Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Your Daily Moment of Zen


Edit: Taken down! This was the Sesame Street appearance of Katy Perry, in which she sings "Hot and Cold" to Elmo. The lyrics were mildly changed, although the story--a boy who confusingly may or may not want to play with her--remains the same. Apparently, after filming and posting the video, Sesame Street belatedly realized that Perry wasn't wearing a whole lot of clothes in it. The pruriently curious can still see it at TMZ.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Detroit Breakdown

I rarely agree with Terry Teachout about anything other than the high quality of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but I think he raised some good points in yesterday's WSJ piece "Disaster in Detroit."
I agree with those musicians who argue that cutting the average salary of a DSO player from $104,650 to $75,000 will transform the orchestra beyond recognition. The DSO will inevitably lose its best members and won't be able to attract replacements of comparable quality. But the players' decision to respond to the orchestra's financial crisis by voting to strike is a classic symptom of the cultural-entitlement mentality—the assumption that artists ought to be paid what they "deserve" to make, even when the community in which they live and work places a significantly lower value on their services. Any economist can tell you what has happened: In Detroit, being a classical instrumentalist is no longer an upper-middle-class job.

We like to think that great symphony orchestras and museums are permanent monuments to the enduring power and significance of art, but in the 21st century, we are going to learn the hard way that this is simply not true. Great high-culture institutions reflect the fundamental character of a city. In America, most of these institutions were founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as manifestations of civic pride. But when a city's character undergoes profound changes, as has happened in Detroit, the institutions are bound to reflect that transformation. One way or another, they'll follow the money—and if there is no money to follow, they'll go out of business. The sad truth is that the Detroit Symphony is no more "permanent" than . . . well, your average auto company.

The liberal counterpoint to Teachout's laissez-faire argument might be something along the lines of, "well, in Europe, this is why the government steps in to support high culture institutions that couldn't survive otherwise." But I've never been particularly comfortable with that approach, and at any rate, in addition to limited direct support the federal government already subsidizes high-cult institutions by way of a tax code that makes no distinction between charitable giving to a homeless shelter and to the Metropolitan Opera. Classical music enthusiasts should count themselves fortunte for that; I'm not sure it would survive a popular vote!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy Hildegard Day!

For you church goin' types out there, September 17th is of course the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen.

One is reminded of Jennifer Bain's article on "Chant in the Marketplace." Bain argues that Hildegard's popularity in the marketplace negatively affected her popularity among scholars. While there is some truth to that, I think that's less true now than it was six years ago when that article came out. Judith Peraino, for example, has a great discussion in Listening to the Sirens that I teach with all the time. It is certainly true, however, that there are a lot of weird Hildegard videos out there on the internets!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Philadelphia Composer

Every time I walk down Locust Street here in Philadelphia, it drives me slightly nuts to see this. Perhaps I am missing other signs--I have not actually made a study of this-- but as best I can tell, the main historical placard next to Curtis is this tribute to Vincent Persichetti. No offense to the man, but of the legions of people who have come through Curtis, many natives of the area, we give a plaque to someone famous for teaching at Juilliard?

My vote would be for Samuel Barber. Strictly speaking not a native, as he was from West Chester (where they are very proud of him), but studied at Curtis from a very early age. And while like Persichetti he spend most of his life elsewhere, there's something about his music--conservative, yes, but beautifully cosmopolitan--that strikes me as quintessentially Philadelphian. Last Friday I heard the Serafin Quartet, who are in residence at the University of Delaware this year, play Barber's Op. 11 quartet, famous of course for its Adagio. The first movement is a sophisticated exercise in Beethovenian development, quite attractive especially when placed up against the neo-medievalism of the second movement that is still, despite the hype, a great piece of music. Roy Harris's Third Symphony gets all of the press for this sound, so influential on Copland and others, but it's worth remembering the Barber did it first!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Adventures in Religious Tolerance

From the New York Times, July 28, 1879 [pdf].
When the residents of this aristocratic avenue discovered that they were in danger of seeing a Roman Catholic church spring up among them, with all that the establishment of such a church implied, they bestirred themselves to oppose the project. The wisest of the Roman Catholics here did not favor it, and St. Mary’s was induced to exchange the lot for as good a one in some other locality. A good lot was found, but just before the accomplishment of the transfer the worthy residents of the avenue came to the conclusion that it was too good a lot for the Roman Catholics, and they exchanged it for a poorer one, which they offered to the Pastor of St. Mary's. Knowing what they had done, he would not take it, and arrangements were made for the erection of a stone church on Hillsborough avenue.

The Fox News Times article ends by calling the church an "eyesore on the avenue" and predicted its quick descent into bankruptcy, but it is still there today!

Via dotCommonweal.

Friday, September 3, 2010

4'33" Playlist

Alex suggests that the 4'33" playlist should be an annual tradition. So, in honor of Mr. Cage's 98th birthday (getting close to the centennial!) and also because I just taught the piece today, here's my contribution. It's a good mixture I think, although the n-word seems to pop up with alarming frequency.