Off the pedestal

Our discussion of classical music and pop — or vs. pop –seems to resonate very deeply for many people, and one reason has to be its larger context. We’re in an era of great change. One long-term change has been the dethroning of classical music — when I grew up in the 1950s, it reigned unchallenged as musical art, but for decades now, this hasn’t been true.

But I don’t think we’ve caught up to this understanding yet (And by “we,” I mean not only those of us who take part in this blog — which I’m starting to think of as very much a collaborative project — but really everyone, all of us who share in western culture. Classical music still has some of its old prestige, but the prestige isn’t attached, any more, to anything solid. Thus the discussion is a little hard to pin down. A few people insist that classical music has just the status it always had, or ought to have that status. This doesn’t quite ring true; at worst, it’s dead wrong, and at best, it’s wishful thinking. But then the arguments in favor of pop (including mine) all seem to protest a little too much. Why do we still have to fight this battle? Finally, when people say — with open hearts — that there are only two kinds of music, good and bad, that, too, doesn’t seem quite right.

Clearly we have different musical worlds, floating all around us, whose status nobody seems quite sure of. It helps, therefore, to know the overall situation we’re in. It helps explain why our discussions don’t quite seem grounded, and how they might be better focused. Certainly it helps me. And by chance, in the past week, I’ve come across two strong statements of our situation, which I’m going to share here, and in my next post. The first came in an e-mail from http://www.johnsteinmetz.org/ John Steinmetz, who gave me permission to post it. I know he’d love comments.

STEP AWAY FROM THE PEDESTAL

Conversations about the death of classical music keep cropping up, as they have for hundreds of years. Here, sparked by recent articles and emails, is yet another response. I’m writing this to try to understand my own beliefs and assumptions. I’m hoping that you will help me improve the ideas.

One of the chief concerns in the death notices is that respect is dimming for classical music’s elaborate and nuanced language.

Classical music’s approaches to harmony and melodic development empower the music to offer long and complex narratives that connect strongly with people’s emotions, seeming to go to the heart of the human condition. Now, with classical music losing stature and status, some fear that this kind of musical narrative, and the very ability to construct such narratives, might disappear.

I don’t think classical music is going to disappear. Too many people want to make it and hear it. But I believe that it is appropriate for classical music’s kind of narrative to slip from center stage. In my opinion, our culture now has musical needs that classical music cannot meet. Classical music has moved off its pedestal to assume a place among other wonderful kinds of world music, contributing its voice to the global chorus while making room for fresh musical ideas to grow.

The change in classical music’s status has happened because our culture has changed, as cultures do, and its musical needs have shifted. The shift reminds me of the change in physics in the early 20th century. Before that change, Newton’s laws appeared to be universally true. But discoveries by Einstein and others made it clear that Newton’s laws apply only to certain phenomena. The status of Newton’s laws changed. We still can feel awe at Newton’s achievement, we still learn his laws, and they still are very important, but we now see that these laws are limited in scope.

Newton’s laws are part of a larger picture.

If classical music’s ability to speak for the human spirit once appeared unlimited in scope, now the music appears to have limitations. It may not speak for everyone; it may not speak about everything. We can still admire, appreciate, and love classical music, and support it, while also seeing that it does not quite fit society’s current self-perception and that it ignores some important issues.

Here are a few ways in which classical music–the music itself, not its mode of presentation or its role in society–has, through no fault of its own, fallen out of step with current values. While humanity struggles to rethink our relationship with the rest of nature, classical music, with its focus on human emotion, is mostly silent about that crucial current issue. While our culture is working to shed old baggage about gender, classical music narratives often emphasize a triumph of “masculine” energies over “feminine” energies.

(Even music theory uses gendered language like “feminine endings”– see Susan McClary’s wonderful books for more on this. In keeping with its predominant musical values, composers, conductors, and other power figures in classical music are still mostly male.)Recent thinking about community and interdependence does not fit well with classical music, which instead provides wonderful expressions of individualism while relying on hierarchical musical structures.

