Here are comments I posted in response to a recent post on on Washington Post writer Anne Midgette’s excellent blog, The Classical Beat.

Interesting metaphor you present here, Anne.

Allow me to toss in the idea, however, that there’s a lot more going on in this dynamic than mere musical preferences, and that this has loads to do with culture and social status. In following your metaphorical lead, do forgive my being a bit of a blanket generalizer!

Your “red staters” of classical music probably consist of a high % of highly educated, culturally elite, inordinately wealthy patrons (and matrons) of the refined concert hall, but more often than not without musical training, and importantly, without a real stake in the future (i.e. continued relevancy) of the music. I bet we’ve all seen people who storm off with their minks in a huff any time new music is performed because “un-pretty sounds” don’t adhere to their vision of what respectable music should look and sound like. The historical record shows that Beethoven himself had very little use for these people, regardless of how important their role as funders might be. Even if this operates on an subconscious level, audiences like this might see classical music as a appendage of culture, as an experiential designer handbag. Thus, “being challenged” – artistically, intellectually, spiritually – is patently NOT part of the appeal. Generalizations, sure – I’m well aware there are many people who just love the “3 B’s” who don’t fit my straw matroning here – but in my past life working in marketing at Lincoln Center I responded to lots of letters from conservative audience members who needed to be coddled primarily due to their important roles as donors.

Meanwhile, your “blue staters” tend to be musically trained, more integrated within the musical community, and importantly, they understand that for any art to remain relevant, it MUST continue have something to say to the general culture at large.

Blue staters are invested in the past, present, and future of the music. The academicization (and elitist posturing) of new music occurring post-1945 obviously dealt a devastating blow to capturing the imaginations of audiences – and to the notion that modern classical music should have relevancy – and it’s become difficult to undo this damage. Part of the challenge is presentation and packaging, and I feel the future of classical music will reflect a more catholic approach to music-making, which at present moment the sterile concert hall experience is far too rigid to allow. However, venues like Le Poisson Rouge in NYC are presenting new classical music to young, hip audiences who are eager to feel included in the art of their time. (Catch the interchange with Jason Parker and I on this dynamic in jazz here.) And I imagine these venues won’t shy away from programming groups who play Beethoven (I see Hilary Hahn is about to perform Bach at LPR!) – but their concept more accurately reflects the true diversity of classical music, rather than the exclusive glorification of the Romantic Era which appeals to society types. If you don’t know him, check out what pianist Uri Caine is doing with canonical classical works – his Mozart, Bach, and Mahler discs are revelatory both in their stylistic accuracy and musical exploration!

Incidentally, it’s interesting that DC doesn’t have anything (yet) like a LPR: perhaps because DC tends to be an inordinately old-guard, “red-state” city, from a cultural and institutional perspective?

Anyway, great blog and fodder for discussion. I think that new media and the blogosphere makes “we happy few” who are passionate about art music all the more connected and strong!


Just made a rather lengthy comment in response to a post on concert etiquette, found on brilliant composer John Adams’s terrific new blog Hell Sounds.

I’ve decided to re-post these comments I made on a article discussing Rep. Barney Frank’s excoriation on who I call “Michelle Bachman’s fact-free minions.” A woman posted a comment calling out Frank for what she saw as “his recent arrogant and belligerent attitude towards those who disagree with him.” Here’s my response:

Mr. Frank’s initial comments were made as a RESPONSE to a woman who was holding up a photograph of Barack Obama which had been altered to look like Adolf Hitler. So this was NOT a simple case of “someone disagreeing with him,” but WAS just one example from a pattern of extremely radical and inflammatory attacks from the know-nothing right wing press, which has mobilized its legions, shockingly, to somehow equate the desire to provide healthcare for all Americans with the extermination of 6 million Jews. HUH?!?

As a Jew himself, Frank was WELL within his bounds to excoriate the woman. I mean, imagine her audacity – how DARE she make such a bizarre, patently untrue comparison in front of someone whose ancestry deserves dignified respect? I was actually quite impressed by his restraint, and happy that for once a politician felt confident enough to use humor and grace to counter the ridiculous nature of the woman’s claim. We can have a civil discussion of the issues at hand, but unfortunately, since the Repubs have no serious plan of their own (the one they submitted a few weeks ago actually had NO budgetary data at all! can you imagine?), they’ve resorted to the same tired cliches about big, bad government and liberalism somehow equaling communism.

And Frank’s recent comments about Michelle Bachman and her eager troupe of fact-free minions, although admittedly on the incendiary side, are spot on true. These people are doing a DISSERVICE to their country, and are NOT patriots, but are (sadly, unknowingly) fighting battles directly on behalf of the multi-millionaire insurance company CEOs. Present a “fact” to any of these people, and it simply bounces off. As one protester said: “I don’t let facts get in the way of my opinions!”

The times they are a-changin’, folks. The only question is: do you want to be on the right side of history, or like Southern plantation owners in the 1860s, desperately clinging to the idea that slavery was a mandate from God?

PS – Did anyone catch this terrific story about the “tea baggers” protesting government-run healthcare in DC yesterday, a few of which needed medical attention?

Apparently they DIDN’T turn down the medical care that was offered to them on the spot, even though… wait for it… it was GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE! (Ooooh…) Don’t they realize that by accepting it, they are now Communists? Hail, comrade!