FlyOver: May 2007 Archives
Moog is still vogue
"The Asheville Symphony Orchestra will honor the late Moog synthesizer creator (and Asheville resident) Robert Moog in a performance Saturday of Gustav Holst's 'The Planets.' In the orchestra's final Masterworks concert of the season, music director Daniel Meyer will lead a performance that features six Moog 'Little Phatty' synthesizers, which will execute the choral harmonies in 'Neptune, the Mystic' typically performed by a six-woman choir."
Thanks to Paul Clark of the Asheville Citizen-Times)
A beautiful eulogy to a guitar god no one's heard of
"Some prayers never reach the sky. Some wounds never heal. Sometime Friday night, maybe early Saturday morning, the World's Fading Man, proudly unreconstructed, got caught in life's fading twilight. There was nothing left in his field of vision, no curtain to block out the storm that had been raging for years. He could no longer see the exceptionally long shadow that he cast. He had done his job for 40 years. He did it better than most, indeed, a master of his craft. And he had served well, a natural-born man of merit and cool, the quintessential desperado under the eaves. But he was tired. It was time to retire. A sunnier clime beckoned. Sam Moss, 54, died on the couch in his living room. He was surrounded by books, music, memorabilia, guitars - all the personal treasures and manifestos of an extraordinary life led with passion and taste."
(Special thanks to Ed Bumgardner of the Winston-Salem Journal)
Piercing the veil of bling-bling
"Who is Daniel Johnson? His MySpace bio reveals a 28-year-old Florence label owner and prolific rapper heavy on intelligence and light on frills. But Johnson's identity is more complicated than that. The intricately woven tales on 'In the Face of Danger,' Johnson's latest CD, invite listeners into the minds of dueling personalities, one -- called Danger -- acutely maniacal, the other -- Dan Johns -- as cool as a beach breeze. On the CD, which will be released Thursday with a show at Group Therapy, it seems Danger and Johns have shaken hands and agreed to co-exist. Because he's away from the chain popping, champagne drinking and arrests of mainstream hip-hop, all Johnson has is his identity. Let the introductions begin."
(Thanks to Otis R. Taylor Jr. of The State)
Spend a day with a bunch of harpists and learn something
"Since the (American Youth Harp Ensemble in Richmond, Va.) formed as a nonprofit entity in late 1999, these young musicians have seen the world. The list of venues in which they've played includes Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center and European equivalents in London, Paris and Rome. A trip to Japan is tentatively scheduled for next year. Graduates of the program have attended Peabody, Oberlin and Shenandoah conservatories, among other schools. Still, the harp? Isn't that what Harpo Marx would play during those musical interludes in Marx Brothers movies? 'It has the potential to be more expressive than people would think,' Ediger-Kordzaia says. 'It's a surprising instrument. People don't realize how powerful it is. They're not sweet and pretty.'"
(Thanks to Dean Hoffmeyer of the Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The underbelly of an opera house
A writer finds there's more to this venue than music. "The Wortham Theater Center in Houston has a few quirks . . . The three-hour opera ("Aida"), featuring sets and costumes by British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, was riveting. But it can be a little seat-numbing. So midway through the first act, I removed the thick wallet from my back pocket, placed it on the floor of the center's Brown Theater and settled in for the rest of the performance. At intermission, I reached down to retrieve the wallet and accidentally pushed it through an air vent in the floor. While it was a stupid thing to do, it helped to discover I'm not alone."
(Thanks to Clifford Pugh who wrote this for the Houston Chronicle)
Avant-garde opera is popular in Augusta, Ga.?
Innovative productions of familiar operas are fueling an uptick in attendance, said Les Reagan, artistic director of the Augusta Opera, before a performance of "La Boheme." "The National Endowment for the Arts most recent survey of public participation said that opera audiences grew by 46.6 percent between 1982 and 2002. That's 20 years of growth, and Les credits innovators in the field. Theater and opera companies aren't modernizing the productions, like producers did when they based the hit Broadway musical 'Rent' on the centuries-old storyline and music. They're simply presenting them in new ways or making them more accessible for modern audiences."
