Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Classical Music and Newsroom Cretins .....

Last week, Frank at Books, Inq. got an interesting thread started with this post, and a link to this post by Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times about the relevance of classical music.

The ensuing e-discussion pointed fingers in a variety of directions. "The switch to playing works by composers of 'challenging' music not only turned off audiences, but a lot of performers as well," Frank wrote, noting that there IS contemporary classical music out there that general audiences love. "What classical music needs, quite simply, is composers who write music that audiences like to listen to, not music that critics or theorists or scholars insist is great whether we like it or not."

He's right. Music appreciation, as is the case for all fields of appreciation, has its snobs - a definition for them would, perhaps, include their claiming a higher - almost rarefied - state of appreciation than the rest of us can claim, that trumps simpler standards for music appreciation, such as our enjoyment of said music's tone, tempo, imagery.

But that snobbery can work in both directions ..... on the other extreme end of the same spectrum are those who, without bothering to listen to a single note, issue a jeering blanket condemnation of all classical music, and those who enjoy it ..... high falutin' music enjoyed by show-offs. And that's every bit as much a shame as the snobs at the opposite extreme. In the end, both do their part to drive a wedge between classical music and general appreciation.

I saw one of those extremes at work last year, during a morning story meeting in a television newsroom. One reporter had been contacted by a group promoting appreciation of opera in West Texas, and an event they were sponsoring. Any serious consideration of the story was quickly squelched by the news director who leaned his head back and started singing some opera-like notes in a deliberately off-key voice. Needless to say, his personal disdain for opera killed any chance of that story being developed.

And that's a shame, really. Midland is no Bayreuth or London, no Milan or New York City, but it does have good appreciation for the many forms of classical music, including opera. During the summer, you bump into a lot of West Texans in New Mexico, attending the
Santa Fe Opera, or the Chamber Music Festival. Closer to home, you get small but appreciative audiences for the Midland-Odessa Symphony & Chorale. And many local fans of classical music are proud of Midland's part in the life of Susan Graham, one of today's foremost opera stars, who has appeared on stages worldwide.

Note to news producers ..... just because you think a subject might be too high-brow (or low-brow) for you, doesn't make it something that won't interest news consumers.

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