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In and out of the tent

Jazz trumpeter and Oregon native Chris Botti is known for his eclectic concerts, like the one he gave when he performed at the Britt Festivals recently.

In linking the worlds of jazz and pop and classical music, Botti's concerts and CDs are classic examples of "something for everyone."

The selections on his latest album, "Italia," include classical opera, movie soundtracks, Broadway standards and "Ave Maria."

On his Web site Botti says of the album, "We try to make every song have a different feel to it but the overall record has a flavor, a thread. I believe the challenge is to make a record that's individual, finds an audience, and creates something that's meaningful to the listener."

When Ashland musician Robin Lawson met Botti, he told him, "I know what you're up to. You're inviting people into the tent."

That's musician-speak for being inclusive with what pieces you chose to play and what styles you explore. Botti does indeed invite people into the tent, rather than pushing them out. He plays to audiences of all ages and tastes thus exposing them to sounds they might not have gravitated to on their own.

Rogue Valley Symphony's conductor Arthur Shaw has the same idea in mind when he chooses what pieces the orchestra will play during the course of a two-hour concert. Knowing what audiences like and want to hear, he will serve them up with that.

But sharing the program also will be a piece they might not be familiar with. Shaw deliberately sets out to get people in with one thing so they can hear the other. And the other is usually the one that they leave enjoying the most.

The topic came up because Lawson and I were in the midst of a conversation about how difficult it is for people of older generations to find their music on the radio, on TV or in clubs.

Hearing the music of Harry James, the Dorseys, Ellington, Bassie, Goodman, etc. is more than just a nostalgic memory jog, calling back music you danced to when you were younger and the world seemed simpler. Musicians were blazing new trails in jazz, Big Band, and popular music. The arrangements and the harmonies were tight, and the resulting sound stands on its own regardless of whom you remember dancing with when you first heard it.

Back then, contemporary orchestral music was everywhere, on phonograph records, on the radio, in films, on stage, and later, on TV. But where can you hear that music today unless you seek it out? It's a loss. And that loss — and others like it — leaves a hole in the fabric of our cultural heritage as well as our aesthetic sensibilities.

And there's another way of pushing people out of the tent which applies as much to poetry, theater, painting or film as it does to music. It seems to come in waves, this business of creating art for yourself or others like you without much regard — or respect — for the rest of the people in the room.

An unfortunate result of this practice is that it forms a gulf between the self-referential elite group who "gets it" and the rest of us — the great unwashed who don't.

And if we don't get it, we stop going to plays, galleries, poetry readings, concerts and films. And if we stop going, we stop taking our children and grandchildren. And we stop supporting the arts as meaningful parts of our lives emotionally and financially.

During its classical music season Britt invites audiences to come a little early and listen to a pre-concert lecture to help enhance their appreciation of the evening's program. RVSO too has pre-concert lectures. Opera houses have been providing this free service for years.

Local arts organizations like Rogue Opera, Siskiyou Institute, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, RVSO, Britt and others have developed programs that bring art right into the classroom. And there are music and theater groups that visit hospitals and retirement centers.

Sometimes you have to take the tent with you. Just be sure to leave the flap open and the welcome mat out.