Classical music’s emphasis on momentum–its special ways of mobilizing harmony toward a goal–biases it toward narratives about motion and development, and weakens its ability to provide other kinds of essential narratives.

Classical music, like any music, reflects the values of the culture that produced it. It’s no surprise that it embodies some attitudes that now seem out-of-date while at the same time expressing values many people still care deeply about. Just as Newton’s Laws say crucially important things, classical music still has a lot to offer.

Abiding human values dwell in that music, along with great richness and beauty. But classical music does not, and cannot, tell us the whole story of human experience or even the whole story of our own culture. It cannot live at the center any more because we are too aware of the multiplicity of culture; there is no center now.

In a culture of multiple streams, no kind of music can tell the whole story, so classical music will not be replaced at the center of culture by some other kind of music. Instead, our culture will foster many kinds of musical expression, including some new ones uniquely suited to current values, passions, and concerns. I’m sure that that our huge musical landscape will include many different approaches to classical music. As always, there will be obstacles and distractions, some of them quite formidable, but the human craving for music is so strong that people will figure out ways to deal with the problems.

Moving off the pedestal and moving away from the center of culture could actually help classical music. Because it no longer has to act as a cultural ambassador, and because it can shed any responsibility to be respectable and “great,” the music can be free to show its full personality, including its crazy streak, its extremes and its looniness as well as its beauty and power. It can be free to emphasize its bewildering and exciting array of styles and approaches. It won’t have to pretend to speak with one voice. It can appeal to more kinds of people. It can admit to being many things instead of one thing.

What should a person do about all this? Well, love whatever music you love. Encourage musicmaking that is mindful, soulful, honest, lively.

Don’t pretend that something’s good just because of its category.

Whatever you love about classical music, do what you can to keep that quality alive and present in performances and recordings. If you want your favorite music to remain alive, then help to keep it lively.

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Comments

  1. David Irwin says

    Not a bad credo at all. I’m reminded of the current plight of newspapers and how they seem to fear losing center stage.

    Weblogs, podcasts and other means of news transmission are sucking up the oxygen in the newspaper business. It seems to me the trick is to learn how to create many stages and keep them honest, factual, and democracy-sustaining. Some newspapers are doing that, others are not. I see similar things going on in the music business.

  2. I. W. Gittleman, MD says

    Congratulations on a beautifully written, logically and succinctly stated statement(s) of ‘globalization’ and advocating a ‘level playing field’ for all kinds of music.

    Since adolescence (now 86) I ONLY listen to classical music; but this has nothing to do with us — not me! — ‘elitist’s’ condescention of all other types of music.

    In fact, some music cannot be ‘pigeon-holed’: Where do we categorize some of L. Bernstein’s music (opera, operetta, musical/contemporary/social?

    This article should be a ‘wake-up-call’ to the classical music ‘snobs’ — which excludes me!

  3. Gabriel Solis says

    Sorry, this turned out to be a loong reply.

    I agree, generally, with this position. It boils down to something like “classical music, qua music, is great stuff [and I think we can all agree that the best of it is, though one always thinks of Hummel, Dussek, Boccherini, etc.], and as such should be listened to, appreciated, and so forth; but let’s stop pretending it is categorically different/better than other musics, and treat it the same.” This sounds great–I mean, for instance, I love the idea of going to a lounge and hearing my pals in the Pacifica quartet playing Ruth C. Seeger (whose music reminds me of a lot of indie rock right now), perhaps amplified, maybe even given a slight touch of distortion in just the right places, perhas alternating sets with a dj. Could be great. It’s my understanding that things like this happen occasionally in NY, London, SF, etc. Perhaps Middletown, USA, my fictional hometown, is just a few clicks behind the times, as usual.

