24 November 2008

Good/Bad Vibes

Today, I finally feel up to confronting the fact that this space is by and large a place for the airing of negative feelings rather than positive ones. I'm well aware that most of what I write takes issue with some other position, often aggressively, and rarely if ever issues compliments to other musicians and bloggers. This is because I've found that the best way to figure out what I really think about something is to try to write persuasively about it; this was what initially pushed me towards writing about music, and it continues to be my primary attraction to this activity. The desire to "go public" with these documents is, admittedly, somewhat self-indulgent, but it enables others to comment on them, which I often find just as useful as the act of writing itself (and an event which I wish I could say happened more often).

If I've carved out a niche as something of a spoilsport/buzzkiller/mudslinger always off pouting in the corner, I would defend this sort of behavior by citing the need for something to offset the torrents of quid pro quo backslapping that dominate most of the rest of the music world. A well-known problem with musicians writing about music is that you can't expect them to bite the hand that feeds them by saying something negative about someone whose support they need, even if that's how they really feel. On that note, I'll put my money where my mouth is and say that the first example that comes to my mind here is the ITEA Journal, in which I'm not sure I've ever read a negative thing about anybody, at least not since I've been a member and paying attention.

Grateful as I am for the occasional exposure I myself have had in their pages, a glowing review from a source that issues nothing but glowing reviews doesn't mean much. Though there's no reason to get unduly vicious purely for its own sake, it sure would be refreshing to see a drubbing or two every so often, as this would at least make it seem like they mean all the nice things they say about each other. The reviews of new materials (i.e. scores in particular) have their own way of dancing around making judgments, namely by focusing on information about the piece (range, difficulty, style, etc.) rather than the reviewer's opinion of it. Useful as this is in some cases, I again have to wonder if the social dynamics at work aren't to blame for inhibiting "real" criticism, which would not only be more useful to the readership, but would further the ultimate goal of getting people to take the tuba and euphonium seriously by proving that the people who play it do, too.

Incongruously, then, I'll close with a compliment. Daniel Wolf, whose blog is among my favorites, put it well in a post from last year on a topic on which he has been an articulate and accurate observer:

...on the topic of boycotting competitions (in particular, those with high entry fees and low prizes), I have received 22 emails in support of my position and none against, and as gratifying as the echo was, it was a bit disturbing that not one of the 22 was willing to go public. While I might understand it if the emailer doesn't want to be associated in public with me...I dislike the idea that he or she doesn't want to upset the competition applecart by speaking out, and profoundly dislike the idea that she or he has chosen anonymity in order to preserve their own competition chances.

Well said.

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