Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Music and Negativity

Norman Lebrecht fulfills a useful role in the world of music: he runs an online site that roughly corresponds to the Drudge Report of music. It contains brief excerpts from and links to the events of the day from a sensationalistic perspective. It's usually about which conductor resigned in a huff from which orchestra or which major music competition is mired in corruption or which famous music school is polluted by teachers guilty of sexual assault. You know, it's all about music!

So it is with considerable amusement that I read Mr. Lebrecht's latest article, in Standpoint Magazine, as the topic is The Malice of Musicians. Yes, according to Mr. Lebrecht, above all other creatures on this Earth, it is musicians who are the nastiest, most negative of all. As he says:
No field of human activity is so envious of success, or so quick to find fault, as the pursuit of classical music.
No other field of human activity! Italian hit-men, politicians and used car salesmen are all jealous of the level of negativity that we lovers of classical music have achieved! And, with the most delicious of irony, it is Mr. Lebrecht's Slipped Disc site that seems to contain the greatest evidence of this with his never-ending crusades against music schools, the Vienna Philharmonic, symphony boards, and a host of other ginned-up controversies that keep the traffic up at his site.

While acknowledging that there is certainly a considerable amount of competitive spirit in the music world and our fair share of ill-informed criticism, my experience here on this blog and in a long career in music is the polar opposite of the claims Mr. Lebrecht makes.

In my career in music I encountered supportive and generous colleagues almost without exception. The only really off-the-mark negative criticism I received came from uneducated amateurs and even that was rare. The only really nasty person I encountered in my career was a record company executive and I subsequently filed suit against him. He settled out of court. The kind of thing Mr. Lebrecht complains about, sheer everyday nastiness, is far more common in the business world that I now work in. This experience is borne out in my experience with this three-year-old blog. Comments are open and unmoderated and I have, to date 2536 comments. Of these I found one to be beyond the pale--it was obscene and insulting--and I removed it. There were two or three that were shallow, ignorant and mildly insulting, but I left them up and just posted a rejoinder. The vast, vast majority have been thoughtful and courteous. Commentators sometimes refer to me as Mr. Townsend! I have found the experience to be very gratifying.

And it is not like I have gone out of my way to be inoffensive, though I do maintain a general level of courtesy. Sometimes I have put up pieces just to provoke some comments, like the post titled "What's Wrong With Jazz" or the one about how Nigel Kennedy is not a good Bach player. But even with these, though they have provoked comments, those comments have been well-founded and courteous. There have been some excellent and informative comment threads on this blog.

So, sadly, it seems that Mr. Lebrecht continues to pursue the methods that have worked for him in the past: generating traffic through superficial scandal and controversy. This article is a prime example. Truly it can be said that with friends like him, classical music needs no enemies!

Hmm, now what music would be appropriate? Ah, I have it! The Sabre Dance by Khatchaturian:

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