Friday, June 24, 2005

The Musical Box - A Reader Responds

I'm posting this thoughtful response with permission from Larry P. from email because it wouldn't fit within Blogger's comment space limitation. You've got the floor Larry:

I can sense these musicians have a great respect and caring for the original Genesis music - how often do the covered artists give such a blessing and so much cooperation! So, philosophically, I can see some distinction between this and Beatlemania, which was a commercial concept where the producers found the singers to fill the roles. I suspect Musical Box was a much more from-the-music-up effort (art-driven; not dollar-driven). Says a lot that Genesis members cooperated.

In classical music and other performing arts, we draw a distinction between art and entertainment. Entertainment can happen when someone listens to Beethoven's 5th and just likes the familiar melodies. The effect is compounded if the musicians are comatose or the conductor is a self-adoring showman. Art, on the other hand, takes us beyond where we are to somewhere new, and often (as I have learned in my 17 years working for a major symphony orchestra) leads to a deep feeling of inner satisfaction - of being moved beyond. Obviously the two categories overlap/blur.

A recreation like Beatlemania and that Abba-cover band are obviously pure entertainment/fun. Only the shallow person is moved. It's just fun for the rest of us.

In a good rock concert, where the performers are really engaged - like the bits o' Bruce I saw on PBS a few weeks ago- that's art drawing from the artist's insides, but may be experienced by some as mostly just fun, familiar entertainment. Same can happen in classical concerts with familiar repertoire.

Usually in classical music, while the artist's performance generally reflects great fidelity to the score (major diversions being considered heresy, generally), the greatest performances are those that reflect strongly the artist's own musical wisdom and insight, within the context of the composer's vision of the work. The various performances of the same work are both similar and different (reflecting individualistic interpretive differences).

So here's the puzzle for me, which ultimately I could answer for myself only if I too were to experience a Musical Box concert: Is that re-creation of rock music -- where there is such a great thrill for the audience from witnessing the painstakingly and reverently and accruately covering of the great original music -- is that an artistic expression that draws from and reflects the re-creators' inner artistry, or is it simply an all-around thrill (for artists and audiences) from recreating the music as accurately closely as possible to the original -- like a skilled art forgery (but here done with the cooperation of the artists!)?

The best rock music contains large doses of both. It is an important question for me, being in an area of music (classical)where we worry how we can keep the artistic integrity, and balance the budget, without pandering to the need for entertainment to such an extent that the artistry is harmed.

Ultimately I think I would agree with your email comment to me, Bill -- you said "As far as The Musical Box is concerned, I'd say they are purely entertainment while the creation by Genesis of The Lamb or Selling England would definitely fall in the category of art."

But it sounds like the recreation was a real hoot anyway! BTW, I was really curious about their SEBTP show and followed your weblink. I'm afraid I was wholly unimpressed with the "Gabriel" recreator. Maybe he's gotten a little more zest since then (I think they did that show in 1993??). But he had no oomph. It all sounded accurately recreated, but his singing (to the extent that one can tell such things from a QuickTime view) didn't have that Gabriel gutsiness....

Thanks Larry. The art vs. entertainment issue is a sticky one, even just considering the realm of physical art like paintings. There are likely as many interpretations as there are viewers. I've had some very amusing experiences at museums viewing modern art, with which I have a definite love/hate relationship. But like the old definition of pornography, I may not be able to adequately define "art" but I know it when I see it.

Regarding rock music, I'd put it mostly in the realm of entertainment, although occasionally it does rise to the level of art. As far as The Musical Box is concerned, I'd say they are purely entertainment while the creation by Genesis of The Lamb or Selling England would definitely fall in the category of art. Not for nothing was Genesis the prime beneficiary of a brief movement that attempted to relabel progressive rock as "art rock" in the seventies; I never liked that term, sounded kind of twee. One might even make the case that the term helped kill the genre, although punk music might have had something to do with it too.

The Musical Box is not in any way going for a creative interpretation - they are trying for historical accuracy. Somewhere on their website it says that musically, they strive to duplicate the album verisons rather than Genesis' live renditions which may have varied from night to night, tour to tour etc. which would make the endeavor potentially unwieldy.

Your comparison of The Musical Box to skilled art forgery with the cooperation of the artist is definitely apt, however I think I prefer the concept of a theatrical touring company performing a show for people who greatly appreciate the opportunity to have a musical experience that they could not otherwise have. I shudder to think that if early Genesis had a wider appeal, these guys might be doing permanent gig in Vegas along the lines of Cirque du Soleil, Elton John, or Celine Dion (yikes).

That these guys can do the Genesis music as well as they do, speaks to their ability as musicians, however to rise to the level of "art" I should think they would have to create something new that would have a similar level of musical accomplishment as that which they emulate. They may actually do original music when they're not working as The Musical Box, it looked like one of the members had a CD for sale at the show, but I didn't really take time to check it out.

I would agree with you that the singer is not quite Gabriel, but that speaks more to Gabriel's talent I think. In the duration of the two hour performance, the Musical Box singer more than proved himself in the Gabriel role, which might be one of the more demanding and least forgiving jobs in show business. What really put them over the top for me was the beauty and power of the instrumental work. All the other accurate duplication of the staging was further icing on the cake. If only for an evening of celebration of some great music, the likes of which we really haven't seen much of since, this show is wholly worthwhile. It really boils down to great music performed by and for people who have a high appreciation for it. As the ultimate Genesis fans, the guys in The Musical Box may have found the best jobs of all if they can make a living off it, and with tours going all over the world with numerous sellouts (they sold out two nights at the Keswick earlier this year), it would seem that they are doing well.

Incidentally, Steve Hackett has carved out a very interesting dual solo career (maybe I'll do an in depth blog entry about him one day). He does acoustic music in a trio format - him on guitar usually with keyboard and woodwind accompaniment. The music is beautiful, bordering on classical (he's done a number of quasi-classical albums including a very nice album of Satie recorded w/his brother). He also works with an electric band which performs a mixture of songs from his many solo albums and many Genesis classics, often in medley form, often taking just the progressive instrumental passages. He makes no attempt to duplicate the Genesis versions, his musicians are excellent and these passages are no less powerful regardless of their setting. He's got a great air of British dignity also, the last time I saw him here in Philadelphia, at the end of the concert he shook hands with each member of his band - you don't see that much in popular music (or ever). You can check him out at his
website.

No comments: