The Medium is the Message

This was a concert with a message. Cantus carefully crafted a program that examined the twin poles of connectedness and alienation from various angles. And if the message in the songs was not clear enough, the narration guided us to the intended thinking points.

It put me in mind of the words of the pioneering media guru Marshall McLuhan. In the mid 1960s, when I was barely old enough to start thinking about such challenging ideas, he penned one of his famous expressions, “The medium is the message.” What he was getting at is that, quite apart from the meaning that the words are intended to carry, the medium that communicates those words carries its own message, one which may or may not support the words, one which may have entirely unexpected results.

At this concert, the medium was the music. And the music was extraordinary. Much of it was complex and difficult, but their intonation was spot on the entire evening. Their timing was remarkably precise even when intricate rhythms tumbled over each other. As each singer was featured at various points, we heard the very distinct qualities of their voices. But when the group sang as an ensemble, not a single voice was conspicuous. Amazing!

But if the music is the medium, and the medium is the message, did the two messages, the words and the notes, line up? Cantus was asking us to think about some challenging ideas, and the music was carefully controlled, often pensive, seldom drawing dramatic attention to itself. Music to reflect by.

How did you feel when you walked out? Did you feel like they had proposed a resolution to the issues they raised, or did they leave us still thinking and wondering?

And which message was louder? When you shared your reactions to your companions after the concert, what did you talk about, the ideas or the music?

The music was not the only medium. The choreography was another. The Twitter Song, for example, drew an instant response of recognition when Sam sang so plaintively about wanting to be liked while the chorus sang sotto voce behind him, heads down, engrossed in their cell phones. Contrast that with Beethoven’s Monks’ Song about death and the judgment to come. Even if you did not understand German, the sternness in their posture and tone was unmistakable.

I think back to our previous concert, when Enrico Onofri and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra played Vivaldi concertos. Not a word was spoken or sung from the stage. There was minimal choreography. But a message was delivered. The tone was all lightheartedness and a zest for living. At least, that’s what I heard.

What message did you get from the Vivaldi concert? What effect did the prominence of a strong message of social awareness have on the way you experienced Cantus? Was it the theme or the music that comes back to you most quickly from that evening? And what kind of a message are you looking for when the Diderot Quartet comes on January 12?

I invite your responses at