    But I think the sentiment, though appealing, misses a major aspect of the picture, and that is that though direct grants to classical musicians are relatively small and rare, the whole apparatus of classical music is based on an economic model I’ve been refering to lately as “neo-patronage.” At every level–public school orchestras, universities and conservatories, professional performing organizations–classical music is singled out and funded, massively, by the government, corporations, and private philanthropic foundations. (My ethnomusicological self says the funders do this for the same reason the European royalty used to, before the 19th c.: because it builds their prestige, by showing that they can spend wads of money on a thing that has no tangible economic purpose, and that has enormous cultural cachet. Taste, etc., though important in individual decisions to support “the arts,” is decidedly secondary in the initial creation of the system.

    That the people involved in the system have a great deal invested in seeing that classical music (and maybe jazz, which is moving more and more into the neo-patronage model, and has been embraced by many as “safe,” “high art” popular music) was made eminently clear to me over the past few years being involved in hiring at a major, collegiate school of music. You can not imagine the horror I provoked when I suggested that perhaps instead of hiring _another_ classical/jazz studio teacher, we should consider hiring a turntablist, or a tabla player, and that computer music might well include techno, in addition to avant-garde electro-acoustic composition; or when I suggested that rather than giving jazz a separate status, it should be incorporated into the basic curriculum of the school, and all students should be given the opportunity/expected to study improvisation.

    My question is, what would happen to classical music if it were, actually, taken off the pedestal? It seems its structure (huge, technically complicated works; large, professional, hierarchically-organized ensembles) requires this massive support aparatus. But perhaps not. Or perhaps the bit that doesn’t require that would flourish and it would once again becom a living tradition. Perhaps the genre would disappear, but the best aspects of its energy, its value as a musical style would live on in other realms. Hard to say.

    Thanks, thanks, thanks, Gabriel. This is profoundly important, what you’re saying here. And I can imagine screams of protest. “Classical music CAN’T pay for itself.” Yes, its larger forms can’t, but is the funding classical music gets — in all its large and smaller forms — really proportionate to its value? I once was shown some stats, which I’m not allowed to quote, about the percentage of the population of a certain major city that the local orchestra (one of the world’s most famous) reached on a regular basis. The number was breathtakingly low. Way out of proportion, it seemed to me, to not only the funding, but also to the prestige, news coverage, and perceived glamour of the organization. I visited Japan some years ago, and was dismayed at the position of classical composers there, who got (or so I was told) no funding at all. But then there are serious musicians here in genres outside classical and jazz who aren’t getting any support. Gabriel’s challenge is worth thinking about seriously. Why do we (as a society) give classical music so much money? What would happen if we didn’t? Note that this doesn’t have to be like an on-off switch — if classical music doesn’t get the present level of fundingl, it gets nothing. Maybe it should still be funded, but get far less.
    IAnd maybe this is starting to happen.I ‘ve heard from people in the orchestra world that foundations are much less interested in funding orchestras than they used to be, and I’ve heard from someone at a prominent foundation that some large foundations are considering cutting out orchestra funding altogether, on the grounds that orchestras just don’t know what they’re doing.

    A related subject: music education. Not at the high levels Gabriel works at, where the situation he describes is very real. (Some years ago, piano students at Juilliard asked for courses in improvisation, and the faculty, I’m told, reacted as if the students wanted to murder people on the street.) I mean music education in public schools. We all know, I think, that many people in classical music think this is the answer to classical music’s problems. Restore classical music education — and make it mandatory, most likely — and we’ll see a new classical music audience emerge. One of my answers to that is that I’m all for music education, but it certainly shouldn’t be exclusively classical. Not when (to cite only this high-end example) my Juilliard graduate students have never heard Charlie Parker, as I’ve said here, and (as maybe I haven’t said) also can’t follow Robert Johnson’s Delta blues.

  4. Jerome Langguth says

    Dear Greg,

    Thanks as always for a most stimulating blog. I have been following the discussion here for several years, and find your posts and those of your readers consistently lively and enlightening.

