Music News - Criticism: February 2007 Archives
The most common reaction I got to that phrase was, "What's a newspaper march?"
It's a reaction I could relate to--I certainly hadn't heard of one before, and I was a member of a marching band for three years. What I discovered was a pretty fascinating piece of cultural history. The most famous march of the genre was the one written by John Phillip Sousa for the Washington Post in 1889. Since then, composers have created more than 300 marches named after and dedicated to newspapers in towns across the country.
The Advocate Brass Band has researched some of the history of newspaper marches, digging into the Library of Congress to find scores. They've put together several CDs of them that they offer for sale.
What I find most fascinating about this piece of cultural history is the intensely local nature of the composition. It's music written for a particular place and for a particular organization. It's music that has meaning for a group of people because it is about their hometown, about the newspaper that comes to their doorstep every morning.
While most of these were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they've continued to be produced throughout the years. The newspaper I write for commissioned composer John Moss to write one for its 150th anniversary. It premiered at Michigan State University which was also celebrating its 150th anniversary. You can read what I wrote about the Lansing Concert Band's recent performance of it here. The Lansing Concet Band's director talked about how important it was for that march to become a part of their repertoire. Aside from it being a great concert march, it was something that uniquely belonged to their city.
For me, it was yet another confirmation that art, good art, happens everywhere. Site-specific art doesn't have to belong only to the metropolitan areas. It can belong wherever people create.
Call it the curse of topicality. The week that North Carolina's Council of State is forced to vote on changes in lethal injection protocols, a regional company stages Dead Man Walking. Read about how this all came together, here.
There's a fun interview with poet Andrei Codrescu at the Idaho Statesman site; check it out here.
Apparently Monet plays well in the outback: the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors bureau announced that "the Monet in Normandy exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art injected almost $24.3 million dollars in tourism revenue into the Wake County economy - more than double the initial projection." Just think....with all that money, maybe they could buy a Monet of their own! Anyway, read about it here.
Arts advocates in Kansas were relieved to learn that Gov. Matt Blunt has included money for the arts -- a little over $8 million -- in his annual budget recommendation. Though it's a pitance, some had feared the gov was going to stiff the arts completely. Read more here.
Floridians, apparently, love Florida -- Richard Florida, that is: "The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has picked Tallahassee and two other communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers, Charlotte, N.C., and Duluth, Minn./Superior, Wisc., as the launch sites of the new Knight Creative Communities Initiative. It's a partnership with social theorist Richard Florida, author of 'The Rise of the Creative Class,' and Leon County's business, education and government leaders to enhance the area's economic base beyond government and education." Read more about it here.
Finally, at risk of self-promo, here is a review I wrote of the most recent performance by the Missoula Symphony Orchestra. I've gotten notes of thanks and praise from members of the chorus and the audience; I've also gotten angry letters telling me I need to show "fealty" (!?!?) to the orchestra and that reviews like this "will shut down this valued institution." So I guess a mixed-bag performance inspired a mixed-bag review which resulted in mixed responses!
Curt Holman, a 2005 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at the University of Southern California and writer for Creative Loafing in Atlanta, has thoughtfully pointed out a cover story, published in Time Out New York in December, that turns the tables on Big Apple critics. Anyone who reads Art.Rox ought to check it out. The book critics section is particularly interesting.
What's also interesting is the thinking expressed in the introduction. Writer Nathan Huang cleverly notes that critics give readers a lot to talk about, even if readers have no intention of experiencing the theater, concert or performance in question. One purpose of criticism, in other words, is providing readers with information with which to take action. But isn't another purpose to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of a community?
As Huang writes: "We live in a city that churns out massive amounts of art and entertainment, then proceeds to talk about it endlessly. At times it doesn't even matter if you haven't seen, read or heard something, as long as you can gab about it--and our local critics provide the handiest cheat sheets."
Even if a city doesn't churn out as much culture as New York (and let's face it, name one that does), culture still plays an important role in the lives of everyday people, even if they themselves don't know it. Here in Savannah, where I'm the arts and culture reporter for the Savannah Morning News, people love -- and I mean love -- high school and college football.
There is an Southern adage worth remembering -- you don't get married in the fall, you don't die in the fall, you don't do anything in the fall except watch football. The result is people are gabbing about football endlessly come autumn. But why can't they also gab about the arts? Their children are involved in all sorts of cultural activities, in school and in other organizations. I suspect parents don't talk about the arts at least in part because such talk would be considered haughty and highfalutin.
Case in point, I was reading the New York Times while waiting for my lunch yesterday. The waitress came by with my order and patiently waited while I moved by newspaper. She said: "I don't want to put this on your New York Times," with a tone of voice that suggested I was some fancy-pants Yankee doing something regular folk, like her, don't do.
But when it comes to the arts, people in reality are very engaged; they just don't talk about it. In my view, that's where we as arts journalists can play a critical role -- by normalizing what they already experience and giving them the vocabulary to use in talking about it. Perhaps someday even a place like Savannah will talk about the arts as endlessly as we do about sports.
