Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Beyond Criticism

When I was growing up I used to enjoy reading the music reviews in the Boston Globe and the Berkshire Eagle, particularly when I had been at the concert. Michael Steinberg's reviews were particularly interesting to read. I used to talk with him at Tanglewood (he was a brilliant man), and I used to think that it might be fun to write reviews when I grew up.

I came across an issue of the American Record Guide in November of 1992. I wrote a letter to the editor in response to a piece he wrote about the uselessness of baroque period instruments, and he answered by telling me that it was "too bad I couldn't write for them." My response was to ask why I couldn't. A week later a box of CDs arrived along with a style sheet, and I began writing CD reviews. I used many of the CDs that the ARG sent to build a CD library for the radio station I worked at. I was able to learn a great deal through reviewing, but after around 20 years it became more of a burden than a pleasure, and the last year or so it was all burden.

I am pleased to announce that the March/April issue will be the last issue that will have any of my writing in it, and I am free to listen to music without feeling the need (or the duty) to make some sort of statement about it.

It is a great feeling of freedom.

The other day a friend forwarded me a letter from a music critic essentially apologizing to a musician for the way he (the music critic) essentially bashed the musician's playing twenty years earlier. Negative reviews weigh heavily on a reviewer's conscience. The negative reviews I have written over the past 22 years weigh heavily on mine. Once I labeled a recording "not worth reviewing," an option that ARG reviewers were given, and then, because the person who made the recording was a prominent person in music, I wrote a couple of harsh sentences to substantiate my reasons for not choosing to review the recording. The editor of the magazine decided that my nasty sentences constituted a spicy review, so he published them.

I should have stopped writing for the magazine then and there, but the damage was already done. I blamed myself, and wrote a letter of apology to the person who made the recording. I never got a reply. I imagine that person is still hurt by what I did not intend for publication. I imagine that person still hates me. It's a heavy burden to bear.

Once the magazine sent me a recording made by a former teacher, and the recording was not very good. I did not want to say anything negative in print about one of my teachers, so I chose not to review the recording. That teacher contacted the magazine to inquire why no review was published in the magazine, and then called me. I had to lie and say something about a conflict of interest in order not to hurt that teacher's feelings.

Now I can listen to music without having to come up with something to write about it. Not writing about a recording means that I can relate far more personally to the music I hear. I much prefer to hear music live anyway. Even more, I prefer to play it.

1 comment:

Lisa Hirsch said...

It is certainly possible, also, that the prominent person has forgotten the review and who you are. I do not think your editor's error should weigh so heavily on your conscience.

I believe critics also need to remember that musicians are risking bad reviews every time they play in public, and that musicians know this. A critic's job is to review for the audience, and I believe that honesty is called for, though I try to be fair and not unnecessarily harsh.