(Thanks to Stacey Hudson of the Augusta Metro Spirit)
The case for negative thinking
A psychologist debunks the so-called law of attraction recently embraced by the likes of Oprah Winfrey. "According to this made-up law, your thoughts attract whatever they focus on - literally. Focus on Britney Spears' thong, feel what it would be like to have it tied around your face, prepare to receive it - and it will soon be smothering you! . . . Indeed, one could reasonably argue that it was George Bush's blind optimism and reliance on his 'gut' that allowed him to invade Iraq without listening to those who anticipated failure. The refusal to consider the negative has mired us more deeply than ever in the negative."
(Thanks to Cliff Bostock, columnist for Creative Loafing Atlanta)
What audiences really think
The Birmingham News conducted a poll of regular attendees to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to see how its new maestro, Justin Brown, fared by the end of his debut season. "Superlatives being relative, it's safe to say that a mutual admiration society has sprung up between Brown and our panelists, all of whom are regular concertgoers and none of whom have a stake in the ASO as staff or board members."
(Thanks to Michael Huebner of the Birmingham News)
How to (righteously) piss off a certain kind of Southerner
One day artist John Sims decided to create a work of art in which he dangled a Confederate flag from a noose swinging from a gallows. He called it "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag." It got some attention. The Sons of the Confederate Veterans demanded the work be removed from the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee. The museum demurred. The story doesn't end there, though. Flushed with confidence, Sims has invited performance artist Karen Finley to put on a seance to evoke the voices of the past to comment on the ole Stars and Bars. "I told her she should call up some African slaves and see what they have to say," Sims said. "I'm excited to see what happens and who turns out for this."
(Thanks to Mark Hinson of the Tallahassee Democrat)
More than framed posters of flowers and trees
A new hotel is downtown Memphis is using original artwork to enhance its decor. "The people at Westin thought about art from the very beginning," said Mark Weaver, an architect with Hnedak Bobo Group and lead designer for the project, as he showed a reporter through the building that bustled with activity. "They want a hotel that addresses all the senses, and art is a big component."
(Thanks to Fredric Koeppel of the Memphis Commercial Appeal)
Yet more attempts to seduce those elusive 'younger people'
Hoping to nurture a new crop of concert-goers, the San Antonio Symphony has launched an advertising campaign, along with programs and events, catered to teens and young adults. "Successfully appealing to young people could mean survival for the nation's orchestras. With that in mind, local symphony leaders have launched the rock 'n' roll-style ad campaign this season and, among other efforts, added audio clips to their Web site and started a 'Future Stars Competition' that will culminate today with three students joining the orchestra."
(Thanks to Michelle Koidin Jaffee of the San Antonio Express-News)
It's never too late to start
"At 25, Walter Kovshik reached a crossroads: Would his career be in music or business? He chose business. He faced a similar choice at 50. Did he want to continue his work as a fundraising consultant or revisit the world of classical music? This time, music won out -- at least temporarily. At the end of May, Kovshik will fly from Orlando to Fort Worth, Texas, to compete in the Fifth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation. He will be competing against 74 other pianists from around the world."
(Thanks to Jean Patteson of the Orlando Sentinel)
Below is a letter I received in February from a theater director in Savannah. I won't name the person because he did not want to have the letter attributed to him. I have argued with myself about posting the letter. I'd like to avoid personal beefs (and this writer, as you can tell, has a whole slab of beef against me and has for some time).
However, I feel there may be something constructive here. We arts journalists in the American Outback have to deal with many things, one of them being a kind of thin-skinnedness. If, in a review, you say the sky is blue, someone might slam you for disliking the color green.
