Thank God for pop music

Yesterday some friends came to visit, with their five year-old son. Their son likes a bird book we have, with big pictures of birds, each with a number. Punch out the number on a keypad on the side of the book, and you hear the bird's song.So the kid was playing with the book, and soon he started making up birds. He'd drape himself with a blue blanket we have, to give himself wings, and he'd announce what bird he was, and make up its song.Then he announced that he was going to do some "bird remixes," his exact words. He's wonderfully musical, … [Read more...]

Something else new

Look on the right. Along with my new "Resources" section, I've revamped "Things I Like." "Resources" gives you source material for some of the things I've talked about in this blog, starting with the age of the audience. "Things I Like" (which once in a while might be "Things I Don't Like") will give you snapshots of what I'm paying attention to -- books, movies, music, ideas. First up: some music from Carmen McRae, sharp, vivid, and original.Coming soon on "Resources": a bibliography (with some excerpts) of books and scholarly papers on what … [Read more...]

New: in my life, on the blog

Sunday I gave the commencement address at the Eastman School of Music. Very happy moment for me, because I've been teaching there for three years, and each year I've warmly bonded with my students. Eastman generally is a very warm place -- I could see that in the way faculty and students hugged as the commencement proceeded. My speech seemed wonderfully well received, and I'll post a summary here of what I said.And on the blog -- note a new section on the side, called "Resources." I'm going to post things there that might help anyone interested … [Read more...]

Heresy — Shostakovich, Handel, High Art, Peter Grimes

In a takehome exam that ends my "Classical Music in an Age of Pop" course, I asked my Juilliard students to tell me what the place of the standard classical repertoire should be, in a world where people under 40 (and plenty of people older than that) don't make any distinction between high art and the rest of culture. I'd assigned the students reading that describes how this works, from John Seabrook's book Nobrow.Some people, of course, will be shocked. "He's saying that Shostakovich is now the same as Mariah Carey!"No. We can still make … [Read more...]


Due to over-hasty cutting and pasting, I messed up some links in my responses to some comments. I'm fixing them. And right now I'll restate two of them correctly:. My wife Anne Midgette's review of the spectacular National Symphony's concert,featuring Hilary Hahn in Paganini, and David Del Tredici's Final Alice is here. Christopher Small's evocation of the secret life of a concert hall is here. … [Read more...]

More catching up

The National Performing Arts Convention -- convening in Denver next month -- has a blog. I was asked to contribute; my entry is here. Subject: why the arts -- aka the collection of interest groups meeting in Denver -- don't really represent art in our current world.***Since I got after the classical music business for ignoring Earth Day -- and, basically, all environmental concerns -- I should be fair, and note that the Ojai Music Festival has announced a green initiative. It's the first I've ever heard of in classical music, though I hope … [Read more...]

The death of meaning

J'ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques......dont l'unique soin était d'approfondirLe secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.(For a long time I lived under vast porticos......whose only purpose was to bury, so deeply,The unhappy secret that made me suffer.)    -- Baudelaire, "La vie antérieure"I went to a vocal recital. Doesn't matter where, or who sang. I'll just say that she's an older soprano, a star in both opera and lieder, nearing the end of her career. The setting and audience were genteel. When the singer and her … [Read more...]

Repeating Beethoven

In a comment on my last post, Steve (he doesn't give any last name) writes: Maybe you'd like to riff on this a bit:[D]o we really return to experience the music we value in the hope an expectation of hearing something new each time?  On the contrary, I believe we return because we hear nearly the same thing each time.?(Scott Burnham, Beethoven Hero, 1995, p.164) I hadn't known the Burnham book, and I'm grateful to Steve for telling me about it. Thanks to Google Books, I was able to look up the context of this passage, and I'll … [Read more...]

Personal Beethoven

A conductor  Gary Panetta, arts critic of the Peoria newspaper, made a comment on my previous post, about orchestras as museums. He put himself in the role of a conductor, about to embark on Beethoven's Fifth. I replied, and both the comment and reply seem worth promoting to a full post of their own. Here's the conductor's Gary's comment (and thanks to Lisa Hirsch for telling me that I'd misunderstood Gary's comment, and for telling me who he is): The comments here all sound intriguing, but I'm confused about one thing. Suppose I'm … [Read more...]

Orchestras as museums?

At a retreat of the Orchestra Forum program of the Mellon Foundation -- at which I learned a lot  -- I got into two discussions about how orchestras might function as museums. Or, to be more honest, i made, in private conversation, a few provocative remarks, one of which I think is true beyond any chance of contradiction -- that none of the culturally central musical developments of the past 50 years happened in the orchestra world, or have even been reflected there.   But that's not the point! said passionate and honest people I … [Read more...]

Challenge to opera

In Wong Karwai's new film, My Blueberry Nights, Rachel Weisz has a monologue that could almost be an opera aria. When I saw the film, and Weisz quiets down outside a bar where she's just thrown a fit (with Norah Jones sitting by quietly, ready to listen to anything Weisz says), I thought, "If this was an opera, now we'd get Rachel Weisz's aria." But I couldn't have known how musical Weisz's monologue would be. For one thing, she often spoke in musical phrases, with pitches - musical  notes - I could just about have written down in … [Read more...]