Friday, January 2, 2015

Thinking Realistically about Performance

While I am not of fan of either Idina Menzel or most of the music she performs, I have to give her points for recognizing the realities of live performance. For those who do not know the context, Menzel was one of the "main attractions" on the New Year's Eve broadcast of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest on ABC. She sang "Let It Go," which has become her signature tune whether she likes it or not (not to mention how the rest of us may feel); and she missed the high note that, for much of her audience, was the only meaningful part of the song.

Virgil Thomson has written that general audiences are much more capable at picking out technical details than at grasping the overall expressiveness of the performer. It should not surprise anyone that those in the former category chose to jump all over Menzel for missing that note. According to an ABC report, Menzel responded by tweeting an image that included her statement about the nature of performance. Were he still alive, Thomson would have beamed at how well she established her understanding of that nature. I know I did.

Whether or not I like Menzel or what she chooses to sing is irrelevant. All that matters is that she has a clear-headed view of the realities of performing music at a time when it seems as if just about everyone is more interested in escaping (or denying) reality than confronting it. Furthermore, when attacked, she decided that there was more value to being informative than the being aggressively defensive ("snarky" for those who prefer fewer syllables). From my point of view, she is a beacon of sanity in a world gone mad.

Now, if you do not mind, I shall go back from my own retreat from the madness by listening to more Charlie Parker.

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