Going fishing

I’m going on vacation, and won’t blog again till after Labor Day. Or, more evocatively, I’m going to treat myself to some time in my private art colony, aka my country home in Warwick, NY. Where I’ll relaunch my book (the link takes you to old versions of it), and compose. (A cello piece.)

Some thoughts, though, before I go. From time to time I send out a newsletter. Can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it in the blog, but if you click, you can read the latest issue. And if you click again, you can subscribe. In the fall, the newsletter will show up more often — every month, I’m thinking. It’s a way to catch up with things you might have missed in the blog, to find out what I think is most important, of all the things I’m thinking and doing.

And, just maybe, to have some fun with things that never find their way here. For instance, an escalator in the Archives station on the Washington, DC Metro. It sang, and I recorded it on my iPhone. Some of the most wistful music I’ve heard in quite a while. An escalator with personality! (If it was a character in Winnie The Pooh, it’d be Eeyore.)

Finally…it seems a little distant now (and I have to say I’m getting tired of debates with people who just don’t think that classical music is in trouble, or that it doesn’t need to change). But some readers will remember when I blogged about the speech Jesse Rosen gave in June, at the League of American Orchestras conference. Jesse is the League’s president, and I’m certainly not the only one who thought he broke some new ground in what he said, by forthrightly stating that orchestras are in trouble, and won’t survive without major change.

If you read my post, you’ll find links to what he said. Powerful people in the orchestra world have said these things before, but not in public. And definitely not when they were speaking in an official capacity to the entire field.

So good for Jesse. But the reason I bring this up here isn’t just to praise him once again, but to talk about the comments my post got. Two people who sharply disagree with me posted their disagreement. But they didn’t say that what Jesse said was horrible, that it would destroy classical music, that it would distract orchestras from their sacred mission, which of course is to play symphonic masterworks.

No, they said that Jesse’s thoughts were platitudes. Boring, Pointless. Things that had been said before, not once, but many times.

I responded (by writing comments to at least one of these comments), but what I said was totally L7. Square. Full of platitudes!

Does anyone say “L7” anymore? Back in my rock & roll days, in ’88 or ’89, I knew Donita Sparks, the frontwoman in a tough all-female band called L7, which I see is fondly remembered. And I see, following that last link, that Donita in a British show got off one of the great rock & roll lines of all time, though some people won’t think it’s in good taste. Which of course is one reason it’s a great rock & roll line.
But I digress. I tried to explain, in my reply, that Jesse had said what hasn’t before been said, in an official capacity, by anyone with a job like his. All true, but I missed something fabulous.  Once upon a time, people who said what Jesse said were denounced for attacking the artistic core of classical music. Orchestras (to choose just one of Jesse’s points) have to respond more to their audience, and to their community? No! Their mission is far more sacred than that, and responding to the needs of those who don’t understand the mission (in all its profundity) will only distract the orchestra, and dilute its art. 

Certainly that’s what was said in 1993, which was the last time the League (at that time called the American Symphony Orchestra League) took anything approaching such powerful leadership. That was the year they published a report called Americanizing the American Orchestra, which raised — at a time when these thoughts were new  — all the ideas about diversity and community that Jesse championed in June. 

And the report was shot down. Edward Rothstein, then the chief classical music critic of the New York Times, attacked it. Which then strengthened powerful people inside the League who hadn’t liked the report, and the balance of power shifted. The report was buried, and has barely been mentioned from that day to this. 

But now the climate has changed, and the ideas in the report — which now look very mild — are widely shared. I’ve filled my blog with them, echoed them in public talks, whatever. They’re so common, in fact, that those who don’t like them seemed to have shifted their tactics. Instead of condemning what’s being said, my opponents dismiss all of it as platitudes.

Now, “platitudes,” if you ask me, is hardly the word for ideas that have barely been put into practice (no matter how often they’re urged), and which, spoken by Jesse, had an impact nothing short of volcanic. 

But by calling these thoughts “platitudes,” my opponents admit that the ideas they hate are everywhere, and may even (let’s keep our fingers crossed) will widely be put into practice.

Which means that we’re winning. Thanks to those who — though they didn’t quite know what they were doing — pointed that out! 

Have a good few weeks, everyone. I’ll be back in September. 

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