Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Many classical music lovers, including yours truly, are lamenting the demise of Tower Records, one of the last remaining “mom ‘n’ pop” music stores of my generation.
Founded by classical composer, Joan Tower, the corporation has always made sure that each store’s classical music section was comprised not only of newly released reissues, but also of bargain bins and box sets. Tower was one of the only places that sold one-sided blank cassette tapes, which came in handy for some of my composition lessons.
Tower employees were some of the smartest people in the retail business. For example, they could easily explain to my naive and confused young students why there existed so many different recordings of the same piece of music, and why the first recording made wasn’t necessarily the best one.
The employees convinced my students of the frivolity of “packaging” and “album art,” an attitude that, ironically, led to Tower’s demise. You see, one of the most popular genres of downloaded music today is Classical Music. That’s because consumers are convinced that packaging, artwork, and design are not important alongside the historical integrity of Great Music. Years of impeccably innocuous album art has made physical distribution unnecessary, despite the fact that liner notes have been replaced by the inferior PDF format.
The big problem, of course, is that average listeners (who are not trained composers) cannot tell the difference between CD-quality audio and mp3 files. We’ve solved one problem (unnecessary artwork) and created another (compromised sound quality).
Incidentally, for years the Rochester location of Tower Records has been a popular hangout with druglords and prostitutes, two character-types who will never appreciate classical music, even though classical music appreciates them.