    With respect to the current debate over the relative aesthetic virtues of pop and classical music, it seems to me right to point out that classical music having been removed from its “pedestal” is in itself not necessarily cause for alarm. Rather, as this post points out, the best thing about this situation is that it seems to be engendering a new kind of openness and a spirit of adventure in practicing musicians and composers. This condition is on the whole good for music of all varieties, or so I would argue.

    And as you point out, part of what makes getting hold of these questions so difficult is that the terms of the debate as it is usually framed (classical vs. pop, with a few thoughts on jazz for spice) are far too simplistic to capture the reality of current music cultures and practices, and, worse, tend to be artificially polarizing. Forced to choose, we fall back on old ideological or philosophical allegiances (Am I a populist or an elitist? Is capitalism killing music? What would Adorno do?), or end up arguing about the future of humanity, the allegedly benighted intellects of the young, or the baleful effects of new technology (all of which are arguments worth having, of course). Meanwhile, a new, and in many cases quite fragile and economically imperiled, set of musical cultures is taking shape around us. The practitioners of this music are in a great many cases making art that elides traditional categories, and in order to continue their practice need our active support and advocacy. The truly urgent question, as I see it, is whether we can leave aside our philosophical tribal affiliations and work together to foster fresh thinking about music and art among both practitioners and theorists. Thanks again for an inspiring blog.

    Jerome Langguth

    And thanks to you, Jerome, for further (and really sharp, and urgent) clarification of these issues. Bravo.

  5. says

    Classical music is not on a pedestal. Perhaps some of its patrons and audience members are, but the music itself is not. It is there for anyone to listen to as they see fit, to learn as much or as little about as they wish, and any organization that panders to listeners by trying to be what they think the listeners want them to be will look ridiculous. They will end up like the boy with so many cookies that he can’t pull his hand out of the cookie jar. You don’t get to appeal to every listener. But you do get as many as you can handle.

  6. Larry Fried says

    Hard to believe that classical music reached near “main stream” status in the US in the late ’40s, early ’50s. Think of the NBC Symphony/Toscanini, radio and TV stations commissioning works by American composers, etc.

    Imagine going to a TV network today and suggesting that they commission an original opera for children and broadcast it live every December. (“Amahl and the Night Visitors.”)

    As recently as the early ’80s CBS was still broadcasting the New York Philharmonic “Young People’s Concerts” nationally.

  7. BPJ says

    I’ve always enjoyed many different types of music: classical, jazz, rock, soul, blues….

    However, classical music does provide something deeper, in my experience, more often than other types of music. Not that classical music is always “deep” – sometimes we just want to hear the can-can music by Offenbach. Other types of music, especially jazz, do sometimes provide this deeper experience. And sometimes we’re just in the mood for a good pop song. But classical music does a certain kind of thing, and an important one, more consistently.

    The other difference is that classical music usually, because of its required number of performers, needs to be performed on a nonprofit basis, just like art museums and nonprofit theatres. This requires a subsidy from somewhere: either an endowment, annual donations by individuals, corporate sponsorships, government funds, or some combination. Expecting orchestras to earn a “profit” is as silly as expecting art museums to earn a profit.

    Which brings me to the second point. We don’t expect the paintings of Raphael, Rembrandt, Monet, or Picasso to be at the center of visual art culture (as the article rightly notes, there is no center now). But no one is arguing that museums showing these artists’ works are out of date or endangered – despite the fact that these museums all require large subsidies to remain open.

    Museums, as several people have pointed out — my wife, Anne Midgette; Lawrence Kramer, in a terrific piece in the NY Times a couple of months ago; the head of a national organization of museums, speaking at an orchestra conference a few years ago — long ago learned how to make themselves interesting and accessible.

    But see Gabriel Solis’s very provocative comment, and my response to it. The funding classical music gets is more than simply a response to the music and its inherent needs — it’s also a remnant of the days when classical music was the plaything of the upper classes. (Gabriel puts this much more sharply.) And maybe classical music, whatever its value, gets more funding than it ought to. Especially, I might add, when insiders have been saying privately — though not in public, as far as I know — that (at the highest levels of the classical music business) there may be more concerts than the present audience can support.

