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July 18, 2005

To criticise the critic

I think one needs to be careful about slipping into the assumption that the health of music criticism can be measured by how much critics argue with each other in public. A well informed and intelligent debate on an important issue is certainly healthy, but an unseemly slanging match among a clique is not necessarily interesting for readers nor does it necessarily serve music well. The quality of engagement with the musical event is the most important thing and I don’t see why, at least in principle, a single critic is a one-newspaper city can’t offer criticism which leads opinion in a dynamic way over several decades. At a crucial time in Sydney’s history, for example, we had a theatre reviewer (H. G. Kippax) who shaped debate at a crucial time and managed to raise the next generation of writers on a much less parochial level of debate than had existed previously.

In Sydney there is one broadsheet daily which is city-based, the Herald, and one national broadsheet daily which reviews events from all the capital cities (meaning of course that less events in any one city are covered). The main paper of the weekend here is the Saturday edition and the Sunday papers are tabloids with heavy emphasis on a magazine and lift-out format, but they do run reviews albeit shorter. The daily tabloids do some events but the coverage is sporadic so a major event might get two or perhaps three newspaper reviews and perhaps some coverage in the suburban papers and specialist newsletters such as Opera Opera. But there are plenty of events where the Herald carries the only review, which can be invidious at times.

One further point. In my own writing I have come to the view that it is better to keep the arts writers who write profiles and background pieces, and the critics separate. It has the disadvantage that the critics tend not to be full time although having people who are not full-time journalists writing on the page does add liveliness through diversity of tones of voice. Keeping them separate means the critic doesn’t have to feel guilty about luring an audience to an event, and then telling them the next day that it was a dog. What do others find?

Posted by pmccallum at July 18, 2005 12:35 AM


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