Truth or hype?

I’m willing to smile at PR exaggerations. But what about this one, from a Detroit Symphony press release?

Hundreds of music artists across every genre –

R&B, rock, pop, jazz, blues, techno and classical – have called Motown home

and now, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) welcomes another music superstar

Leonard Slatkin – to its ranks as the DSO’s 12th Music Director.

Is this plausible? Does Leonard Slatkin rank with Aretha Franklin, Motown Records, the Supremes, and Marvin Gaye? And if not, does the DSO look silly for implying that he might?

Or do they make it all true, simply by saying this?

Comments? I’d especially like to hear from people in Detroit. Maybe the DSO has some connection to the Detroit community that I don’t know about.

(Niggling point: There shouldn’t be a comma after “now.” It should come after “and”: “Hundreds of music artists across every genre –

R&B, rock, pop, jazz, blues, techno and classical – have called Motown home, and now the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) welcomes another music superstar…” To avoid comma errors — and forgive me for this, but these errors are very common — read the sentence out loud, and see if you’d pause where the comma is. If not, move it, or take it out.)

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  1. says

    Um. The comparison is completely ridiculous and makes the DSO look ridiculous. In terms of stardom and Detroit artists, Slatkin = Royce the 5’9″, or maybe even Mary Wells, if you say “stardom within the classical realm.” Mary Wells is the absolute upper limit.

    (Yes, I commented mainly because I spend precious synapse time figuring out whose stardom could plausibly be compared to Slatkin’s. Back to work.)

  2. says

    I don’t think they are specifically comparing Slatkin to Motown Records, per se. They are referring to the city’s nickname, Motown. (I lived part of my life in MI, but not the Detroit area.) Notice also that they include other genres besides R&B as well, like techno, rock and especially classical, when saying “artist from every genre . . . have called Motown home.” Maybe I’m missing your point.

    I don’t think of Slatkin as a superstar in the greater scheme of things. But I do think most people would agree that he’s up there in the “classical” music world, though. More than a few people outside of the “classical” world know of him, too, I’d say.

    I thought the implication of the press release — its subliminal point, maybe — was to rank Slatkin with all the unnamed musical stars. And since you wouldn’t think they’d rank him low, the implication further is that he ranks high. But maybe I’m abnormally sensitive.

  3. says

    But Detroit has such a wonderful and rich history of non-classical music, from its status as one of the jazz havens of the Midwest, to the invention of the Motown Sound, to the invention of techno, and everything in between. So many, many, many popular musicians who are from or made their professional home in Detroit are so much more successful and innovative in their fields than Slatkin has been in the classical realm. Plus the DSO has had Paul Paray and Neeme Jarvi as music directors, both of whom are arguably more distinguished as conductors than Slatkin – they’re at least on that level. I do think the release is an attempt to locate Slatkin in that heritage, and Slatkin is tiptoeing nervously among the Brobdingnagians in that comparison.

  4. says

    The press relaese is just harmless hype; it doesn’t matter in the long run. What matters is than the DSO has an outstanding new music director, an

    internationally acclaimed conductor and staunch champion of contemporary American music and much, much more.

    I hope Slatkin can bring new audiences to concerts in Detroit, and wish him well.

  5. says

    I agree with Tom Brennan that Slatkin is or at least was one of the better-known names in contemporary American classical music, and during the years when he led the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, his promotion of American composers and compositions received considerable public and national acclaim. That doesn’t place him in the same constellation as Detroit’s greatest popular musicians (I do love the mention of techno, which a black Detroiter pioneered, though that history is often completely forgotten!), but part of what the DSO is pushing here is aspirational, no?

    Also, as an English teacher and writer, I must say that the comma placement here is not in error. The press release’s author is emphasizing the currency of the news, so it is perfectly appropriate to place the comma after the “now” rather than after the “and,” which would change the emphasis. She or he also could have removed the comma after “now” and achieved almost the same emphasis, but it helps to slow the eye, and thus mind, down. Punctuation in English is quite fluid, but consultation of Strunk & White, Warriner’s English Grammar, and a few other sources ought to bear the press release author’s choice out.

  6. says

    I’m not aware of a “source” that allows one to drop the comma before a conjunction joining two independent clauses. That’s a mandatory comma, and I’m not going to stand for its omission. Or, in your estimation, “That’s a optional comma and I’m going to stand for its omission.”

    It’s possible that I’m just sick of Slatkin because I had to listen to him for the last 12 years in D.C…you know, the part after his SLSO tenure, the really uninspiring part.

  7. Angela Han says

    Hi Greg,

    As a former Detroiter I feel compelled to comment on this post. There’s a lot of local pride about the music scene, both past and present, across multiple genres. Connecting the classical scene to the rich history of jazz, R&B, and techno has a lot of resonance, at least to me. The DSO does have connections to the rest of the music scene – some of the orchestra musicians gigged for Motown Records back in the day, and guest jazz artists have been known to jam at Bert’s or Baker’s after their performance in Orchestra Hall.

    I myself have heard Aretha Franklin sing with the DSO. But I haven’t known how deep the connections might go. Thanks for helping to teach me. If there’s anything more you can say, especially about the fame of classical musicians in Detroit, I’d be grateful. Seems to me these connections — which, to be fair, other orchestras have in their own cities, too — might really testify to the power of the pop/jazz scene in Detroit (and let’s not forget techno!), since it can attract classical musicians. But it might not say that classical musicians on their own have that kind of presence. I could be wrong, of course.

  8. Yvonne says

    The editor chips in…

    I can understand why the writer put a comma after the now – it’s an attempt at the written equivalent of the dramatic pause drumroll: “Hundreds of artists…have called Motown home and now [trrrrrt!] the Detroit Symphony Orchestra…”

    I wouldn’t do it myself nor would I teach it as the best way of creating emphasis, but I think this is what jstheater is getting at.

    I’m with Greg and Lindemann on this one. A comma is needed right where you’d breathe before (not “after”, but that’s a typo) the “and”.