Christmas Music

Happy holidays, everyone, and happy New Year. Hope you’ve all been having a good and restful time. One highlight of my holiday was a Christmas dinner we gave for 15 assorted family members, featuring a 20-pound roast beef, which was so big we couldn’t fit it in our refrigerator. Had to put it outside in the cold, but not on our deck, because animals might eat it, or on our porch, because birds might get it (turkey vultures or crows). So we put it in our car. One feature of Christmas, of course—one unavoidable feature—is Christmas music, which … [Read more...]

Best holiday wishes!

And apologies to everyone who looked for the fourth episode of my book, and didn't find it. Or, for that matter, who looked for new posts on this blog. I'll have one tomorrow, Thursday, December 23. And then I'll very likely take some time off for Christmas. The episode was delayed for many reasons, among them overwork, illness, and a really bad computer problem. All of which sounds worse than it was! I'll resume the book on January 9, and blogwise, there's plenty to talk about. Not long ago I spent a day leading conversations with a group of … [Read more...]

Not playing well enough — an example of what I mean

Last night I heard a Haydn symphony performed, by a good orchestra, one that often has a special touch with music of the classical period. And the conductor was somebody well regarded, whom this orchestra especially likes. But this performance illustrated exactly what I meant, two posts ago, when I asked if orchestras are playing well enough. Forget about fancy points, like making unmistakable — in the tone of your playing — when the development section begins (in a movement in sonata form). There’s something more basic than that. How about … [Read more...]


Somehow I’ve neglected to announce that the third instalment of my book is now available. The first and second instalments have gone to the great library in the sky, but extensive summaries are included with the latest episode. Though actually the old instalments aren’t in any library. Better to say they’re in the shop, being extensively refurbished. And as things have developed, the book isn’t the only thing worth reading on the book site. The comments from readers have been fabulous. They’re well worth reading, and they help me a lot. … [Read more...]

Do orchestras play well enough?

This might be heresy. For one thing, orchestras really play well technically. We could even say that orchestras have never played better, both technically, or in their understanding of musical styles. The classical music world also tends to think that nothing’s wrong with the way we play the music. If people aren’t coming, that’s because they aren’t educated, or we haven’t marketed to them well enough, or we have to make our presentation a little friendlier. We rarely think we have to play the music more distinctively. And finally — hard … [Read more...]


From a reader who prefers not to be named, a description of things that can keep people away from classical music: I have read your blog for some time now because I love classical music and am the parent of a teenager who is an aspiring orchestral musician. As former southern Californians, we had many hours of pleasure attending concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Music Center and other So. Cal. venues in our time there. Six years ago, we moved to Huntsville, AL. We bought season tickets to the Huntsville Symphony. Our experience started on a … [Read more...]

Not your father’s Oldsmobile

From Barney Sherman, of iowa Public Radio, bouncing off the e-mail I quoted from Paul DiMaggio: I sometimes think of it as the “Your Father’s Oldsmobile” problem. (A blanket “forgive me” here if I got all of this wrong—I don’t know much about cars.) But… with that warning… in the 1950s, says Rob Walker  , the Olds represented “middle-class achievement” - a car you wanted after you got affluent enough to move past the Chevy. The Olds represented membership in the country club, the house in the suburbs, promotion to middle management, maybe an … [Read more...]


I've been involved in a very lively, enormously stimulating e-mail discussion of some the problems facing orchestras. One subject that came up is the supposed hierarchy of art -- high art at the top, popular art far lower down. Along with this usually goes the idea that art, by its very nature, is something spiritual and sublime, far removed from everyday life. And then, of course, it's easy to say that high art, existing in its own lofty sphere, is the only real art. I'd challenged that idea, suggesting among other things that it's a … [Read more...]

Another thought on access

Here’s e-mail from Larry Beckhardt, who plays in the wind octet I blogged about a while ago, the group that plays 18th century music in a beer garden in New York, with a large crowd of people if all ages sitting around eating, drinking, and listening, and sometimes even dancing: Your recent discussion of access points on your blog reminded me of the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden wind octet and your blog about it back in August. Is it possible that we found one access point to the 20-30 year old population, as well as children … [Read more...]

Comment on access points

I've received wonderful e-mail from readers during the past few weeks, and I'm going to start posting some of it. Here's something very thoughtful, from Andrew Yen, posted with his permission. Thanks, Andrew! I am a 20 year old who likes classical music and a lot of it, although being raised with it during my childhood I guess that might negate the appeal of people like me for institutions who are pining for new audiences. I think there is a need for some explanation for classical music, as it is the most abstract of the arts (possibly … [Read more...]

Second installment

The second episode of my book-in-progress is now online, right here. Please take a look, and, as ever, fire off your comments. The comments on the first episode were both liively and very helpful, so we're making future comments much more visible. The second installment takes the book further than the first one did. (It would have to, wouldn't it?) I'll be eager to hear what you all think. The book, by the way, is going to be read in a couple of college classes, might get on the radio, and excerpts might appear on other websites. If anyone is … [Read more...]

Access points?

Lately I had the privilege of being in some workshops led by an admirable and charismatic consultant, somebody widely employed by arts organizations, including orchestras, to help them reach out to a wider audience. I know him, and I’m fond of him, but I’d never seen his work before, and I ended up with some questions about it. These don’t reflect on him; they’re more about the assumptions behind his work, assumptions that are shared widely in the classical music business. This consultant works with the idea of “access points”—things about a … [Read more...]


I was at the College Music Society conference in Quebec City last weekend, to present my thoughts on the future of classical music. (And thanks, everyone there who reads this blog, for your warmth and enthusiasm.) But what I presented at this conference wasn’t what most interested me there. The College Music Society is made up of people who teach music at colleges and universities, and the position they’re in is yet another symptom of the condition of classical music these days. They offer music courses to undergraduates, sometimes as part of … [Read more...]


I've been to two straight conferences, and I've got a lot of things to say, but I'm also tired. So, one quick hit about something both refreshing and fun. This is the start of Allan Kozinn's review of a Turandot performance at the New York City Opera, which appeared in The New York Times on November 3:Listeners of good will may differ, perhaps violently, about why Puccini's "Turandot" has tenaciously held its place in the standard repertory. It has an uncommonly dim libretto, even by operatic standards, and a paucity of great arias nestled amid … [Read more...]


The book has started. The first episode is here. Comments very welcome! Read “What’s Going On Here,” at the right of the book page, for more on how the book will work. Note that I might not post every comment that I get. But all are welcome. This is quite a new adventure… … [Read more...]