Happy Anniversary!!

Yes, that’s right – hard to believe, but my blog is a month old today, and it’s time to assess how I’m doing. I’ve been a music critic since February of 1983 (my first appearance in the Chicago Reader), and not once have I ever marked one of my own anniversaries – nor, except for a couple of modest conflict-of-interest disclosures and a couple of articles on my own web page, have I ever drawn attention to my own music in print. So no one, I think, can charge that I am habitually self-promoting. But in one month on this blog I’ve e-printed more words than I do in a year at the Village Voice and Chamber Music magazine combined, and it’s time to examine the self-searching question: Can an introvert blog?

For an introvert I undoubtedly am. I use the word in its strict Jungian sense (though he spelled it “intravert”): someone who makes judgments more on the basis of internal feelings than on external events. (Not many who know me would call me shy, I guess, though I am more shy in person than in public, if you know what I mean.) I now read the blogs of others frequently, and it strikes me that bloggers are typically attuned to the outer world. They react to items in newspapers, call attention to current events, link the reader to other articles that appeared yesterday. It’s unlike me to do this, though I make the occasional effort to fit in. (Intraverts, says Jung, tend to overcompensate by overestimating the significance of public opinion.) I’m far more interested in reporting on recent insights I’ve had and my current state of mind, frequently having to do with realizations that have come to me slowly. A new interpretation of Boulez’s Pli selon pli may suddenly occur to me, or it might dawn on me that I no longer hold the opinion of Dallapiccola that I did in the mid-1980s when I last thought about him much, and I end up reporting things months or even decades after the fact. And that fits with the kind of music I write about. My friend and fellow blogger Sandow may keep track of the classical music world on a week-to-week basis, but given the low simmer of the postclassical music performance scene today, there are not daily earthquakes in the postclassical world to elicit my attention. I am most interested in new wrinkles in compositional technique – my current Voice article on Andrew Violette’s Piano Sonata No. 7 is a case in point. In the 1970s new musical techniques seemed to come thick and fast, but today gradual synthesis seems to be more common than striking innovations – or is it just that the innovations no longer strike me? In any case, catching on to “news pegs” as they fly by has never been my strength as a critic, and I am by nature slow to react, mulling things over for a long time before speaking. It’s why I stank at football as a kid: I was 6’2″ and could catch the ball, but I’d spend too many seconds studiously considering which way to run.

Overall, this appears to be more of a liability to editors than it is to readers. I’m honored by the people who have written in to thank me for expressing thoughts they’d had themselves, and equally by the people who’ve taken intelligent exception to something I’ve said. I rarely change my mind based on reader input, but I will readily change the way I express myself. For someone obsessed with the avant-garde, I am in many respects old-fashioned. As you can see, I’m not really attuned to the fragmentary nature of the “blog entry”: I still write articles, each with a beginning, middle, and end, and I edit myself for completeness and overall form. I still write as though for the printed page, and don’t know whether I want to change that. My articles are pretty long by blog standards, and I treasure the internet precisely for its lack of space limitations.

It’s not true, as some think, that I took on this blog primarily to publicize the fact that the transmission on my Toyota Prius died mysteriously after only ten months, and that Toyota refused to honor the warranty, dishonestly claiming that I must have done something to injure the car. There were other reasons as well. After all, that issue will cease to exist someday, when I trade in that piece-o-crap lemon that Prestige Toyota of Kingston sold me for a nice new Honda or Subaru. Discouraging readers from ever buying a Prius, or from patronizing those crooks at Toyota, is only one of my aims, and hardly the most important one.

For one thing, for 17 years at the Voice I’ve been charged with writing only about Downtown Manhattan music, and it’s not the only music I know well or am interested in. I love writing about classical music as well, and it’s been a relief to de-pigeonhole myself, to return to the wider range of music I wrote about in the 1980s. Unlike Sandow I am not terribly concerned about the continuance of the classical music world, but the word postclassical itself implies music written by musicians trained in the classical tradition, of whom I am one. As critic and as composer, I don’t believe in jettisoning musical devices that have worked in the past, and I believe in taking with us anything we can glean from classical music that still seems useful, as well as throwing away anything that no longer fits the contemporary worldview. Yet despite my affection for classical music as a repository of ideas, very little that goes on in the commercially-defined world of classical music concert life interests me, and that’s been true all my life. So I haven’t been to Zankel Hall at Carnegie, nor do I give a damn whether the NY Philharmonic merges with Carnegie Hall or with Barnum & Bailey Circus – neither is likely to lead to performances of music that interests me. To some I may seem overly concerned with musical academia, but it’s where I’ve spent half my professional life, and in many ways that’s where our potential musical culture gets cut off at the source, so to speak: the convictions of professors, just as trendy and biased as those of any other special-interest group, get transferred to students, who then go out and form each new generation of composers and performers. There is a tendency among the more high-powered critics, too, to be inordinately cowed by the academic musicologists, so when some neurosis takes over academic music departments, it eventually shows up in concert practice, and I find the situation worth policing.

Whether I will be able to continue blogging at this pace I have no idea. Over the last few years, as my space at the Voice and elsewhere has shrunk, it’s been more and more difficult to say what I want to, and right now I have a lot on my mind that’s gone unexpressed for a long time: the literary equivalent of “blueballs.” I do write compulsively, though I edit myself just as compulsively, and I will have to discipline myself to keep from letting blogging interfere with my composing. You’ll know when I’m composing, because I get into a relatively nonverbal universe in which words begin to blur.

So how I’m doing depends on who’s reading, and whether anyone out there agrees with the delayed views of a cud-chewing introvert who shrinks further and further from the mainstream the more conservative and commercially oriented the culture becomes. At the age of 13 I wrote, for an English class assignment, a paper decrying and attempting to analyze the neglect of contemporary music, and if you could see how little my basic views have changed over 34 years, you’d realize how glacially stubborn I am and how permanent my mission in life has been. I’m a mourner at the funeral of classical music, sentimental but hardly wracked with grief, and seeking similarly forward-looking mourners who want to get on with life. Classical music had two debilitating diseases that I’m glad to see it put out of its misery from. One was a star system that put goofballs like Pavarotti and self-indulgent anti-new-music snobs like Georg Solti at the top of the pyramid, inevitably tossing composers into the ninth circle of hell. The other, deeper rooted and more insidiously tubercular, was a connection with European aristocracy and the concomitant genius myth which, transplanted to America and talked up by pious elitists like 19th-century Boston music critic John Sullivan Dwight, had always given classical music in America a foul odor of combined class distinction and moral superiority. Good riddance. Now that 4’33” has wiped the slate clean, let’s build up a postclassical music scene integrated in American life, conducive of democracy, perception-stretching, enlivening, and expressing our innermost desires devoid of contamination by the pretentions of a mythic past.