Jonny Greenwood with composer Krzysztof Penderecki (Photo by Polish National Audiovisual Institute)
This week my Facebook feed was barraged with angstful hand-wringing over comments by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who told the BBC he finds classical concerts “off-putting.” Greenwood wasn’t dissing classical music—he performs it, after all—but he felt like classical concerts should model their formats after indie rock shows.
A host of blog responses popped up with suggestions on how to “improve” classical concerts: encouraging people to clap between movements, getting rid of formal attire, tuning back stage, and so on and so forth—nothing original, nothing useful, and all of it completely missing the point.
Look, classical concerts are off-putting—to some people. Any type of concert is going to be unappealing to somebody. But off-putting-ness is a feature, not a defect. That’s why teenagers perennially hate their parents’ music and vice versa. If your concert doesn’t put off someone, you’re doing it wrong. Yet for some reason, in the classical world we try to be all things to everyone. That, in my opinion, is the only real thing wrong with classical concerts. (more…)
Violinist busking, photo CC by meltsley on Flickr
Periodically I see these memes on Facebook: “If surgeons were paid like musicians…,” or “Hire a plumber for the same service and we’ll play for half that.” I sympathize, but this is the wrong approach. Moral finger-wagging has never won any argument, ever, and if it were to work in music it would have decades ago. So how do we actually solve this problem of musicians’ lack of economic clout?
First, we need to understand what’s actually going on. The moralists cling to the delusion that it’s just a matter of education, but even musicians can’t decide what fair compensation is: I’ve had the exact same budget called “extravagant” by one jury panel and “overly ambitious” by another. And to throw salt on the wound, moralizing also hurts our collective bargaining power. Take the common story of the lowballing nightclub owner who gets chewed out by an indignant jobbing musician. The lecture doesn’t make the owner any less likely to lowball the next musician. In fact, it’s the opposite: you’ve just shown him that he has all the power in the relationship. (more…)
Slate’s Mark Vanhoenacker published a statistics-laden (and admittedly sympathetic) “requiem” on the death of classical music last week. True, if you look at classical music through the lens of pop music, you might be forgiven for seeing a ER patient gasping for breath on a Beyonce-embossed hospital bed. But it’s been a long time since classical and pop music have competed for the same prizes, and that’s the problem with his argument: Vanhoenacker fundamentally misunderstands what classical music is about in the 21st century. Classical isn’t the same cultural beast as pop—not anymore anyway. It might not ever be again, and that doesn’t matter in the least for its survival. (more…)
I just wanted to draw attention to colleague and friend Lisa Bielawa’s new blog, which I think is a good example of the kinds of things composers should be doing more to stay in the public eye. Lisa won the American Academy’s Rome Prize this year and has taken the opportunity to write about some of her experiences in Italy and elsewhere. (more…)
For a genre that claims to be part of the cutting edge, the avant-garde/new classical music has been relatively slow to adopt online tools. I wonder about some of the ways we might improve the situation. As I’ve written about before, the major issue of art today is organization, not content, so if we assume there is something in what we do that others might be interested in, we need to find ways to reach them. (more…)