Thursday, August 23, 2018

Confessions of a Recovering Recovered CD Reviewer

I suppose that during the 23 twenty years I spent as a CD reviewer for the American Record Guide, my opinions about music were valid. I did listen carefully to all of the recordings I received, and I did always try to write statements that were true. How I managed write more than 50 reviews every year is a mystery to me.

I started reviewing while I working at the local university's radio station. During the Thanksgiving break of 1992, Michael and I went to the library to get a bunch of periodicals to read over the break. With a faculty card he could take periodicals out for more than one day. I remember that I got a few copies of The Strad and several issues of the American Record Guide, which I had never read.

I took issue with an essay written by the editor concerning "historically informed performance," and wrote him a long letter. He wrote back saying, "Too bad you can't write for us." I wrote back asking why I couldn't. A few weeks later a box of flute CDs and a style sheet arrived by mail. After a few months I asked if I could (please) have recordings other than flute recordings to review, and I became one of the chamber music reviewers.

I used to play the recordings I received to review on the air, where I could listen using high-quality speakers. It was actually an ideal situation because our (very small and underfunded) radio station could finally play brand new recordings of often unusual repertoire, providing an alternative to the repertoire of classical “hits” played by the other classical stations (well, we were classical in the morning) in our listening area. I donated some of the review copies to the station's library, and I put them into regular rotation, which made our library current and good (my goal for the radio station library was to have only excellent recordings to play). The writing, which took far more time than the listening, was something that I generally did at home, while raising two children and trying to learn to play a new instrument.

In 2000, when I left the radio station and went to graduate school (with a "grading" assistantship), things became far more difficult. I listened using headphones and a portable CD player, and I had to sandwich my review writing between marathon exam grading sessions and general graduate school work, in addition to composing and practicing. I suppose it was good practice for my days teaching music appreciation (which I was doing concurrently with private teaching and freelance orchestral playing, not to mention practicing and composing).

There were a few years when I also worked as the advertising manager for the magazine, a job that I wasn't at all cut out for, and it was then that I realized how much I disliked the whole business aspect of recordings. I was a little embarrassed when things I wrote in the ARG as "FINE" were quoted on people's websites and on CD covers. People also treated me differently when I was a reviewer. Famous people called me. Really.

I also had a CD storage problem, and an American Record Guide issue storage problem (we reviewers were supposed to make reference to old reviews). I dispensed with the plastic CD cases, and kept the CDs in large loose-leaf binders. Those still took up a great deal of shelf space. Since I rarely listened to those CDs for pleasure, they mostly sat there.

I stopped writing for the ARG a few years ago. I moved the books of CDs to the garage, where they sit undisturbed. I cut out the pages in the ARG issues that had my reviews, and put those pages in a zipped binder where they sit in the garage, next to the CD binders. I might even throw them away one of these days.

I mostly listen to live music now, and have made a point of going to more concerts. I do sometimes listen to music on the radio when I am in the car, and I do listen on YouTube now and again. Now that I don't have to make judgements about what I hear, I have a far greater appreciation for music than ever before.

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