Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reality Check on Charting in the Classical Recording Biz

My jaw is still pretty well dropped after reading this article by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post this afternoon.


Anonymous said...

You cited Blackwood in an earlier post. From that interview is this quote:

-- EB: There is a faction of people who believe in the inevitability of the acceptance of the so-called academic modern idiom who are very annoyed at what I am doing. They are out and out hostile. They are trying to make me stop. They are trying to demoralize me. I think they are basically intellectually dishonest.

-- BD: Are they afraid of what you're doing?

-- EB: I don't think they're afraid of it, but it goes contrary to their notion of historical inevitability. They feel that anyone who departs from the Marxian ideal somehow is not only wrong, but reprehensible. But I think they are intellectually dishonest because I can't help but think that if they didn't know when the piece was written, they would have a different response to it. So these people are not so much trying to evaluate the music or enjoy it, or for that matter, criticize it. They are trying to control the direction of music history.

"Trying to control the direction of music history" is a large part of why the Washington Post article tells a business truth, as I understand it. So much money has chased ever smaller numbers of buyers because there is so much modern music I see in the tiny parts of record stores dedicated to classical music, and I as a working classical musician wouldn't drop a dime on any of them. Why should the public at large then?

There is a history of 20th century music remaining to be told, in which "approved" modern music and "unacceptable" modern music were standards applied in music schools and conservatories based on something like what Easley called Marxist "control of history."

I saw this first hand when a 20th century music class assignment to analysis a 20th century work found that Turnadot, the four last songs of Strauss and the symphonies of Vaughan Williams were declared "unacceptable" examples of modern music by the professor. I fled the class. Record buyers are fleeing much of "modern" music for the same reasons, not liking to be told whether they are "approved" or not. Certainly your posting of your son's fiddle and guitar music would be deemed "acceptable" in the same way makes this a huge challenge for today, as musicians fight through what Blackwood called the "control of history."

Elaine Fine said...

Perhaps the problem with writing music history as it happens (which is what everybody seems to do with all history) is that nobody has any real perspective. It seems that most of us only know what we read in the papers.

What scares me about this business truth (that I read in the paper) is that fact that Hilary Hahn plays music (and does it remarkably well) that is well inside the "classical canon," and that "Time For Three," a group I have heard (and actually played with) is everything that I would imagine a record-buying public would want.

They are young, totally virtuosic, and totally entertaining. One of the fiddle players is the concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony, so the very idea that only 200 people would want to buy a CD after a performance in Indianapolis boggles the mind.

I am basically non-commercial person when it comes to music. I have learned that it is the only way I can survive: life is just too rough competing for the leisure dollar. I applaud the people who try to make a "go" of it and manage to make a living playing solo concerts or chamber music concerts. I know how hard it is, no matter how well a musician plays.

Somehow I have always known, in my heart of hearts, that most of the CDs I review for the American Record Guide (and so many of them are excellent) are embraced by a relative handful of people.

Nobody makes "classical" CDs to make money. Breaking even is a worthwhile goal, I suppose. This article certainly won't send average casual music listeners off to see what the fuss is about.

My hope is that people who are tired of the tawdriness connected with pop music/popular culture will seek out "classical music," either in its recorded form (the way most young people seem to think of the major system of music delivery) or in its live form (the way I think it is enjoyed best).

Anonymous said...

In looking into the curricula for elementary, middle and high schools, I think it astounding that so little of the "classical canon" is even mentioned, much less played except in a few locales. The penchant in today's education as with other arenas of ideas seems to be infected with "old equals bad," and "new equals good."

Erode away enough of the old for the sake of some enforcement of modernity in academia, while business erodes away the old as well, which it is exceedingly good at doing, and the "classical canon" is dead meat. It becomes only a matter of time.

One thinks of Clinton and his saxphone, Bush and country music and Obama with only a nod to classical music in the inauguration but nothing following this, and I wager the "leaders of the free world" have led away from the classical canon for a couple of decades at least. Add to this Hollywood and one sees a historical trend which is not good for classical music. And yet when one listens to classical radio, it relies on Baroque and the "hits" but when it turns to "modern" avant garde, there is little to lure new customers to it. Click.

I think Blackwood had it right, then. University-approved modernism of the 20th century has shoved off tuneful new work as "unacceptable" while demanding and enforcing allegiance to some rather ugly things as properly and acceptably "modern." And the audiences wander away.

As a ray of hope, I saw a class of high school students simply listen to a fine recording of "Bald Mountain" in amazement that such sounds even exist. Played as an experimental part of a curriculum, simply being exposed to such recordings in an organized manner without browbeating opened youthful eyes and ears. Alas, it was "experimental" when it should be part of the canon of a Western curriculum. Once it was. Something happened, and it seems to lie at the guilty yet ineffective door of enforcing "control of history" as Blackwood observed. That attempt at control has failed, and threatened to take down in its failure the remainder of the classical canon. I hope there is time to replace the classical canon into academia to build new appreciation and new audiences. But it seems to me that decades chasing the elusive "control of history" has wounded the classical canon.

Thank you again for mentioning Blackwood's views as it has changed my views somewhat, or at least clarified some things regarding music.

You are right to use the expression, the classical canon. Without a canon, where are we otherwise?