Rules of the Game

Qwirkle is my new game of choice. It’s easy to understand, fun to play, there’s no board, just a bunch of colorful tile pieces that can travel anywhere. The rulebook is so small and concise that the game takes less than a minute to explain, and you pick up the details as you go.

Concert attendance, on the other hand, is a game that apparently needs Naxos, The World’s Leading Classical Music Group, to publish How to Enjoy a Live Concert to explain its rules and regulations. The hard copy runs to nearly 50 pages. The online version lays out much How To advice for any first-timers who want to brave it with the local symphony or opera crowd.

Dress, behavior and punctuality are all addressed, as well as pre-concert preparation and attention, along with the practicalities of coughing during play, bathroom breaks, and refreshments. Members of the audience are expected to comport themselves sedately;  the suggestion that the newcomer “cultivate an inner experience, emotion without motion” makes it clear that this is no game for the giddily impetuous. (Happily the guidelines permit breathing (“You can breathe”) and there is a section called What if I get bored?)

Did anyone stop to think? Entertainment activities that are not simple and intuitive or intoxicating amounts of fun rarely outlast the holiday season. Rule books, when they are necessary, should be concise and easily digestible, and not intimidating study sessions, like the wiring instructions for a Buick. As for other entertainments that have suggestions for boredom prevention? I can’t think of any.

Concert culture relies on getting the paying public to do things according to a 19th century European bourgeois design. Well, good luck with that, because following the rule book is today especially unpopular with the American public, who pride themselves on their individuality. If obedience is the perceived admission price, no wonder the classical concert market segment is becoming a 70+ activity.

Baseball and football events are successful not least because of their ease of understanding and available levels of participation. The casual spectator is welcome to watch the game, or not, (ironically, much like the early days of opera) and find out the rules without fear of embarrassment. Dress is egalitarian, bathroom breaks are whenever you want them and food and drink are available throughout the session. Go home when you have had enough.

The hush that the Germans imposed on the concert hall in the 19th century took away the chatty audience’s innocent enjoyment of an evening’s entertainment and forced a new veneration of the art object. The arrival of the virtuoso player, encouraged by advances in instrumental design brought about by the industrial revolution, transformed the new respect for musicians into reverence and worship. This is the model that we have inherited, and this is the model that will die, strangled by the resurgence of a powerful post-bourgeois society looking to encounter art and entertainment on its own audience-friendly terms.




This entry was posted in Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.