The people who make up the audience at concerts of classical music generally tend to be old. if not positively ancient. From my seat at the left-hand end of the front row of the dress circle, my preferred position as it gives a fine view of the entire orchestra as well as of the hands of the pianist if there is one, I look down on row upon row of grey and/or balding heads, interspersed here and there with a fine coiffure, testifying to the art of the ladies hairdresser.
The concert I attended last week, given by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, featured a fabulous programme: Bach’s concerto in C major for two pianos, Mozart’s piano concerto in C minor, K491, and Brahms’ double concerto for violin and cello in A minor. It was both a feast of wonderful music (with terrific soloists, of course) and a lesson in the history or development of music in general, and the concerto genre in particular.
The auditorium was full, but I must admit that the state of many of the members of the audience was little short of pitiful. Walking sticks, zimmer-frames and wheelchairs were in evidence wherever I looked, and in the interval it was possible to see more than one or two persons who were evidently afflicted with one or another of those horrible diseases that eat away at the brain, causing the individual character and mind of the person who once inhabited the body to be no longer in evidence. One could almost think that we were surrounded by people in various stages of decrepitude and it was neither an edifying sight nor an encouraging prospect.
Looking at some of those people, and fearing what may lie ahead for myself and my near and dear ones, I resolved that when I get to that stage I would prefer not to have my decaying carcasse paraded in public for all to see, and pity. On the other hand, I feel sure that somewhere in the depths of those failing minds and ailing bodies something remains that is able to enjoy, or at least experience, the music. It would seem to be something of a balancing act when one comes to consider bringing an aged relative or friend into the public arena. After all many of the people in the audience in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, or any other town, know one another, if not by name then by sight.
Apart from the problem of the aging audience for classical music, which I have tried to combat in my own way by taking my children, and later my grandchildren, to children’s concerts, not always meeting with undiluted enthusiasm, the effect of music on the brain is also a subject for consideration. I don’t for a minute believe that listening to music can slow the downward path of one’s mental or physical faculties, but if it does bring a modicum of pleasure to a life that is otherwise unchanging and uninspiring then that is also something to be encouraged.
Having just read Daniel Levitin’s fascinating book ‘This is your Brain on Music,’ I am more aware than ever before of music’s beneficial effect on the brains of both children and adults of all ages. And this applies not only to classical music. In fact, most of the examples Levitin gives in his book seem to pertain to pop and rock music, with which I am not so familiar. Luckily, as I downloaded the book in e-book form it came together with a file containing sound extracts of the examples given in the book. I’m currently in the process of working my way through them, and then I suppose I’ll have to go back and read the book again. Although in some respects it is a bit too technical for my taste, it has certainly opened my eyes and ears to many aspects of music of which I was not previously aware.
So I will try not to rush to judgment in castigating those who bring elderly relatives to concerts. After all, when the time comes and the person in whose care I find myself decides that an outing to a concert would be good for me, I might not have much say in the matter.