Music and Age

Last night I went to hear the extraordinary Lázár brothers (Lázár tesók), accompanied on piano and xylophone by Márk Csernovszky, who played so subtly, you wanted to catch every note. The Lázár brothers, Ágoston and Domokos, are members of the renowned band Esti Kornél, which began in 2006 in Mezőtúr (not far from Szolnok), where they grew up. I have just begun to listen to Esti Kornél, but I can say that the Lázár duo (and trio, and quintet when they have cellos) are worth hearing at any possible opportunity. They sing beautiful sparse songs where every word and note matters—about life and death, memories, the passage of time, happiness, places. I could hear and understand almost every word; putting all the meaning together is a different matter, but that’s part of what relistening and albums are for. In between the songs, they joked easily with each other and the audience and retuned their guitars quickly (some of the songs had alternate tunings). One of my favorites was “Szabadon él”:

Another favorite from the concert was “Keringő”:

This is music for all ages; on the one hand the musicians are relatively young (in their thirties, maybe?), with a youthful presence; on the other hand, they sing, in part, about losses, illuminations, getting older, things that the grey-haired listeners understand all too well. The music itself is too beautiful to be trapped in one age or another. The audience reflected this; the ages ranged, I think, from about fifteen to seventy, with just about every age in between. That was partly thanks to the venue, the beloved Tisza Mozi, which has a way of bringing people of different ages together. But it was mostly thanks to the music itself.

This is how it should be. But there’s also great pressure on musicians to have a youthful following (not that musicians themselves would complain about a young crowd). That’s what looks good, that’s what gives the impression of something up and coming. Venues, videos, all sorts of marketing devices aim at a younger set. I was once at a show where some enthusiastic middle-aged women were dancing and having a great time. The band’s photographers then recruited teenagers in the audience (most of whom had stayed close to the wall) to come forward so that they could be photographed dancing to the music. That, I suppose, is what looks good on a website or Facebook page. It wasn’t a bad thing; I think the teenagers were happy to have an excuse to come out and dance. But there was a purpose beyond increasing their enjoyment.

This may not even be a “Sailing to Byzantium” situation. The music may not be commending “whatever is begotten, born, and dies.” But so many messages, not from the musicians themselves, say, “The more young people, the better.”

So if you are older, you (or at least I) have a double consciousness about it all. I know that I am welcome in the music. From that perspective, I belong in any audience where I want to be. That belonging is unbreakable. It exists no matter what anyone says. On the other hand, not last night, but at other times, I feel acutely that I am not of the wanted age, that too many of me would be a disappointment.

This happens to musicians too, and across all genres of music. Some time ago a violinist friend was telling me about how orchestras subtly inform their older members that they are replaceable, that younger musicians would be a better fit. It must be terribly hard to play in an orchestra for decades and then to start feeling that you aren’t really wanted in it any more.

Granted, youth has a lot going for it: energy and talent finding their way to form; attractiveness; a sense that the peak is still far ahead. There are plenty of reasons to support and nurture youth. Teachers know this! In addition, some kinds, aspects, phases of music really are youthful, and that is fine. The young get to be young and to have other young people around them.

But I admire those musicians, and those venues, who can break through that a little, who can make and host music that cuts through time. Where anyone who listens with full heart can be at home.

Photo credit: Lázár tesók (from their Facebook page).

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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