I've found throughout my life that I'm the guy who has to know everything possible about whatever it is I'm doing. When I was a kid it was an obsession with the cars that my dad liked. We would go to car shows and collect any information possible about makes, models, etc. I would then go home and research everything I could about the cars and spit it back to Dad until he wanted to strangle me. There's a kid in my neighborhood who does the same thing with sports stats. This behavior is not uncommon with pop culture. Witness the several points of access to pop music stars for example with their own webpage, myspace, facebook, fan sites, etc. People in the Kiss Army wouldn't be caught dead not knowing everything about releases, lyrics, and other trivia regarding them.
We really haven't seen much of this go on in the music world of late with the possible exception of Pavarotti and his ilk but you have to back to Liszt and Paganini to find the iconic status and encyclopedic knowledge of a "classical" artist. So, being an afficionado of new music (after learning all of the brass instruments as a youth; all I could about swimming; cooking) seemed very natural to me after developing my car obsession. Maybe it's just the type of person I am but wouldn't it be nice if we could cultivate this kind of acquisitiveness amongst the youth today. They certainly have more information at their fingertips than I ever did. Imagine my parents deep discussion about me after asking for The Grove Dictionary as a senior in high school!
Perhaps the problem is the glut of information that can be found online that has lead to the demise of the poor travelling encyclopedia salesmen-or any other for that matter-that my mom would patiently listen to before sending away (we bought our encyclopediae from the super market because it came with cheap china or something. I fear that younger people today are so overloaded with media that it's difficult for them to even find things that might really enhance their lives in meaningful ways. OK, that's pretty dramatic but there's a lot to be said for exposing young people to art before their openness to the world around them gets closed off by habits formed at a young age.
The idea of educating yourself on something that's supposed to be entertaining is often a sticking point with those not familiar with it. It's analagous to having a painting that isn't figurative turning off someone with no exposure to it. We humans are not big fans of surprise. But if this appetite can be developed by gently leading people to information that they might use to educate themselves just a little bit before showing up to a program that has other pieces that point to elements shared, there can be success for the lay listener. I've done my level best to encourage artists I present to show their music in context alongside other composer's works that have something in common with each other. I then write about it myself and try to give links to books, cds, etc. so that people may be able to know something about what they are going to hear in my hall. If they're leaving the house for one piece on the program, they might as well learn as much about the rest......if they feel like it.
I'm just getting together all of these resources for our new website at Merkin Concert Hall . Hopefully we will attract some adventurous people we can turn into adventurous listeners.