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Concerts: why we pay to watch people sing

My back rested against the far wall, feet propped on the edge of the high table with knees drawn close to to my chest. I sat with friends on my left and on my right while the rest of darkened space was filled with strangers. Our collective attention was divided between those around us and the two people under a bright stage light playing instruments, singing, and speaking to us.

It’s an interesting experience: we pay money to watch people sing. We gather in small, darkened corners of bars, theatres, or houses and observe this fruit of creative labour. While some artists achieve national fame, for most it seems to be a nitty-gritty experience of small venues and few people. Still, it seems worth it. It’s a good thing every now and then to attend a real, live concert. A small one too. It connects the work of art with its creator. One is able to enjoy the creation as a process, as a relationship, in which the give-and-take is real and palpable between the performer and the audience.

This particular artist, man and wife, spoke a lot with the audience. They treated us as newly discovered friends, and I guess in some small way we were. As what I could imagine to be a token of this relationship they passed out small, bound booklets of their lyrics. I was able to hold in my hand the pages of their creation while also listening to the music with my ears and with my heart. The connection of these two mediums was meaningful.

The musical experience had suddenly become much more than something pumped through plastic ear buds. The water-stained pages in my hands were inextricably bound up with the sounds of instruments and voices. This seemed the way music should be enjoyed: together, with people, inseparable from time and place. Whenever I hear this music it will forever remind me of our brief moment together.

In many ways, listening to music is always a form of relationship. Melodies and harmonies become intimately linked with memories. For me, music defines certain experiences in a very personal and real way that can be difficult to articulate.

Certain songs defined that wonderful summer after my senior year of high school, a summer marked by freedom, friends, rolled-down-car-windows, and swimming holes. Others remind me of what it felt like to be alone in a foreign country. They helped me long for home, but also pushed me forward to continue in the adventure I had begun.

There are also those anthems of a spring break trip, songs shared in the company of friends and a week free from studies. Trips on trains, the rolling hills of passing farmland, or the majesty of mountains are all connected to music.

This is the creative power of music: a universal experience that takes on personal significance. Whether in the company of the artist or alone on a road trip, we are moved by its beauty. While I will always connect the music I heard with the experience of that night at the concert, it is impossible to know the ever-growing web those songs may create. How will these same songs impact the life of another many miles away? What memories will they connect to this certain arrangement of notes? I certainly don’t know, and even more remarkably, neither does the artist. Yet here we all are, part of this creative adventure.

And there I sat, relaxed against the wall. Between friends and in the company of strangers, I was somehow a participant in the creation of something unique. If not in the darkened venue, perhaps the movie theatre, or beneath an author’s pen  artists and those who enjoy their work are connected in a dance that reaches to the core of our being.

God has made us like Himself creative. But the act of producing art does not end with the last notes, the rolling credits, or the final period. The impact of creativity can be felt forever, reverberating throughout history and pointing us toward a genuine experience of beauty in which we continually encounter the reflection of this immensely creative, immensely beautiful God.

Flickr photo (CC) courtesy of  styeb

Kona