don’t change, they die.”