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Cue Sheet – November 2006


    In the latest Tucson Weekly, I pick through the Thanksgiving leftovers and come up with a review of Gaslight Theatre’s holiday show:

    Does a Gaslight Theatre show have to be funny? For a very long time, Gaslight has specialized in send-ups, first of old Western melodramas and eventually of all sorts of genre movies and TV shows. The scripts are full of jokes and splattered with anachronistic asides. They have always been funny, even if the jokes tend to be groan-inducing.
    But Gaslight's current holiday show, Christmas in the Big Apple, isn't very funny. It's not that writer-director Peter Van Slyke has gone for laughs and failed miserably; it seems that he simply hasn't really tried for much humor at all. The show is designed to be lively, heartwarming and clean fun for the family, but the laughs are few and far between.
    So I sat there a couple of weeks ago, stuffing free popcorn into my mouth and wondering if something had gone wrong, or if I had become more of a curmudgeon than usual, or if Van Slyke had merely changed his approach for the holiday season.
    You can read the whole thing here, and while you’re at the site, you might check out my preview of the upcoming Chamber Music Plus presentation.



    ... don’t mix, says Terry Teachout. One’s a distraction from the other. I agree. If you’re attending to both simultaneously, one of the two elements has to be pretty bad.

Classical Music,


    An example of not thinking at a daily newspaper: The Star carries a story about a decision not to tear down a library building because of its architectural significance, and accompanies it with a photo of people browsing in the stacks. That shot could have been taken at any library in town. Readers, I think, would rather see what the library’s architecture looks like, since that’s the subject of the article. But Star photo and design editors have a history of wanting to tell their own story, regardless of what those pesky words are about.



    Remember that recently released Knight Foundation Magic of Music final report that stirred a lot of comment when people interpreted it as a declaration that everything orchestras were doing to build new audiences was wrong? Well, Drew McManus has gone to the trouble of actually reading the report, and he’s provided a thoughtful analysis of the elements that bewitch and bewilder him. Take a look.

Classical Music,


    Last night, driving home from a party, I turned on the radio, heard the opening orchestra-only section of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, and groaned in anticipation of what would come. I dislike narrated music because the narrators are almost always monotonous, even if they’re professional actors. (For more on my aversion to being read to, click here.) Lincoln Portrait, especially, brings out the worst in narrators. Henry Fonda’s recording with the composer conducting is typical: flat and absolutely devoid of passion or real understanding of the text. What a surprise and delight, then, to hear F. Murray Abraham last night on the New York Philharmonic broadcast, delivering the text like a true believer.
    I suspect F. Murray Abraham read the text better than Father Abraham himself. Lincoln’s voice was described by those who heard it as shrill, squeaking, piping and unpleasant. (For accounts, go here, then go here and scroll to the bottom.) Even his supporters disliked his voice. We’ll have to trust the earwitness descriptions, for no recording of Lincoln’s voice has turned up, although he is rumored to have recorded a wax cylinder in 1863. The power of Lincoln’s oratory rested in the words themselves, their imagery taken from the Bible, their cadences from Shakespeare.
    American presidents since Lincoln, it seems to me, have been poor orators badly served by dull speechwriters. (Kennedy’s speechwriters were the major exception; they stole rhythms from Lincoln. Clinton’s speechwriters stole from Kennedy’s, but by then the cadences were too diluted and diminished to have much effect, particularly when delivered so blandly.) Teddy Roosevelt could be a fiery orator in front of a crowd (you can hear some of his lower-key campaign speeches here), but his delivery was very much a thing of the 19th century, and would seem mannered if attempted today. Still, that’s no excuse for the robotic monotony that has afflicted most presidential addresses during my lifetime, from Eisenhower’s corporate blandness through the drowsiness of several Southerners to the utter disaster that is George W. Bush as a public speaker; he pauses after every three words, as if trying to sound out the next three before moving on. (And is it really so hard to pronounce “nu-cle-ar” correctly?) Whatever their politics have been, our recent presidents have shared one gross defect: a lack of music in their speech.



    Over the holiday weekend, several bloggers I read happened to take up, one way or another, questions regarding how classical music is different from popular music, and whether or not this is a good thing. Greg Sandow, whose mission as a blogger is to fret over the decline of the classical audience without demonizing pop culture, notes that you can’t reduce the difference between classical and pop to creativity versus formula. I suspect this post is what inspired Sandow’s principle nemesis, AC Douglas of Sounds and Fury, to re-post something he’d written long ago on the pop/classical dichotomy. It’s worth repeating the gist of it:

    Well, there's surely nothing amiss or to be sneered at about a work whose perceived hallmark characteristic is its aspiration to be merely widely accessible here-and-now entertaining, and I don't mean to suggest there is. All I'm suggesting is that, as there can be no meaningful aesthetic continuum connecting such works with works whose perceived hallmark characteristic is their aspiration to transcendence, we drop the pernicious postmodern fiction that works of both realms occupy the same hierarchy of aesthetic value, differing only in their details. Such a view serves simply to demean and devalue the works of both realms by denying them the defining virtues peculiar to each.
    In short, what I'm suggesting is a return to the hierarchal sobriety that was largely the norm in the pre-postmodern world; a frank admission of the separateness of the hierarchies of aesthetic value of the realms of high and popular culture, and an acceptance of the clear aesthetic distinction between the artifacts inhabiting each.
    You’ll find the full post here. Meanwhile, on a related topic, oboist Patricia Mitchell isn’t happy with percussionist Evelyn Glennie’s call to make classical concerts more like pop shows. Writes Patty:
    I just don't like comparing what we do to what a pop star does. We don't do pop music. Big whoop. We aren't going to appeal to everyone. And I doubt we will ever have a crowd cheering and standing and flicking their lighters (or whatever it is they do) while we play. I can live with that. I don't look down on a great rock performer, but I don't want to become one. That's not what we do.
    Sure, I want to introduce "my" kind of music to more people. Sure, I'm excited when someone new joins the "classical" music crowd. But I'm just not all that into trying to turn what we do into pop music.
    You’ll find her full post here. Because I basically agree with what these two bloggers have written, with only a couple of reservations (I don’t really trust quasi-religious concepts like “transcendence,” but I’m sympathetic to what Douglas is trying to say), I’ll add nothing.

Classical Music,

About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.