  8. Paul A. Alter says

    Wonderful topic, and we need to keep it going on and on and on, like the Eveready Bunny.

    The topic is so vast that we can’t even begin to address it in a single postiing. What we need to do is start by identifying the various subtopics that fall under this main heading. For example:

    -repertoire

    -ticket prices

    -music serving psychophysical needs.

    -overcoming obstacles to attending concerts (care of children, physical infirmities, job demands — eg, doctors who have to be on call, psychological impediments — eg,unfamiliarity with the protocols and rituals of concert attendance,

    transportation, parking, etc

    But we should not get hung up on this process. Rather, we should go to work on them as soon as one pops up that interests somebody.

    One thing we need to do is take responsibility for this stuff ourselves. The old ploy of saying, “well, here is something that the orchestras need to do something about” is at the same level of effectiveness as the Government forming a study committee every time they want to kill some topic. Let’s accept, finally and at long last, that it is the orchestras job to put on concerts. It is the job of music lovers to get people to attend those concerts.

    Render unto Caesar, and all that.

    Greg, in view of the vastness of this topic,how about setting up a new site whenever an idea pops up that seems worthy of discussion?

    Paul, that’s not a bad idea, and I’d thought — just for instance — that it would be good to archive this discussion. But I just don’t have the time for that kind of proactive maintainance. I get paid $0 to do this blog, and (in the midst of everything else I do, from composing to doing everything I do to make a living) I can’t do everything this blog might ideally need.

    Paul Alter

  9. says

    It appears that Mr Steinmetz understands the term “classical music” to mean basically Romantic-era repertoire with all this about how the music talks to the human spirit. What about classical music produced in the 20th century? I listen to, say, Per Norgard because I want to hear interesting sounds and new ideas, not because I want to be witness to some kind of drama.

    And I wonder how Mr Steinmetz can seriously claim that the demise of art music has allowed the rise of “fresh thinking”. The musical language that popular music is based on–even “post-rock” acts like EITS that were supposed to offer something new–is extremely stale.

    Which then might lead to questions about how we define musical language. Which components of music constitute the language that any particular kind of music speaks?

  10. Paul A. Alter says

    The existence of classical music is not an either/or situation.

    If there is a small percentage of the population that needs classical music, their existence does not endanger any other form of music.

    Protestations as to the high quality of classical music do not in any way represent a threat to other forms of music, whose adherents proclaim their favorite form to be of equal or superior quality. In fact, it is highly likely that each generation produces a high proportion of “straddlers,” who love both classical music, current musical theater and movie music, and whatever form of popular music is predominant during their formative years.

    I don’t see that there is anything to gain by arguing about inherent worth or about which form of music needs to die so that other forms may live.

    Is it possible that too much money is being directed toward the support of classical music? No, absolutely not. Classical music is entitled to as much money as it can scoop in, and its doing so in no way deprives other forms of music of financial support. For example, I contribute as much as I can to the St. Louis SO. If the SLSO were not there, would I contribute that money to a foundation for the support of heavy metal? Hell no! Suppose a foundation or a governmental agency decides not to contribute any more money to support symphony orchestras; if that were to happen, that foundation/agency would probably either divert to money to museums, repertoire theaters, ballet companies, opera companies, et al, or it would fold.

    As to the proposal that concert seasons are too long: What would a proper length be? That question can only be answered by the individual attendees. So, orchestras should make their seasons as long as they possible can but offer flexible season subscriptions that let people choose how many concerts they will attend and when during the season they will attend them.

    Other than the accomodation of attendees, there is a practical reason for long seasons. I don’t know of any profession, other than physicians, that studies longer and harder over a lifetime than classical musicians. If we want to retain the miraculous quality of our orchestras, we must provide as many weeks of employment as possible to this musicians.