Gian Carlo Menotto, the founder of Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., one of the country's premiere arts festivals, died on Feb. 1, 2007. He was 95. Yesterday, festival administrators released an official statement (see below). His passing is an occasion to reflect on the impact an internationally acclaimed composer and conducter can have on a small American city. Since a bitter dispute with his board 14 years ago, Menotti had had little to do with Spoleto USA, focusing more on his other festival in Spoleto, Italy. But in the wake of his death, reports Dottie Ashley of the Charleston Post and Courier, the two festivals may once again work together.
February 13, 2007
Dear Friend of the Festival,
All of us associated with Spoleto Festival USA are saddened by the death of Gian Carlo Menotti, who passed away on February 1, 2007.
Some thirty years ago, Mr. Menotti founded Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston as the "new world" counterpart to the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. In his opening statement in the very first Spoleto Festival USA program, Mr. Menotti remarked, "Just as the composer - without being able to define 'inspiration' - knows when he is inspired, I knew that Charleston would be the town of my choice as soon as I set foot in it, and Charleston, with its enchantment, will confirm to the beholder the wisdom of this choice." His vision was for the festival to be "fertile ground for the young with new ideas and a dignified home for the masters." We embraced his vision and Charleston lived up to his expectations as the perfect setting for the festival. All of the artists and all of the members of the audience, board and staff since 1977 have in some way benefited from his inspiration.
During the festival this year, we plan to celebrate the life of Gian Carlo Menotti. Please continue to check www.spoletousa.org for additional programming if you would like to join us in remembering this remarkable composer and friend of the arts and artists.
Artistic Director for Choral Activities
The Christel DeHaan Music Director for Opera & Orchestra
The Charles E. and Andrea L. Volpe Artistic Director for Chamber Music
It's usually the artistic directors, conductors, and other artistic staff that get the limelight in any performing arts organization. The administrative staff is respected and appreciated internally, but are rarely seen as anything but paper-pushing employees outside the organization.
Yet, an organization can live and die by its administrative staff. It's something that the Lansing Symphony Orchestra appears to have in mind when they selected their new executive director this month. David Gross, a percussionist for the Grand Rapids Symphony has been selected to be the next executive director.
He's a man who has learned from the administrative tragedies of others. As a professional musician he witnessed the labor disputes that caused the downfall of the Kansas City Philharmonic. Still a staunch union man, he's built a career by learning how to successfully negotiate contracts in ways that keep both musicians and the organization healthy and functioning.
In this story, Lawrence Cosentino of the Lansing City Pulse captures the importance of such skills to an organization in his profile of the incoming executive director.
At a time when arts organizations are spending more of their salary budget on administrative positions than on artists, it's always refreshing to see an organization that hires an artist who is also a capable administrator.
(Thanks to Bridgette Redman for pointing us to this story)
We love the Grammy Awards in Georgia. So much so that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent its excellent hip-hop reporter, Sonia Murray, to blog in Los Angeles live from the event Sunday. We have good reason to be excited. Many of last night's winners -- Ludacris, Ciara, Third DayÂ and T.I. -- have ties to the Peach State.
But the record industry hasn't realized how archiacÂ it has become in the wake of new technologies.Â However stylish it might be, the award show seems almost quaint compared to its former self 20 years ago.
In 1987, bands like Poison were selling millions of copies of hair-metal hokum (remember "Look What the Cat Dragged In"?). The same record today -- featuring that bedroom anthem for the ages, "Unskinny Bop" -- would be lucky to sell a few hundred thousand. Indeed, the standards of being a hitÂ have changed so much thatÂ selling aÂ million records would be considered aÂ smash.
Pop music critics have been bemoaning the vanilla flavor of theÂ Grammys for years, but now in the wake of internet downloading (legal and otherwise), in which music is measured in megabytes not physical CDs, the critics have quantifiable evidence to support long-held charges of irrelevance. Fewer and fewer people are buying records. Why then isÂ there so much to-do about the Grammys?
Perhaps it's denial. But it could also be the force of nostalgia. David Marchese, from Salon, reports the Grammys -- that bastion of the young and hip --Â were headlined by Earth, Wind and Fire, the Police, Lionel Ritchie and the Eagles. The president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences,Â Neil Portnoy, gushed over his youthful excitement after seeing Elvis perform on TV. He thought, "I want to be a record executive."
Let's see, Elvis has been dead for how long?
The foundation of the record industry was poured during the heyday of Elvis and the Beatles. The industry controlled the artists, the recording technology and the means of distribution. It had a lock on everything and all was good. And when MTV came along, things got even better, as long as the MTV was the gatekeeper in charge of who gets in and for how long.
That's no longer the case and will not be the case again, as Mark Swed notes in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. The irony is that newspapers like theÂ Atlanta Journal-Constitution and my own paperÂ are hoping coverage of the Grammys will attract younger readers. But they are not buying records. Baby boomers are, and they are already reading the papers. Georgia newspapersÂ are rightfully cheery about Georgians being in the national spotlight, but that spotlight won't be there for long. It's just a matter of time.
-- John Stoehr