Monday, October 02, 2006

Interviews with Young People #3: Molly Sheridan

For a young person, Molly Sheridan has made quite a mark as an arbiter of good taste in the contemporary classical canon. She is the managing editor of NewMusicBox, and her writings have appeared in NewMusicBox, New York Press, Time Out New York, Time Out Chicago, SYMPHONY magazine, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette among others. Sheridan attended the Honors Tutorial College at Ohio University, earning a degree in journalism with a specialization in violin performance and French. She has also studied the esraj and Tibetan rug weaving in Nepal. The following is a transcription of a recent phone conversation I had with Sheridan:

Prof. McJeebie: I remember back in 1996, you hosted a radio show entitled Music for Tape. I sent you some of my music, but you must not have received it. If you were allowed to curate a festival of music for tape today, which composers would you program?

Molly Sheridan: When I was 12, I was ignorant of the illegality of taping pop tunes off of the radio and broadcasting these compilations during slumber parties. In high school and college, the mix tape was a popular wooing technique employed by some of my boyfriends. I still have a huge box of said contraband, as do many of my friends, and I think it would be interesting to dig around in those treasure chests and see what composers might do with that sort of nostalgia.

Prof. McJeebie: So at these slumber parties, is that where you became interested in telling other people what music they should listen to?

Molly Sheridan: No, but it is where I developed an interest in studding my jeans with rhinestones.

Prof. McJeebie: Did anyone ever tell you what music you should listen to?

Molly Sheridan: I began studying the violin when I was seven, and I was 18 before I realized I was allowed to have my own opinions about the music I was hearing. And if they didn't play it on NPR or at the Lilith Fair, I probably hadn't heard it. My friend Michael Crogan was something of an audiophile, and the summer before I left for college he valiantly attempted to school me in what I'd missed while locked up in my practice room. It was a revelation.

Prof. McJeebie: In 1998, you wrote a negative review of my cassette tape album TANDY Etudes. If I remember correctly, which I do, you referred to my music as "deliberately confounding and elaborately mundane." Do you ever feel guilty when you write a bad review?

Molly Sheridan: I grew up Catholic in an Italian and Irish community in the Midwest, so you can say I'm something of an expert when it comes to shouldering guilt. But no, I don't feel remorseful about writing bad reviews as long as I feel I've understood my reactions to a disc, positive and negative, and clearly communicated them to my readers. But since my space is very limited, I tend to only negatively review discs if talking about what I view as its shortcomings contributes to the larger conversation about music.

Prof. McJeebie: Do you ever think that you might be just plain wrong?

Molly Sheridan: I have had second thoughts about some of the reviews I’ve written. I don't work under the delusion that I am infallibly "right." In particular, I wrote negatively about a recording of a piece I knew it took the composer decades to compose. That was hard for me personally, but not for the recording—it went on to win a Grammy that year. But what's the adage about the only bad publicity being no publicity? If you want to talk about guilt in reviewing, let's look at the shelf over my desk filled with CDs I haven't written about yet. Sometimes, when it's late and I've had too much coffee, I think I see them making moves to throw themselves off the rack in a desperate plea for attention.

Prof. McJeebie: Are you allowed to vote for the Grammy Awards? How can I get myself nominated for Best Composition?

Molly Sheridan: I am not a member of the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences, nor do I know anyone who is a voting member whom I could impersonate or blackmail. I was once invited to the Grammy Awards press conference, however. The journalists who attended were bribed with large chocolate bars decorated with gold leaf gramophones. This was really small potatoes, though, since I hear that the swag bags given to the celebrity attendees at the actual ceremony included automobiles. But I might have that wrong.
Prof. McJeebie: You mention the problem of space limitation. Have you ever thought about starting your own blog, like I've done with Classical Pontifications? Blogs allow more space in which you can communicate and justify your bias.

Molly Sheridan: Personal blogs lack copy editors and firm deadlines, two things I can't function without. Some colleagues and I do take turns contributing to a blog over at NewMusicBox, however. They let me sit in the big chair and drive every Friday. My one regret is that the professional nature of the publication prevents me from posting pictures of my pet goldfish, Elizabeth. And she is very cute.

Prof. McJeebie: In 1999, you attended one of my invitation-only faculty recitals at the Hotel Cadillac. I remember you seemed to be taking notes and reading throughout the concert. How do you pay attention to the music while taking notes?

Molly Sheridan: Writing while listening makes sure my thoughts are focused on what I'm hearing, not on fantasies involving that new guy in accounting. Also, I'm a compulsive doodler, as were many of our country's presidents. When you're teaching, don't you feel the students taking notes are paying the most attention?

Prof. McJeebie: Not if they're just doodling! Ordinarily I ask the questions, not answer them. However, I will make an exception with the hope that you will publish a review of my CD in return. As you've read in one of my many Pontifications, I do not think that students make for good reviewers. I would hope that a critic who is writing for professional music publications does not consider herself a student. On the other hand, you still need to obtain a graduate degree, is that right? Do you think that taking notes helps you even when you're NOT enrolled in a degree-granting program?

Molly Sheridan: Without note taking, millions of people would forget to buy milk and toilet paper every day! There are so many centuries and continents of music to cover, I suspect I'll die a music student. There's no degree requirement to getting a job as a reviewer, though editors do tend to appreciate it when you own a calendar and a pen and have demonstrated an aptitude for using both. Scotch drinking and cigar smoking used to also be required, but those rules have been relaxed at the insistence of the Surgeon General.


Anonymous Marc Geelhoed said...

Wait, wait, wait, hold on! NMB has an accounting department!

6:41 PM  

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