on my last post, someone I respect says something that of course I should have
expected–that MUSO, the magazine I
praised, makes “classical music about the sex appeal of young performers.”
Now, that’s not all the magazine does. As I pointed out, it
supports new music, putting a composer and a new music ensemble on the covers
of the two issues I’ve seen. But the comment isn’t completely wrong.
style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>MUSO likes good-looking young classical
musicians, which, when I think about it, is part of what I meant when I called
it a “real” magazine, meaning a magazine that looks and reads like all the
magazines we see about more popular subjects. This kind of reality–looking like
we belong in the mainstream world–is important to classical music, I’ve long
But of course there’s a downside. Make us part of the
mainstream world, and we’ll share the mainstream world’s problems, including
too much emphasis on good looks. Yet I think we need to do it, even in spite of
this danger. For one thing, it’s impossible to be completely pure.
class=SpellE>TheodorAdorno, somewhere in his
book Minima Moralia,
says that even people who object to the dominant and crippling trends in
society are themselves crippled by those trends, and I think that’s true. If
you try to purge yourself completely of any concern for looks, you’ve made overreacted,
and made yourself inhuman.
Second, classical musicians (maybe in part because of the
situation I’ve just noted) don’t care enough about how they look when they
perform. They don’t look pure, or artistic; they just look boring, and seem as
if they don’t care about their audience.
Third…well, here’s an experiment. Pretend Britney Spears is
a classical musician. She’s still a bimbo, still shallow, still annoying,
class=GramE>stillhypnotized by silly surface values. But if she (with
all her silly fame) were a classical musician instead of a pop star, what kind
of world would we be living in? Clearly a world in which
classical music was very popular. And would that be a bad thing? “Oh,
yes, it would be horrible, all these silly people getting all that attention.”
OK, fine, maybe that’s the human condition, silly people getting attention, but…classical
music would be popular! Wouldn’t we like that? Wouldn’t that be a good thing
for serious classical musicians? In a world where classical music was wildly
popular would have much more scope than they do now.
(One of the things I learned when I worked in pop music: In a huge market, even
the fringes are huge.)
People who think we can get more attention for classical
music and also save it from mass-market silliness are asking for something
impossible–they want classical music to be somehow exempt from the human
condition. It’s not going to happen. And in past generations, and past
centuries, when classical music was much more central to cultural life than it
is now, it had both popular and serious aspects, and the popular side of it
suffered from whatever silliness was going on at the time. In fact, I’d say
that you can’t have a thriving serious activity without rooting it in a popular
version of the same thing. There wouldn’t be serious pop music–there wouldn’t
be Neil Young or Elvis Costello–if there weren’t mass market pop.
So anything that helps classical music get more popular
might be a good thing. And from that point of view, MUSO does something important–and, given everything serious that’s
in the magazine, does it better than some people might expect.