Saturday, April 21, 2012

For the sake of publicity

Of all the students in uni (I have to remind myself not to write "varsity" which is dated and for old people only), music students must be the most unusual.  They evoke a strange set of mixed feelings in me - awe and sympathy.  What they have in them is something none of us mere mortals can ever dream of.  It's funny how they can create so much magic by just running their fingers down the keys of the clarinet or oboe or sawing the strings of their instrument with the bow.  Those of us who play musical instruments know just how incredibly difficult it is to achieve that kind of virtuosity.    And yet, there's no money in what they do!

The idea of the impoverished artist has been so romanticized that we sometimes forget how bleak and unromantic it is to be truly impoverished.  Many orchestras in Europe have done so badly that they have to shut down and where does that leave the musicians?

Female musicians may very well fare much better.  They can always fall back on their feminine charms and a lovely seaside album cover of a female violinist standing knee-deep in the sea dressed in some skimpy dress soaked in seawater is sure to attract the attention of men who aren't really interested in Paganini's Capriccios.  Vanessa Mae may be an inspiration to other female musicians to flaunt their bodies and remind their male admirers who can't tell a crotchet from a quaver that you don't have to be fat and dumpy to be a brilliant musician but what about male musicians?

I was quite amused when I first saw this flyer advertising a recital by a young student violinist in Taiwan.



You may not be able to see clearly at the bottom left of the photo what pieces he was to play around this time last year but no, Lady Gaga's hit songs weren't in his repertoire.  The programme for the evening was not Hotbod gyrating to the beat of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" from that famous 1997 movie "The Full Monty" (sorry, am I dated again?) but he would be playing Stravisnsky's Italian Suite and two violin sonatas by Eugene Ysa├┐e and Grieg wrapped, I'm sure, in several  layers of impenetrable fabric right up to his neck.

In Singapore, the T'ang Quartet are no strangers to posing for the camera in their birthday suits.  The picture below is from their ad in the 2007 Singapore Arts Festival.



I seem to recall an older photograph in which all four of them posed naked in different parts of a bathroom with their instruments strategically shielding their nether regions.  I remember that photograph only because it occurred to me at the time that they wouldn't have dared to pose that way if they played the clarinet, the oboe or the flute!

Do other artists resort to using suggestive photos of themselves?  Can you imagine Salman Rushdie standing starkers holding a copy of Midnight's Children in front of him?  I can't but of course I'm being silly.  Rushdie's selling point is his art of story telling, not his body.

But shouldn't it be the same for all artists?  The selling point for any artist has got to be his art and not how he looks with or without clothes.  That may be the ideal but as we all know, we don't live in an ideal world and very few in Asia or even elsewhere in the world really listen to good music.  Women have always worn revealing clothes to get some attention and why should a young male artist not make full use of his nicely sculptured torso?  It's not his fault that the world is teeming with uncouth plebeians who would rather go to a Linkin Park concert than spend the evening listening to Stravinsky.

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