    As the the shortcomings of the repertoire. When I was a kid, every season presented a respectable proportion of new compositions, a number of which went on to become staples at concerts (eg, Morton Gould’s “Spirituals,” the Shostakovitch 5th, the Prokofiev 1st, “Mathis der Mahler,” “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra”) When the pall of 12-tone, serial, aleatory, and other forms of anti-music fell over us, the situation changed and there was miniscule expansion of the repertoire. Now that the music world has regained its senses and the pall has lifted, we can rely on the hungry composers of today for a gradual modernization of the repertoire.

    Although John Steinmetz has said some things with which I disagree, he has hit the nail on the head: Classical music today does not satisfy the same needs that it did in the past. A lower proportion of the population depends on it for catharsis.

    What’s our goal? Is it to justify the apparent loss of interest (ie, blame the victim) or is it to find ways in which it can begin, once again, to offer such catharsis?

    Paul

    Ultimately, there’s only so much money — only so many resources — available in any society. We operate on the free-market principle, which allows any individual or oganization to go out there and find all the support they can.

    But it’s also possible to debate how much support any organization should get. We all can debate what government should do with its money. Should it support classical music? If the answer is yes, to what extent should it give this support? How many dollars? And to which organizations?

    Foundations and corporations can decide how much to give. So can individuals. Paul, I completely respect your support for the St. Louis Symphony (and they need it!), and I trust you completely when you say you wouldn’t give the money anywhere else. But not all prospective donors may feel the same way. Some might not be sure whether to give the money to an orchestra, or to some social cause — cancer research, Planned Parenthood, you name it. Or some might think they’d best use their money to make their homes greener. So if there’s a perception that orchestras have too much money, or that they don’t deserve the level of support they’re getting, that might convince some people to give their money somewhere else.

    I think all these questions are active right now — that is, people are really thinking about this. And from what I see happening in New York, the new generation of wealthy and powerful people — financial, social, and political leaders — isn’t much interested in classical music at all. You can see this by looking at the zip codes where they live, and seeing how many classical concert tickets people from those zip codes buy. The old-generation elite lived in a zip code that buys more classical tickets than any other. The new elite zip codes are barely represented.

  11. Bill Brice says

    I have to voice a little skepticism for what I consider an oversimplification of classical music’s history. The notion that the music was historically “the plaything of the upper classes” has, to be sure, a core of truth. But it’s always been a broader, deeper stream than that. I believe the greatest patron of European-based classical music has been the church. When the church paid for liturgical music, it did it not so much to display wealth and power as to evoke awe and reverence among the community of believers.

    Then, of course, there’s the culture of Italian bel canto and verismo opera. You have pointed out how it lacked the cachet of “classical” in its own time. For all its excesses (or because of them?), it was voraciously consumed by middle-class and working-class audiences. This is an example of a medium we now think of as high art actually paying its way in the commercial arena — right up until the point where it began to acquire the status of “art”!

    My own sense is that, at least into the 19th century, Europeans lived their communal lives in a great sea of music. Most public civic events would require new music; music would be integral to military ceremonies and to many middle-class social occasions. Sure, the privileged classes were at the top of the food chain, but they were still denizens of that sea and they still had some sense of how the art they funded was going to be consumed.

    I think I’m in agreement with many posters here, that we’d like to see a lot broader, healthier base for the music, and a lot less angst over the “is it art” question.

  12. says

    Paul, what exactly do you mean when you call “aleatory” music anti-music? Most mature work by Lutoslawski and Gubaidulina has substantial aleatory passages, and they are quite loved by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic (okay, maybe Gubaidulina just in Europe). I’m curious to know what composers you had in mind.

  13. Rafael de Acha says

    Dear Greg, First of all, welcome back from your vacation (England, was it not?) It is good to read your blog again.

