How can we reconcile the 'religious' respect for the art we cultivate with the language of social media? Is it possible to do so without trivialising our work and its nuances?
Let us assume, for the sake of simplicity, that there are two opposing parishes (to insist on the liturgical allegory) on these issues. Those who abhor social media and those who love them dispassionately. Can a balance be struck? My intention with this article is to stimulate reflection, given that the matter does not have an unambiguous solution.
Let's start by analysing the current state of affairs: compared with even just five years ago, we are faced with an evolution. This evolution has occurred almost exclusively in a punctiform, sporadic way, in isolated outbreaks, to use medical jargon. Never before have artists communicated with their audience, and this tends to be a good thing. In a way, at this moment in history, it is necessary, given the immense ease with which we can disseminate music, to interface with our audience, with the aim of expanding it.
Once upon a time, Classical music lovers went looking for CDs, records and concerts, motivated by a passion that had matured over time, but nowadays discovering this genre can happen randomly, simply by browsing through social networks. Although there is no post-performance comparison, as Roberta Gennuso rightly claims (see article on ilSalice.org 'L'Arte è Lavoro', ed.), there are positive sides to this social dissemination. From our point of view, in fact, a comment or a series of likes can hardly represent a real thermometer of our performance: more than anything else, they feed our ego.
For artists, it is right and sacrosanct, if not even necessary, to raise the issue of how to communicate what they are doing. The message conveyed must in fact be sincere, truthful and at the same time well packaged. In short, it needs to be elaborate, both in terms of content and presentation.
The aim? To break down, or reduce, the barriers that necessarily stand between the audience and the music producer, as a result of the fact that the musical language is, in all respects, a 'foreign' language that can be understood at various levels. One can have an emotional knowledge of it, within everyone's reach, and a more intimate one. The latter is, alas, the prerogative of insiders. And yet, it is often in the latter that the rarest beauty of musical art is to be found: why not give the listener some key to understanding it? This is where the unmediated world of the Internet comes in.
Passing on this knowledge, of which, as musicians, we are the custodians, serves not only to enrich the listeners' musical experience, but also to make them perceive the musician's work in its true professional dignity. We are not mere performers: we have to study far beyond the mere mechanical exercise. A self-respecting musician must have the tools of a historian (or at least a biographer, a musicologist), of the student of musical harmony and of the researcher (especially with regard to new languages, music outside classical and, in general, contemporary harmony). From this can pass the conception of the musician in society: a disseminator and preserver of an identity construct, which belongs to us more than we think.
Music and its professional sphere are paying the price of a cultural crisis, even before the economic one. This has been further exacerbated by the pandemic, which has rightly imposed health reasons over artistic ones. The real problem, however, is the lack of prospects, unlike in other sectors. This is why we emphasise music and its centrality: if there is a moment in which the link with the public, the user of our work, cannot be broken, it is precisely this.
Since social networks are part of the human story, they are destined for an end, or at least an evolution. So why not take advantage of the current moment, in an attempt to leave a mark on society that will allow concert halls (when possible) to be filled with new people?
This also applies to the shortest of videos posted on social media: if we want to address people who do not have a deep knowledge of music, we have to make sure they understand.
The first sore point lies in the distance between the content and its means of dissemination: it is difficult to promote an articulate language and make a complex profession known in such a schematic context of apparent democracy. While it is true that almost anyone can express themselves through the Internet and social networks in particular, the means of expression is rigid and limited. To begin with, the opinion (or expression) of an established musician is just as valid as that of an amateur, due to the absence of filters or content selection.
Moreover, content is measured in popularity, not necessarily in quality. Moreover, the spread and heterogeneity of social networks means that one can find oneself in the midst of videos of kittens, sports, cooking, the sea and holidays. In short, not exactly the silence of a concert hall!
Then there are the times of fruition: a concert, by its very nature, is a ritual, and as such is made up of several steps and interactions. This requires time, waiting, feeling the silence before the start of the performance. In social networks, these times are stereotyped, very short and very uncomfortable. It is also difficult to enjoy, especially if entire recitals are offered. Spending an hour hunched over a smartphone screen is harmful to spinal balance, posture and the induction of deformities in the physiological curvatures of the spine, not to mention the effect of eye fatigue. Playing short pieces, as an alternative, may be an extreme summary of the musical experience, but it does not help the passage of complexity.
Not to mention the flattening of the aural experience: even the best recording devices cannot give the same feeling as 'live', and in many cases you just record with your smartphone. For artists who work on chiselling out dynamics, timbre, articulation, it's really a gross reduction.
Is it therefore impossible to reconcile these worlds? Not really. Social media is reductive and problematic for various reasons, but, as mentioned, it can be used fruitfully. Attracting new audiences, especially the younger generation, has never been easier, at least in theory.
You can convey a passion for music and our work, but you need to respect the latter. In fact, even in light and frivolous tones, you can communicate without belittling what we do in the name of popularity. Moreover, the quality of our relationship with social media is reflected in the quality of our content. If we want certain nuances to get through, we have to take care of the details, from the video production to the accompanying captions. Given the irreplaceability of the live concert, social media can be a useful tool to support our activities, as well as a means of making musical culture more widespread.
Information can flow by stimulating the curiosity and questions of our contacts: if it serves a service to music and brings in new audiences, responding will always be time well spent.