At the same time, we are under increasingly pressure to cover the arts as news. To do that we have to nurture sources. But what happens when one of your sources is one of those thin-skinned people with a personal beef against you and your efforts to carry on a critical conversation in the community? What then?
Here is a shortened version of that letter.
February 23, 2007
I am writing this personal note to you (not intended for publication) as someone who has been an avid reader of the Savannah Morning News since the day I moved to town (over four years ago). And though I enjoy reading about local theatre in town, I must admit that every time I see your name at the start of a theatre piece I cringe. Invariably, you serve up a glorious black eye to local artists and the organizations they are working for.
I must admit, I do not have the slightest idea of your level of expertise. I think every person connected to theatre in Savannah would love to know exactly where you studied theatre, and any another scholarly merits that might give your theatrical "critiques" validity. I imagine that anyone who claims to know that "The Savannah Theatre is the best theater in town." (SMN/2/19/07) must be incredibly intimate with all the local theatres and the work they do.
Other remarks that seem to cast dispersion on local theatres such as "Savannah has other groups of course-community theaters, a children's theatre and a seasonal festival group. None so far, however, has had the staying power of Savannah Theatre, nor have any of them established a cultural climate considered to be the life blood of the city, something as essential as a St. Patrick's Day parade." (SMN/02/19/07) leave me speechless.
Perhaps you would enjoy local theatre more if we bared more body parts and threw beads at you. And as far as staying power is concerned, the Bureau of Leisure Services has kept the City's theatre up and running for at least the last ten years.
I hope I am not leading you to believe that I have anything against the St. Patrick's Day Parade or the Savannah Theatre. Quite the opposite: I love Irish-American traditions and happen to think the performers on Bull Street have talent oozing out of every pore. They are very special performers. Notice, I can compliment them without kicking any one else.
I could go on, John, but I think you get my point. To those of us in the local theatre community (and we have all been greatly distressed by your self-entitled role of connoisseur) we recognize that you either don't get what theatre is truly about, or just plainly don't like it. Whichever the case we challenge you to either buy a ticket and ride the ride or, respectfully, put a sock in it.
I believe in the power of the press and the influence it can have, for boon or bane, to local artists. It would benefit us all if the local press presented us in a more authentic and supportive light while letting the public judge the work for themselves.
Excellent, excellent post, Jennifer. It really resonates with me. I started to respond in the comments section but realized my comment was getting too long. So I decided to make a post out of it. Perhaps you have started a string of posts, so relevant to our times is the subject.
I have felt for some time that there is an "ageist" mentally at work in arts philanthropy circles. This mentality is also at work in many of the newsrooms we work in or work with.
Case in point is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent decision to separate its web product from its print product, the former being a place for breaking news and pop culture-oriented items aimed at a younger generation of readers and the latter being for longer, investigative and narrative pieces aimed at an older, more educated generation.
What's implicit in this calculus is that young people aren't interested in in-depth, investigative and narrative pieces. Why? Because the conventional wisdom says that kids these days are not interested in that kind of stuff. They want pop and glitz and whiz-bang news.
Which is true, no doubt. But I grew up in the Me-Decade, when video killed the radio star. In the 1980s. I watched loads of TV, consumed every middle-market movie you can think of and never read a newspaper until I was in college. Then I discovered a world that was far more complex and varied and colorful and interesting than the surface-level media I had grown up with. There was suddenly a world of ideas in publications like the New York Times, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Review of Books. Even the Buffalo News, the dominant newspaper of my childhood, had a robust critical voice (back then, anyway) that was compelling.
Most of all, there was good writing, stuff you really wanted to read.
I am a fan of YouTube, MySpace, multimedia and so on. But that cannot and will never replace the power of language and the power of ideas and good storytelling. I think its a good thing the AJC is recognizing different audiences with different needs, but I think it also should track its readers as it implements these changes. The notion that only older readers will be interested in its print product is a misconception. A print product that's well-written (and timely, interesting, exhaustively reported etc.) will always be relevant.
