Bizarro World: England!

Why, what do you think would happen if some enterprising, clever publication (The Guardian UK) sent their arts critics to review sport [British sic] and their sport critics to review arts?


Scroll down to the fourth one, the golf writer Lawrence Donegan on a Brahms concert he attended.

The prose is great, and he totally didn't get it, or like it, which is fine. Refreshing, in fact.

The problem, at least to my cloth ears, is the music. Brahms' Piano Concerto No1 in D minor, the centrepiece of an evening devoted to the composer, has come to be seen as a masterpiece. But as it is longer than three minutes and not as immediately catchy as, say, Be My Baby by the Ronettes, it failed to hold my attention.

Awesome. Conclusion?

[The Pianist-ed.] Yefim Bronfman is a genius, no doubt, but he didn't write his own script - Brahms did - and the ending hasn't changed in the last 150 years, and won't for another 150. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, writes a new concerto every day, each one better than the last.

What an analogy. Go Guardian!


Anonymous said...

Funny idea! If you could dig up the sports review by the art critics SA that would be great. Last comment is overstated slightly... how often do they replay every minute of Tiger's last game on ESPN classics? Every sports fan knows that the excitement in sports lies in not knowing how the event will end up. Once one knows the outcome, it's rarely worth watching entirely again. Whereas classical music is precisely the opposite, even when we know the outcome, we desire to go through the same process again and again. That's why a complete works of Bach recording is more likely to outsell complete contest footage of Tiger Woods!

Anonymous said...

is there even complete footage of Tiger?

Strini said...

As a lifelong soccer and baseball/softball player, two-sport coach for 20 years and 25-year full-time music and dance critic, I can get behind this sort of thing.
Here is a riff on sport, art and more, from a 2006 column:

The relation of soccer, music and evolution came to me as an epiphany a few years ago, as I watched a game at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

UWM was having its way, in part because of the Panthers’ superior individual skill and athleticism. But they went beyond merely beating their opponent; they played the game right in terms of abstract structure.

Small triangles formed and inverted as defenders moved up to shorten onside space and support or overlap the ball. Diagonal runs and passes formed ephemeral cat’s cradles on the green of Engelmann field. Pace relaxed and quickened in clear proportion to the expanding and contracting geometry as the Panthers spread the field on the attack and tightened it on defense; their game had spatial and temporal rhythm.

The Panthers moved creatively and independently, and in doing so created a grand design. (The other team reacted in faint echoes, always chasing and never creating.)

I remember thinking: I’ve experienced this before, but with music. Watching the Panthers play was like listening to a Bach fugue. The ball and the players were like contrapuntal lines going their unpredictable ways, yet acting in accord with an overarching intelligence.

That game struck me as beautiful in the way Bach’s music is beautiful. I submit that our brains are wired to seek out as beautiful the sort of elegant patterns common to sport and art. I further submit that this mental wiring has an evolutionary purpose.

What could high-art music and soccer have to do with humanity’s perch atop the food chain? Everything.

I am not the first to observe that our richly developed ability to recognize and manipulate pattern allows us to dominate the Earth. Early in the game, we were a little better than most species at grasping repeating cycles of growth, tides and seasons. So we became a little better than most species at hunting, gathering and, most important, prediction.

We became different in kind from the animals around us when we leaped from simply taking advantage of patterns in nature to creating and manipulating patterns of our own. Once we cleared that barrier — accompanied, no doubt, by ritual rhythms and dance steps — pattern built upon pattern. Tool-making, language, agriculture, mathematics, the arts, economic life, law, pinochle, computers and soccer became not only possible, but inevitable.

At some point, pattern recognition and manipulation became not only humanity’s occupation, but also our pleasure and passion. When the work day is done, we while away hours over crossword puzzles and mathematical brain-teasers, fixate on baseball’s play of threes and nines, study the lacy symmetries of the corps de ballet, and go to symphony concerts.

Music, especially in its purer and more sophisticated forms, exercises our innate pattern-handling software on a lofty, abstract plane. Think about it: Music truly exists only in our brains. Any given moment of it amounts to nothing more than a fleeting, meaningless sound. Our job as listeners is to recognize and retain harmonies, rhythms and melodies, connect the dots, project them into the future, and thus perceive musical structure.

Does that sound like work?

True, a Beethoven string quartet or a Bach fugue demands a high level of mental activity in the listener, but the brain wants to do this kind of work. The mind races to keep up, but it can keep up because well-made music conforms to the mind’s architecture. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and the rest encourage us to do what humans do better than any other creature on Earth: Fire neurons in furious yet orderly ways, an activity we experience as exhilarating joy.

The drive to make our brains perform in this way is our greatest evolutionary advantage, and music is right in the middle of it.

--Tom Strini

Sator Arepo said...


I can't find the other article, sorry. The Guardian site is...unhelpful. But thanks for your comments.

Indeed, in retrospect, the analogy would seem to be:

golf course designer:TigerWoods::composer:performer


@Mssr. Strini:

Cool piece. I've been enjoying EuroCup 2008 immensely, and the analogy between soccer [sorry, Europe, that's what we call it] and improvisation/music making is fascinating. Patterns and all of that--makes me think of Leonard Meyer's work based on Gestalt theory.

Oh, now I've said too much.

Sator Arepo said...

Aha! Here is a link to the arts-critics-report-on-sports article:


Thanks to Ms. Mussel.

Anonymous said...

SA, awesome for the link. Is it me, or is the only negative review done by the rock critic? Hmm... food for thought.

Interesting points Strini.