New magazine?

I’ve gotten e-mail from Alexander Mills, a student in London, with some questions he’d love answers to. He hopes to get some from readers of this blog, so with his permission, I’ve simply copied his e-mail here. I’ve edited just a little, to keep it focused on the questions.

Before I begin, I would just like to say how fascinating I have found your blog. I stumbled across it earlier whilst doing research and have put it straight to the top of my favourites list.

Particularly interesting were the discussions about MUSO magazine, and the associated comments about popular culture. I am studying lifestyle journalism in art college in London, but I am also a classical pianist. For my final year, beginning next month, I have to produce a magazine, a new title, my own concept. I am going to produce a classical magazine for young people, recognizing the niche in the market the MUSO has began to gnaw successfully away at.

True, MUSO have beaten me to it to some extent, but I see them as being ‘the first’ to do it, and I want to take on board what they have done but also try to improve upon it.

My questions are a.) What, fundamentally, do you think a classical music magazine for young people should include? (Should it be purely about young, pretty musicians? classical music performed by young people? The content of more conservative classical magazines but in a more upbeat, targeted and ‘young’ presentation and angle?)

And b.) – After congratulating MUSO for what they are achieving, what do you think MUSO could improve on? Is there a gap in the publication’s content? Are there still strings to MUSO’s bow that need to be played? Do you think it is too ‘pretty’ and too ‘fashion’?

ESSENTIALLY – what do you think a classical music magazine for young people should be like???

I am very very keen on getting as much feedback as possible on this, particularly from viewers of your blog. I hate to intrude, or risk being cheeky, but do you think you could ask your readers the same question? i.e. “what do you think a classical music magazine for young people should be like???”

It would be such a great help!

Speaking only for myself, I’m most interested in what prospective readers of the magazine might think. My ideas might or might not be good, but it’s the readers, ultimately, who make a magazine succeed or fail. (And in fact it’s like this in many questions affecting the future of classical music. Many of us have ideas, not least me, but what actually works is more interesting, ultimately, than any ideas we might get attached to.)

But what do others think? What should this magazine be like? Post your thoughts as a comment to this blog entry, and Alex and I will be very grateful.

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  1. says

    This should be an interesting magazine. I think one of the things that such a publication should do is to get across the idea that music is not just for a special group of people who do nothing but perform the same kind of music.

    My private teacher when I was in high school was the city traffic engineer in Atlanta and also played in the Atlanta Symphony before it went totally fulltime. He made me aware that music could be part of a life that included much more than just music.

    Good point, David. The magazine could show everyone — musicians and listeners alike — that music works best when it’s part of a full, complete life.

  2. says

    I have only persused the MUSO website and have not yet checked out an actual issue (I plan to at some point). I laughed because you asked: “Should it be purely about young, pretty musicians?” NO! I thought it was laughable that MUSO actually has top-5 hottest young musician polls going on their website. Not that this necessarily distracts from the content of the articles (which, again, I can’t really comment on yet), it’s just not terribly relevant (at least in my opinion, and I’m only 23). You are already dealing with a niche market, so, assuming you’re amenable to this idea, you might as well go all out and be really “serious” about everything. (at least that’s what would draw me in; it would also distinguish you from MUSO in an important way if that is who you indeed see as your primary competition)

  3. says

    Definitely – I wasn’t aware when I was studying music in high school that there were any other paths forward professionally other than playing in a symphony and teaching private students.

    Writing music criticism, being an artist’s agent, playing in pit orchestras or for soundtracks – maybe I would have stuck with it through university had I known what all the options were.

  4. Nancy Ruder says

    As children my sons all loved a book called, “The Philharmonic Gets Dressed”, by Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont. The book was about how each of the musicians and the conductor got dressed and went to perform.

    I’m not sure what age group you mean when you say “young people”. I teach art to students age 5-9, so that is the group in my mind. I can see my students reading how different musical instruments were invented and how they work, what it is like to be a child supernumerary in an opera, what it is like to play in a pit, or what it is like backstage.

    Children’s publications often have a children’s author answering questions kids have written. The author’s responses are brief and hand-written. What questions might your young readers ask Yo-Yo Ma, for example.

    I live in Dallas, and have the good fortune of reading Dr. Laurie Shulman’s clear and understandable program notes for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I’ve also attended her pre-concert lectures. Her enthusiasm is so infectious that I go into the performance feeling like a child. I would hope your magazine could include such well-written introductions to specific pieces of music for the children.

    I hope you will also include young people of your target age reporting on events, and writing reviews of favorite pieces.

    Lastly, I hope the focus of your magazine will not be entirely on performance and competition. Kids today are suffering from an overdose of competition anxiety. Please write about making music for the pure enjoyment of it!

  5. says

    Warning: Things that I like are almost always not very popular.

    I have to stand up for hottie coverage. Not that a magazine proffered to youths need concentrate on coverage of hotties to the exclusion of all else, but we all like to look at pretty people, and if they’re playing great music with skill and flair, so much the better.

    I would want some coverage of current intellectual trends and how musicians young and old are responding to them.

    If you can find some musicians who are eloquent and willing to talk about why they like certain works and how they approach them, I can never get enough of that kind of reading. Young, older, doesn’t matter.

    There should be a monthly review of a few noteworthy CDs and a “Building Your Standard-Rep Library” feature that shouldn’t be called that under any circumstances.

    I echo the calls for discussion of all the different ways one can be involved in music – maybe a profile of a non-performer (or a non-professional performer) who makes music a central part of his or her life each month.

    Try really hard to connect classical to pop in any way you can. In January, I heard the premiere of a piece called “BlingBling,” from the slang term made famous by the Cash Money Millionaires (who are not a chamber orchestra). Ask the composer what the idea was there. Ask the string players doing session work on Kanye West’s albums what that’s like. Ask people who play both non-classical and classical what they learn from each style that the bring to the other. When I read Gramophone or Fanfare, I always feel like I’m putting myself on an island at a strange remove from everyday life. Even when that’s pleasant, I don’t feel like I should spend all my time there.

    Finally, the prose style needs to be confident, witty, allusive, and inviting; it needs to create the idea of a community that the reader can share with the magazine’s writers and readers, just by virtue of the shared experience. ego trip, a hip-hop magazine, used to do this splendidly. Classical could use a magazine in which not everyone is writing from imperious heights.

    (P.S. And I would be glad to write for such a magazine…)

    Things I like aren’t very popular, either. So I hope that doesn’t doom all these ideas, which I like a lot Not to mention your writing. If I were editing this magazine, I’d hire you.

  6. says

    Thanks for the kudos! I forgot one thing when I commented yesterday: The magazine should focus heavily on composers, just about as much as on performers. This would guarantee that the magazine will document what is going on today as well as what is going on today with music written 200 years ago.

    Now I really think I’m done.

  7. Alexander says

    Wow.. thanks for all of your comments, I definitely agree with them too. There needs to be a confident classical music title which is very accessible and inclusive without being patronizing. Fashionable and stylish without sexualizing the industry and above all, a magazine which is all-encompassing of the entire picture. From the old lady next door who buys Beethoven CDs each week and wished she’d persisted with her piano lessons to the most powerful conductors and performers of our time.

    I’d be happy to hear even more ideas if you have any!! This is great!

    Alex, I’m really glad this helped you!