By the time I arrived at the coffeehouse a week ago last Wednesday, “The Chicago Jazz Trio” had only been playing for about ten minutes and already the house was packed. In fact, the audience was overflowing into the hallway, completely entranced by the sounds emanating from within. The faces were awestruck, and eagerly I made my way to a free space. The problem was that once I sat down, I realized that I didn’t understand much of what was going on at all. However, I chalked it up to my own ignorance. Relaxing a little, I started simply taking the music as it came.
I’m not here to write a review, but in all fairness, there were things that I enjoyed about the performance. They communicated well, were intense, expressive, and the drummer was excellent. But during the extended bass solo I realized something: aspects of this band (the bass player) were—dare I say it?—slightly pretentious. But, remembering the subjective nature of art, I decided to give it a chance.
The bass player continued to rock back and forth on his instrument, his face twisted in concentration, the end of his solo composed of a series of clicks produced by scraping the bow on the strings. I looked around at my fellow audience members, to see if anyone else was as confused as I was. They all seemed not only to understand it, but also to like it immensely. When the solo ended, they erupted into loud, approving applause and shouts. Good for them, I thought, for they were enlightened.
However, while discussing the performance in class the next day, I actually got the impression that some audience members didn’t understand it either. Some even admitted to not liking it. Why, then, did the entire audience seem so enthralled?
I hate to say it, but if that bass player was pretentious for implying that a squinched up face and some clicks makes a great musical solo, then the audience is that much more pretentious for agreeing with him at the time while admitting later to “not getting/liking it.” Yes, there were people who genuinely understood and liked the performance. But others did not, and presumably they lied about it.
This is not uncommon here at Lawrence. Many a time have I sat in an audience and witnessed the same reaction, regardless of quality. Is the fact that they are in a coffeehouse at a liberal arts college any reason for audience members to need to impress each other so much that they instantly accept anything that they are exposed to? No. In fact, one would think that attending a liberal arts college would encourage people to express their own thoughts. But, sadly, many of us have glossed over our true opinion in an attempt to personify the “Intellectual/Artsy College Kid” stereotype.
I’m not saying that audiences should be rude, skeptical, or closed-minded toward everything that comes through. However, I think that it would do everyone good to stop worrying about where we are or who might see us and instead, for once, just try listening for ourselves.