    As you know, Kimberly (my wife) is an Associate Professor of Voice and Musical Theatre at the University of Miami (Monteverdi to Sondheim) and this past week she, and then I in turn, got to meet incoming Dean of the Frost School of Music Shelly Berg. The guy is, first of all, muy simpático, totally devoid of pretense, and seems to be totally indefatigable. What makes his appointment most significant is that Shelly Berg is a musical factotum, and that he includes among his many and varied accomplishments that of being a masterful jazz pianist. Alright, so what’s the big deal? For me, the big deal is that Berg is kicking the door wide open – not just pushing it ajar – by admitting and saluting jazz, and by extension, pop music to his corner of Academia. Yes, I know, Gunther Schuller did that some 35 years ago – I was at New England Conservatory of Music getting My Master’s then, when he was NEC’s President…And U of M has had a very fine jazz department and a very fine Dean – Bill Hipp – for many years. But still, Berg’s arrival is sending a powerful signal to the musical community in South Florida and at large – both the musicians and the audiences. That signal is that – duh! – all good music is music and that not any one kind of music belongs on any pedestal (the subject of your recent posting.) There is good stuff in the air… Gustavo Dudamel in L. A…a newly-appointed musicology professor at U of M – Deborah Schwartz-Kates – whose specialty is Latin American music and who is totally comfortable discussing over a glass of wine the operas of Ginastera and the Cuban pop music of my late father’s youth: the Trío Matamoros, María Teresa Vera… My word, these are all good people and they are here-and-now musicians! That is all good stuff. Welcome the populists to the holy realms of classical music. The future is here. Now.

  14. Paul A. Alter says

    I’d very much like to see those statistics that Greg mentions, but accept the fact that I can’t.

    In the 1980s — I think — the musicians of the SLSO conducted a survey and figured out that something like 4% of the population of St. Louis gave a hoot as to whether the SLSO lived or died.

    Of course, that population needs to be broken out into two groups:

    1) those who attend concerts.

    2) those who do not necessarily attend concerts, but think the symphony should be supported.

    I have done some figuring about group number one, people who attend concerts. Unless there some glitch in my calculation, I figure that the SLSO would be in hog heaven if it could attract some 003% (three-tenths of one-percent) of the population.

    Figure:

    -Powell Hall seats 2500.

    -The SLSO gives two concerts per week.

    -5000 would fill the seats for both concerts.

    -double that to a fudge factor of 10,000 — because only a portion of that audience attends the concert every week.

    -The population of the St. Louis metro area is (rounded off) roughly 2,700,000.

    Therefore, the SLSO needs to have a pool of 003% of that population, or one out of every 270 people.

    Is that possible?

    Larry Fried mention the music broadcasts of earlier years. Well, I could present a more cynical view (and I ask Dr Gittleman to point out any errors I make).

    The NBC Symphony was sleight of hand by NBC/RCA. The radio networks needed lots of live musicians for their musical, variety, and to play the mood music on dramatic shows. This need gave the musicians’ union leverage, so the union decreed that NBC and CBS must maintain a symphony orchestra.

    NBC set up an orchestra of staff musicians, whose main job was to play for the commercial shows and, as the NBC SO, to give a concert once a week. These concerts were generally scheduled during air time that had little commercial value. For example, Saturday night, on the NBC Blue Network and/or on Tuesday night, on the Blue Network, opposite Bob Hope on the NBC Red network.

    NBC got another benefit from the NBC SO. According to Government regulation, networks had to devote a certain percentage of their air time to non-commercial “public service” broadcasts, to which category the NBC SO concerts were assigned.

    Plus, RCA sold records by the NBC SO, sales of which equalled or exceeded the cost of broadcasting the concerts on radio.

    The fact is that music was one of the cheapest ways of filling airtime. Companies sponsored music broadcasts because they were cheap.

    (Interesting fact: the comedians, such as Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Eddy Cantor, et al, always had vocal soloists on their shows because it cost less to broadcast a song than it did to write comedy material for the three or so minutes that the song took up.)

    I admit that some of the radio suits, and many of the motion picture suits, loved concert music and did what they could to support it. But commercial considerations were never totally out of the picture.