There's the rub, however: well-written. As we all know, there are bright spots of good writing in newspapers, some in unexpected places. But there's also a dearth of good writing (to be sure, I include myself in this white-wash statement), and there will only be more of it as reporters and editors are asked to do more and more with fewer resources and less time.
Newspapers need to recognize the value of good writing and good writers as they transform themselves for the future. Magazines like the New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair haven't lasted this long because they had great pictures (though that's a large part of it). They have survived because of their commitment to, and willingness to pay for, good writers.
Michael Phillips, the theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, left a lasting impression on me when he noted during the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Los Angeles three months ago that readers will take the time to read long screeds of text on a blog, but if you took the same amount of text, say 75 inches in newspaper-speak, and put it into print, readers would be overwhelmed by the amount of text presented to them.
It was a salient observation because of its context: a discussion of the thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach to criticism. One concern was that writing such reviews would encourage people to read less, to skip the bulk of the review and just scan for the meat of it.
This is, of course, what all newspaper people have been taught to accept at God-given truth for at least two and a half decades (at least since USA Today began publishing): that readers have short attention spans, that to get them to feel that a newspaper is vital to their everyday lives, we need to get them the information as fast as possible.
Of all the nuances of that mind-set, one stands out from the rest: write shorter.
I am actually an advocate of writing shorter. There is value is writing shorter, tighter, with more pop. But I also believe in questioning received truth and one recent study gives me lots of reason for doing so: the Poynter Institute's recent eye-track study.
According to Editor & Publisher, the study, released in March, found that readers tend to read more than three-quarters of a story when its online, as opposed to in print. When I saw this I immediately thought about Michael Phillips' observation: People naturally read differently when the story is online. Moreover, the study found that people don't like to jump pages in print, again underscoring Phillips' assertion.
So what does this say about the industry we're in? Is there a relationship between the rule of thumb dictating that we write short (with less nuance, less context, less attention paid the power of language, less stuff in general) and the fact that newspapers are losing readers?
Moreover, newspapers are getting rid of the very places that you'd expect readers to actually spend time reading. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just sacked most of its critics, including long-time book review editor Teresa Weaver. The Raleigh News & Observer also axed its book guy, the venerable J. Peder Zane. The San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times shrank their book sections. You can read about some of the changes here in this recent New York Times article.
Michael Connelly, the wonderful mystery writer, wrote in the LA Times that getting rid of book sections (a place where, I might add, the longer writing, say, 800-plus words, has been traditionally tolerated) is a short-term financial solution with long-term detriments: If you get read of reasons for people to spend time reader your product, they will go somewhere else.
"The truth is that the book and newspaper businesses share the same dreadful fear: that people will stop reading. And the fear may be well-founded. Across the country, newspaper circulations are down -- and this is clearly part of the reason for the cuts to book sections. At the same time, the book business increasingly relies on an aging customer base that may not be refueling itself with enough new readers."
Where are they going to go if not to the newspapers? Fake news shows. Yep. As traditional news outlets like newspapers are turning their backs on books, authors are turning to fake news shows to be taken seriously, according to a February Times report by Julie Bosman.
Publishers say that particularly for the last six months, ''The Daily Show'' and its spinoff, ''The Colbert Report,'' which has on similarly wonky authors, like the former White House official David Kuo, have become the most reliable venues for promoting weighty books whose authors would otherwise end up on ''The Early Show'' on CBS looking like they showed up at the wrong party.
Television programs that devote significant attention to serious authors have practically gone the way of the illuminated manuscript, publishers lament. Brian Lamb's long-running ''Booknotes'' program on C-Span was permanently shuttered in 2004. ''The Charlie Rose Show'' doesn't generate as much buzz as it used to or translate into higher sales after an author appearance, some publishers say. And the morning shows seem to prefer a bad Britney to a good book.
So. Is writing shorter driving readers away?