Friday, August 11, 2006

American Record Guide Turns 224 Years Old!

Recently I have been enjoying the publication American Record Guide, a wonderful, classical-only, insider, trade magazine with a self-selecting limited readership. After a lengthy evaluation process based on the personal information I entered requesting a sample issue, the ARG sent me an email with a link to download a PDF from the publication’s TANDY-enabled website.

The reviews in ARG are written by a variety of critics with a variety of educational backgrounds, a fact that calls into question my earlier complaint about student reviewers (more on that later). As an example of the publication’s wonderfully contemporary sense of humor and openness, I quote from a column entitled “Meet the Critic:”

Stephen Chakwin has been writing for ARG since at least 1980 and loves doing it because it makes him listen to and think about composers from Schütz to Glass and a lot of others in between. In the last few years he has written mostly about Haydn, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and Schoenberg, which doesn’t trouble him at all... His most interesting current non-ARG writing project is an article for the British Haydn Society on the nicknames of Haydn’s compositions....

What a wonderful idea to allow the readers to “Meet the Critic!” It is especially helpful for me, as a Professor, since I can advise my students, some of whom write very well in the styles of Haydn, Wagner, and Schoenberg, to send their scores and recordings to Mr. Chakwin's personal mailing address.

Most of the reviewers for ARG are trained and educated in the proper musical fashion, but some, according to their bios on ARG's website, are not active music professors. Usually those without music degrees, though, have some otherwise astute relation to music. For example, Gerald Fox is an electrical engineer, but he also serves on the board of directors of a number of orchestras; and Michael Mark is a copy editor with a degree in English and Journalism, but when he was a boy, he “was an opera expert and won a lot of money on television.”

What I’ve discovered has actually changed my opinion of music critics without doctorates in music. It turns out that such writers can still be very insightful and accurate about the music they review. For example, here are some passages of reviews from my free trial issue:

from a review of Alvin Curran’s Maritime Rites by writer Allen Gimbel: “...[The] anarchic 60s collective Musica Elettronica Viva [was] a group that embraced the Cagean ‘anything goes’ aesthetic and grafted it onto a Marxist ideological world view...”

That’s right! Some people think that John Cage’s music is steeped in discipline and control, but Gimbel gets it right – anything goes!

from a review of Steve Reich’s Different Trains (string orchestra version) by writer Ian Quinn: “...Different Trains was a turn for the worse in Reich’s output; with the piece’s notes and tempos beholden to emergent structures in its oral libretto, there is little in the way of conventional musical logic...”

Quinn eloquently observes that without conventional musical signposts, ordinary listeners are often frightened.

But my favorite review is David Moore’s take on Philip Glass’s Reflections, which I shall quote in its entirety:

Oh, my! Just under an hour of Philip Glass arranged with loving care by Arizcuren and Niko Ravenstijn for an orchestra of cellos. Oompah, oompah, doodledee doodledee, waah, waah! Sorry, couldn’t stay awake!

It takes a very smart reviewer to know when to stop listening and just write. Sometimes it’s not necessary to get through an entire album before knowing exactly how to review it. This is an excellent example of ARG’s contemporary sense of humor and wit, and I strongly recommend that all composers send their CDs along for review.


Blogger Scott Spiegelberg said...

You don't need to change your philosophy, as two of those reviewers do have doctorates. Allen Gimbel has a DMA in composition, formerly professor of theory and composition at Lawrence University. Ian Quinn has a PhD in music theory, and currently teaches at Yale. And while David Moore doesn't have a completed doctorate, it just shows his intelligence that he knew when to stop working on his dissertation. Many doctoral students unfortunately lack this quality.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. McJeebie:

I just wanted to generally thank you for your wise and doctorly insights that you post on this blog. Once I was a very unlearned boy who wanted to write music, and while finding out how to write worthy concert music, I discovered (at a library sale) an LP recording of your early masterpiece "TandyTango: A Semi-Concerto for bandoneón and tandy", and it made a very great impression on me. I would like one day to write one of my Doctoral Dissertations on this piece!

Thank you,

Lawrence Van Rigormarol
Cairo, Georgia

2:14 PM  
Anonymous ian quinn said...

Dear Prof. McJeebie,

Thank you for your kind commentary on my writing. I'd like to take the opportunity to clarify some typographical errors that crept into one of my reviews in the most recent issue of ARG -- the keyboard on the iBook I was using is so different from my trusty Tandy, which was having its vacuum tubes replaced at the time.

I meant to write "Jacob Druckman was a namby-pamby cheeseball who caved into the ordinary listener's craven, degenerate addiction to so-called 'beauty' in music," but my fingers slipped on the slick little keys on that fancy Mac and I accidentally wrote that "Of all the composers championed by the Group for Contemporary Music, Druckman is the one whose music I most like to listen to. Many composers of a modernist stripe get so deeply into the mindset that musical structures are made out of ideas that they forget that it is also made out of sounds... I’ll take Druckman over Wuorinen, Sessions, or Martino any day of the week."

I also did not intend, in another review, to defend Lou Harrison's music from a previous ARG critic who said it was "trivial and pointless" and "beneath analysis." Of course, I meant to agree with him, but couldn't find the F13 key.

I sincerely regret these silly errors, and the erroneous implication that I enjoy listening to music when I could be counting notes instead. Next time my Tandy's in the shop, I'll dust off my Kaypro instead.

Must rush off now; the sun is shining and I've got to get to the library!


Prof. Ian Quinn, Ph.D.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Prof. Heebie McJeebie said...

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3:44 PM  

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