Thursday, August 10, 2006

Student Reviewers

Recently, I presented the world premiere of my piece, Concerto for TANDY Virtuoso-M1992 and Orchestra, as part of the Summer Break Faculty Recital here at the Hotel Cadillac. The concert featured yours truly as TANDY soloist, along with the Virtual Orchestra TIVO ORCH-77 sequencer/synthesizer. Since the composer himself was performing the piece, there was nothing whatsoever in question about interpretation or performance quality, and, until now, I had received nothing but praise.
A very negative, 350-word review was published by the Hotel Cadillac’s student-run newspaper, The Weekly Rate, written by a part-time student named Spiro Fitch. Through the Tenured Faculty Freedom of Information Act, I was able to ascertain that Fitch is enrolled in only four classes this summer. He’s also a kitchen-worker in the cafeteria. Now, I concede that even part-time students are entitled to their opinions, but they should not have the right to publish 350-word reviews in a periodical that is read by nearly all the Professors at Hotel Cadillac.
You can brand me an elitist, but I’ve always assumed that music critics, especially those who write for academic publications, were required to have some specialized understanding of what it means to be “musical,” some expertise based on valid training. We don’t regularly read program notes written by illiterates, do we?! We wouldn’t attend a higher-education seminar led by a high-school dropout! And certainly, student newspapers should not publish reviews by migrant cafeteria workers.
As they say in low-income, hip-hop culture, let’s break it down:
A music critic is supposed to be a discerning listener who knows what comprises a good performance and/or composition. He should have perfect pitch, the ability to sing any melody using solfege with movable “doe,” and the ability to understand how TANDY computers utilize their complex sound vocabularies. Only after he establishes his musical pedigree should he get into more subjective matters such as whether or not he was “moved” by the music.
Most students lack objective knowledge, especially part-time students! That’s why they’re students – they have a lot to learn, and they don’t even know it. Publishing a partly educated student's review of the work of a Professor with multiple doctorates makes a mockery of the whole music-education system. These days it seems anyone with a pair of ears can call himself a music critic. Indeed, The Weekly Rate may recruit its writers from the Salvation Army for all I know. But those of us who are reasoned, educated professionals know better. From the earliest Grove’s to the contemporary Educational Excursions for Music Connoisseurs, music criticism should be by the well-educated, about the well-educated, and in the vocabulary of the well-educated.

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