Classical Critics Survey

8. Coverage of pop music exceeds that of classical coverage in most mainstream media outlets. Does this concern you as a critic and listener?

Sure it concerns me (partly because I don't feel there's a whole lot of interesting things to say about an awful lot of current pop music--except maybe in the abstract); but given how many and what kind of records sell, it doesn't surprise me in the least.

Sure, it concerns me. But I understand the reasons. Classical music is a high art form (an awful term, but true). Still, I think that so much pop these days is commercial, slick, gimmicky and empty that young people are looking for authentic and challenging experiences. The Miller Theater (at Columbia University) has become a hotbed of contemporary classical music programming. And most nights the crowds there look like they just wandered in from a rock club. So, I have hope that classical music can reach young people. That's my main mission. If I didn't believe it possible, and didn't see things getting better, I would give up this work.

Decline in arts coverage in general concerns me. Although I really would like to see more space given to classical music, it's hard for me to justify ramming reviews down the throats of people who don't want to read them. I confess that I myself am not always all that interested in a performance three days ago by some obscure orchestra I haven't heard of. I think what's really needed is to explore new ways to do coverage that could make it more lively and interesting: perhaps by juxtaposing conventional reviews with the kind of column format Kyle Gann has at the Voice, allowing a critic to discuss a few different performances and put them into some kind of context for the reader. The issue is to make it something people want to read, rather than something that's good for you (or good for society); because in the struggle for space in a financially strapped market, "good for you" is not going to win.

This is partly because in today's youth-focused culture, when to be old is to be used up and when the media as a whole is trying ever harder to pursue the young and hip, a magazine like Time is no longer willing to take the quasi-parental role of informing the mass audience of things it might not know but might be interesting--like a ranking of America's top orchestras, or a profile of the world's leading pianist. As a result, there's no way to challenge the status quo, which is that this music does not have great importance to the majority of people in this country. On the radar of truly mainstream media--People, Time, the nightly TV news--classical music barely exists; and I don't see that changing any time soon. Nonetheless, there are a lot of people out there going to a lot of classical concerts.

The concern with numbers is self-propagating. For instance, Pulse magazine discontinued its classical coverage because it did a poll and found that its readers weren't interested in reading about classical music. But the kind of people likely to answer a Pulse magazine poll are not at all the kind of people interested in classical music. Pulse didn't appeal to the classical music fan assiduously enough in the first place to inspire classical types, already cynical about the magazine's slim coverage, to answer the poll. It is as dangerous for the media to follow polls as it is for politicians to do so. If the media (and the politicians) lead, people will follow. If magazines make something seem interesting, people will get interested in it. But mainstream media outlets go for short-term profit and the quick fix. People will respond quickly, reflexively, to subjects they already know about, but that doesn't mean they aren't sick and tired of reading about the same thing over and over. Every young rock fan I know is sick and tired of the commercialization of rock, and they all go after small alternative bands that the mainstream press never covers. To reach those people, the media would have to give up going after the largest possible audience with the most recognizable names. "Most recognizable" does not mean "best loved." It simply means most frequently repeated in the mainstream media.

No. Why shouldn't pop music get more coverage? It's more popular. It's also more interesting. Just read pop critics, and compare them to classical critics. The good ones raise deeper and more intriguing issues. Why shouldn't they get more space? What does concern me is that the classical music world--musicians, critics, marketers, everybody--doesn't seem to know how to draw attention to itself. We can't just whine that we deserve coverage because we're so artistic. We have to give people something to care about.