Sunday, May 25, 2008

Second Thoughts

I don't love my last post, mainly because I myself get tired of blogs that focus on what others are doing wrong. I led off by saying how much I'd enjoyed going to see a taping of From the Top, and then pretty much picked it apart - not very gracious of me. I'd like to reemphasize how much fun we had seeing the show and how difficult I believe it is to pull something like this off. (That's why I invoked Leonard Bernstein's name at the end of the post - there aren't many who've shown his ability to talk about music meaningfully, but unpretentiously.)

So, although I suggested I find the format a bit forced, I'd also like to reemphasize how much I admire Christopher O'Riley's abilities. He does have a winning stage presence, and I suspect if he were given more freedom to be spontaneous, the show would benefit. I'd like to think that an advantage of taping for future broadcast is that they could take more chances and then edit out things that don't work, but I may just be naive about the production challenges involved.

I also can see how the following that I wrote could be misinterpreted: "[the young performers] sit and play music that has the power to transport us - and then transport us immediately back to the banal with talk of little personal idiosyncrasies, favorite bands, etc." I can just hear Greg Sandow saying, "see, there goes another classical snob saying that popular bands are trivial and banal." Well, the imaginary Sandow would have a point - there is potentially something to be learned from hearing about the wide range of musical interests young musicians have, and I was wrong to dismiss it so lightly. I can't help feeling that these interests are often highlighted more to make a point about "cool kids" than about wide-ranging musical values/connections, but I could be wrong about that too.

Finally, I suggested that I'd like the show to tell us more about the music - and especially what the performers think about the music. (For example, I'd love to know if any of the Dvorak quintet players melt the same way I do during that section I cited.) It's true that many highly gifted musicians aren't that good at articulating such things, but that's where one would depend on the skills of a good host, and I think O'Riley would be up to the challenge. Still, maybe I'm in a minority when it comes to the whole "what to listen for" question.

When I taught a senior seminar that focused on writing program notes, I asked my class what they found useful in program notes they'd read. I was assuming they'd like notes that helped them "follow" the music (like what I try to do here), but many tended to prefer anecdotal information about the composer's life, reason for writing the work in question, etc. Perhaps some audience members would get more out of the Grosse Fuge by getting to know the performers informally rather than knowing how it's structured or what happens in the music or what passages are most moving/thrilling to the performers. Perhaps. I think a lot of the challenge is in doing the "what to listen for" thing judiciously and winsomely, but that's a topic for another day.

At any rate, From the Top is to be congratulated, not only for supporting and showcasing this talent, but for giving lots of generous scholarships, promoting educational outreach efforts, etc. I should probably listen to the show more often before being too sure of my own reaction, and maybe I'm just too much of a music geek to be in the center of the target audience. By the way, when I mentioned that some performers played cut versions of their pieces, I didn't mean to imply that I'm against cuts in principle, although I would have loved to hear more music at the taping. I'm a big believer in the durability and flexibility of great music, even when it gets chopped up, and some contexts make shorter versions desirable. I can see why the narrative aspect of the show could suffer if there's too much uninterrupted playing - people can get uninterrupted playing from CDs. But that's also a topic for another day.

And speaking of all these topics for other days, I'll have my grading finished on Tuesday, so perhaps more regular blogging will commence. For now, back to grading . . .

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