My First Blog Post: "Not Dead Again"

Jan 31, 2014

Why Charles Rosen quipped that "the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition" (we'll see that it goes back to 1324), and why the latest "faux-cool journalese" obit is as silly as previous ones. 

Last month on Talk of Iowa, IPR’s Charity Nebbe hosted four Iowa music directors–

There was also one other guy - me, invited by Charity to open the show by framing the topic.  The TOI episode focused on innovations that are making Iowa’s orchestral scene vibrant.

As I was prepping the night before, Slate Magazine published "Requiem: classical music is dead" - a "badly written article," according to Anne Midgette, music critic for the Washington Post (which owns Slate). The Slate article, in Midgette's summary, “opened with some sensationalist statements written in a kind of faux-cool journalese” and continued with “a whole bunch of facts and anecdotes strung together without any attempt to link them or bring them to an actual conclusion.” Overall, she said, it “wasn’t really worth notice.”

So I’m glad I didn’t bring it up to Charity, who was focusing on actually important things. Midgette noted that "lots of people in the classical music world went ballistic" over the article, but Anne herself yawned, and for good reason: the "deathwatch" idea is now mustier than a long-lost Bach manuscriptAs I told Charity, when I first set my sights on a classical-radio career in 1991, insiders told me the field was kaput. But prediction is hard, especially about lifespan: by 2013, says an industry expert, there were "more all-classical stations in public radio than there ever have been at any point in time," including 1991 - or 2001, when I hosted my first classical broadcast, here in Iowa.

Andy Doe's chart on "the crisis of classical music" - since 1324
Credit Andy Doe, properdiscord.com

In the early 2000s, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross mocked Slate-like doomsaying with blog entries tagged “The Death of the Death." This time, Ross couldn't be bothered, tweeting, "After 20 years of writing classical-music-isn't-dead articles, I'm retiring." He passed this lance to his colleague  William Robin, who brilliantly replied point-by-point to Slate at New Yorker.com. Robin quotes Charles Rosen's immortal quip, “The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition,” and posts this chart from Andy Doe listing forces that worried guardians since 1324 have identified as "killing classical music."

So why am I even bringing this up as MY first blog post on iowapublicradio.org? Not to say more about the topic itself, but to assert that Slate committed three faux-pas that I, as your blogger, will try to avoid:

1)   Distortions caused by clickthrough-grabby headline writing. Don’t be surprised if I tell you about other such headlines as they come up, however - deriding clickbait can be fun.

2)   The policy known as “If it bleeds it leads.”  Mass media makes us feel that the world has become far more violent than it actually is, because acts of aggression are headline news, while people taking a deep breath and walking away can seem boring - yet their doing so more often than before may be the real story. Similarly, in classical music, "institutions in crisis" make great copy, but the more interesting story seems to me to be the green shoots that are popping up and blooming in surprising ways. 

3)    The addiction to contrarianism that Slate has been mocked for  (“Soccer: It’s time to let players use their hands” and “You’ve Got Fail: Why Electronic Mail Isn’t Here to Stay”—not actual Slate articles, but take-offs of Slate-style headlines from a satirical collection hashtagged #slatepitches. ) So while I'll try to avoid triteness, cheerleading and corporate-promotion, I’ll also try not to err in the opposite direction. Blogs are about quick takes, but I’ll try to think at least twice before I hit “publish.”

OK: Next post will be about something in classical music itself that I’m excited about…