Journeys of Self Discovery (Part 1) – Classical Music Concerts are Boring

J. Douglas Jefferys has a funny video on effective presentations skills.  He says:

“Unfortunately, most of the behaviors that speakers engage in, send audiences members off on what we call ‘journeys of self-discovery.’”

I have a confession to make:  I frequently enter these “journeys of self-discovery” during classical music concerts (among other types of performances, speeches and presentations).  It turns out that classical music concerts are great for thinking about my career, time management, goals, and what to get my mom for Christmas.

I used to think this was because I wasn’t smart enough, or because I had focus issues.  But now I know I enter these journeys of self-discovery because I’m not being engaged to my liking.  I’m bored.

Being bored is not how I want to spend my evenings, so I avoid going to classical music concerts.  Actually, if I was attending my own concert, I’d probably be bored.  So this issue is important to me.

Am I the Only One!?

I wish every audience member had a gauge over his/her head to measure attentiveness.

Hollywood movies probably achieve high levels of attentiveness.  Lecturers and orators probably achieve less (unless you’re a celebrity/expert like President Obama).  I suspect classical music concerts are low on the attentiveness spectrum.

If that’s the case, then this is a big problem. Having audiences embarking on journeys of self-discovery is contrary to the intentions of the performers, just as it’d be contrary to the intentions of an orator or movie director.

Further, there’s also the issues of dwindling concert attendance and making concerts more appealing for younger audiences.  If the future is bleak, then performers (myself included) need to address the issue of boring our audiences.

Arriving at solutions is complicated, of course.  One reason is because identifying the problem is complicated.  But this is what I want to explore over the next few posts.

I’ll start with boredom.

Boredom’s Not Good

I think that’s a fair assumption.  We try to avoid boredom and and we try to avoid boring other people.

Check out this Squarepusher video:

You’ll notice two things.

The first is that Squarepusher gives impressive performances.  The second is that you’ll stop watching after you get bored.  Having the technology, choice and privacy to “turn it off” is very significant.

We get bored (and angry, frustrated, unhappy etc.) when 1) the situation conflicts with our expectations and 2) we don’t have the knowledge or power to control the situation and stimuli.

1. The Situation Conflicts with Expectations

If there are misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations of the purpose and function of the current circumstances, boredom is likely.

A few examples:

  • “This should be entertaining.”
  • “The next time will be better.”
  • “Coffee shops are great places for peace and quiet.”
  • “She said I would enjoy this.”
  • “All classical music is awesome.”
  • “Many people enjoy this.  I should too.”
  • “Libraries are great places to socialize and meet new people.”
  • “I always enjoy this.”
  • “Tom Cruise is in it, so it’s gotta be good.
  • “I can’t wait to socialize at the classical music concert!”

It’s complicated how unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings are formed, and that’s beyond the scope of this post.

However they’re formed, there’s definitely some kind of discordancy or miscommunication between an individual and his/her circumstances.  Those circumstances could include ones ego, other individuals, groups, companies, social situations, or a combination of these.

It may be clear to most people that socializing in a library isn’t appropriate.  Anybody expecting otherwise is going to get bored or be asked to leave. It’s not always clear in other situations though.  This is because performances are the result of many complex, multi-layered and multi-dimensional relationships (which I’ll expand on later).

For now, the most practical solution is in effective communication and clarification, so that everyone involved in certain circumstances have some mutual understanding about purpose and function.

2. Having the Power to Control the Situation

I get bored at classical music concerts because I don’t have control over the variables that would otherwise optimize my experience.  I’m trapped in my seat, facing forward.  Excessive moment is frowned upon.  Chatter isn’t allowed.  It’s poor etiquette to check your email.  I can’t request songs.  Can’t order a drink.  Can’t fast-forward or rewind.  I even feel bad getting up to go to the bathroom.

I have no power to turn something off, or turn something else on.  Thankfully, I can still turn off/on my mind and embark on journeys of self-discovery!

Having this power is similar to what Glenn Gould refers to as “kits.”  From a CBC interview:

I have a feeling that the end result of all our labors in the recording studio is not going to become some kind of autocratic finished product such as we turn out now with relative ease, with the help of splice-making which we do or which engineers do for us, but is going to be a rather more democratic assemblage. I think we’re going to make kits, and I think we’re going to send out these kits to listeners, perhaps to viewers also, as videotape cartridge gets into the act, as I think it will, and we’re going to say, Do it yourself. Take the assembled components and make of those components something that you genuinely appreciate. If you don’t like the result as you put together the first time, put it together a second time. Be in fact your own editor. Be, in a sense, your own performer.”

In a broader sense, the controls on a YouTube video act as a kind of “kit.”  Play, stop, fast-forward, rewind, increase volume, decrease volume, change quality, turn on captions, full-screen, and comments (among others) aren’t necessarily used to assemble components of a piece of music, but rather to assemble the components of general, everyday experience.

Choosing to socialize, order a drink, request a song, or get up and leave could also be assembly options in certain circumstances.  Even more broadly, so is choosing to attend a classical music concert or a Squarepusher concert.

I’m part of the video game generation (for lack of a better term) – people who grew up with extraordinary diversity and powers to control their stimuli.  Why would I attend a classical music concert, when I could spend time on YouTube, or play video games where I have more much more freedom and control?

After all, this is how we combat boredom, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to-day. Classical music concerts are very suffocating in this regard.


If we’re discussing how to make music performances more appealing to more people, then resolving discordant expectations and giving audiences more/alternative freedoms are the most important issues to explore.

Of course, it’s easier said than done.  Complications arise when you think about the meaning of performing, which I’ll write about next post.

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