    Beck Messer (aka Paul)

  15. Stan Keen says

    Dear Greg,

    I wish you would include the music story in NYT Sunday 8/25 (Lousy is the best they can ever be) as a part of my comment. The debate you prompt in your blog seems too much to deal with comparing apples and oranges. The NYT story, while

    very funny, touches on the

    fact that there is a huge market

    for bad art of all sorts. What has always bothered me about the rock-r&b-gospel-blues origins of a three chord, electronic blasted hyper percussive sound wall, was that it was initially validated by a youth culture that had little or no critical sensitivity, and plenty of money to spend. The music industry quickly exploited

    this audience in every manner possible. The fact that much of the music was based on legit ethnic and folk roots was only grist for constant rio-offs of the originals. That musicians of talent have sometimes found new directions to travel has seemed to do little to affect the current plethora of rap and punk, based mostly, it seems to me, on the exploitation of explicit, in your face, sexuality of the young.

    I am an 83 year old musician; Juilliard educated, former teacher in the Prep Div. of Juilliard; Music Theatre pianist in NYC; Musical Director in Regional Theatre for more than 30 years. These days I give my time to composing and working with good high school musicians. I am not a crank or embittered person. I’ve had a wonderful life in music. But, I can’t help but feel that the current popular music scene is one of capitalism’s worst faces.

    A couple of generations have been lost in the search for fool’s gold. Classical music is not dead. Charlie Parker lives! “Big Ig” Stravinsky. Bartok, Copland and Lutoslawski live. And so does that pantheon of American

    Theatre composers whose wit and wisdom can still nurture our sensibilities.

    Stan Keen

  16. Paul A. Alter says

    Christopher, my apologies. I just noticed your request for clarification of my “anti-music” term. Sorry — my rudeness was not deliberate.

    Having said that, I’m now in a fix, because it is a struggle to explain what the term means.

    To me, music isn’t music until it is received by the listener. Bill Brice touched on that in his earlier posting, I think. But, to be music, it has to evoke some response from the listener. I just don’t see the majority of the composers over the last third of the last century doing that. I’ll try to explain by citing examples of what I label as anti-music.

    For example, cadenzas. To me, a cadenza is when the music stops and the soloist starts doing gymnastics to show off his/her skill. It ain’t music. I wish recordings could be programmed to skip over this anti-music.

    Improvisation. The reality, according to Gunther Schuller, is that most “improvisation” is not improvised but is, instead, likely to be prepared in advance and repeated almost note for note, performance after performance. But, even if it were real, what is it? If a performer has something worth saying, why can’t it be written down and presented as a composition? I consider the exploitation of a composition parasitical, implying that the performer can improve on the music as originally written.

    I have to admit I haven’t heard much aleatory music but, again, what is it intended to do? It seems to me like the primary-school teacher who says to the class, “Students, today you get to choose what we study. Do you want to study airplanes or trains?” The composer says to the performers, “We will collaborate on this music, just play my notes whenever you want to.”

    Maybe I’m just bitter because there are some compositions I have been trying to like for 70 or so years because I have been told I should like them (eg, Pierrot Lunaire) and I can’t find a damn thing in them that moves me, and I am a person who has felt the hair on the back of my head prickle when I hear music that moves me. Certain compositions — including some Sousa marches — do that. Others never will, and I consider those to be anti-music.

    I reread what I have written and feel that I have rattled a lot of cages, but still not made my point.

    Sorry.

    By the way, the great and greatly beloved Fannie Brice had a son named Bill Brice who ran an art gallery in LA when I was out there. I that, by any chance, the Bill Brice posting on this web?

    Paul

  17. says

    Sony’s PlayStation 3 already only does everything, so what more could you possibly need? Australians can find out for themselves with the Ultimate Blu-ray Movie Kit. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s really just the PS3 remote and two discs, but at $60 AUD (that’s $51 for US), it’s only one Banjo Paterson / $10 AUD more than what the remote retails on its lonesome. Both bundles include 300 as the first film, so you’re really choosing between 10,000 B.C. and Batman Begins. Not exactly a tough decision unless you already own Batman, but then again, you still might opt for a second copy instead.

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