Snotty and Insufferable?

Disclaimer: Clearly, this is a humorous column, or at least an attempt at one. I am, I hope, not without a sense of humor. However, I do not take kindly to ignorance and stereotyping. So after much thought, I’ve decided to…

How to be a classic snob

Um. Thanks for interrupting, Joel Stein of the LA Times. And I think you mean “classical snob,” unless that’s some sort of attempt at a pun.

Learning the tricks behind having a snotty attitude about orchestral music

Snotty? Nice. It says over here in your biography that you’re starved for attention. Is that true?

A few years ago, I began working toward my retirement goal of being an intolerable old man.

I must say, that’s an admirable goal.

I'm way ahead of schedule on knowing enough about wine to bore anyone,

Hey, me too! Because, you know, I’ve studied and stuff.

but classical music has proved much more difficult, largely because no matter how much you listen, it does not get you drunk.

No, because you haven’t studied it. You think it’s okay to be “snotty” about wine because you know a lot about wine, but you want the shortcut to being “snotty” about classic [sic] music? Boo, sir. Boo.

But because my cultural 401(k)

Okay, that’s funny.

depends on being able to cite conductors, orchestras and recording years,

“Recording years” is pretty awkward. Simplify, man! I’d go with “dates”.

I called David Moore, a bassist for the L.A. Philharmonic, and asked him to get me on the road to insufferability.

You’re already on that road, my friend.

Moore met me at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and said that, like me, he got into classical music late -- in his case at USC, where he started out majoring in jazz, which he discovered by getting into guitar solos in Rush and Iron Maiden songs.

He discovered jazz by…listening to Iron Maiden?

New York is the center of high culture because its orchestra members keep these kinds of things secret.

Zing! Also, because people take the time to educate themselves, unlike (apparently) in LA, where any shortcut to cultural currency is welcome. Those stupid East coast idiots, learning about stuff!

His first tip was to tell me not to bother buying a lot of CDs because, unlike with rock bands, the live experience is far more important. "The Varese piece had 16 percussion instruments, and you can't capture that in two ear buds," he explained. I'm not exactly sure what his point was, but I longed to say things like, "The Varese piece had 16 percussion instruments."

Wow. Look it up, Einstein. And it’s “Varèse.” Plus, I don’t have to “long to say” facts that I already know, because I know them.

When I accused him of just saying this to get me to buy concert tickets, he told me that he never listens to classical recordings at home unless it's for work. Again, the New York guys would keep that quiet.


Moore kept giving me advice on appreciating music, but I didn't care about that. I wanted to know how to express snobbishness about it.

Great. That’s great.

"Knowing Sibelius is Finnish and influenced by natural surroundings can deepen the experience, but you don't need to know it's cold and dark in Finland to appreciate it," he said. Yes, I do. This was great advice. A quick Wikipedia read is always the first step to intolerability.

Oh, right, I took my eyes off your prize. Intolerable, insufferable. Without working. I get it.

Sensing my excitement, Moore started to get what I was looking for. "If you can refer to recordings or conductors, then you can be elitist and mock me for not knowing that stuff," he said. Check. "Also, pronounce composers in their language of origin." Got it. BAY-toe-fen.


And if people applaud between movements during a concert, I should stare, loudly shush and shake my head in disapproval.

Um. What? Everyone knows that, because…

The musicians don't mind the clapping,

What? I’m pretty sure they do. Ever get stared down by the conductor? Oh, wait…obviously not.

but snotty audience members love to assert their knowledge of classical music etiquette.

Yes. “Snotty.” Etiquette is so snotty. Hey, Mr. Stein? Would you like a ham and cheese sandwich?

When I'm old enough to have really gotten the hang of this, I'm sure I'll be able to use my phone to excoriate the clappers on an online social network inhabited only by the snotty, old and self-obsessed. It would still be called Facebook.

Hey! America? It’s common to not clap between movements of a work at a “classical” concert. Clear? Clear. Not too hard, right? Full of tiny, intricate, inviolable rules? No? No. See?

After banging out some classical licks on a piano that did seem pretty memorable, Moore invited me to the orchestra's performance of Mahler's Sixth, with guest conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Not only was this supposed to be a great performance, but more important, I could tell people, "I saw Eschenbach do Mahler's Sixth." Moore was starting to understand my needs.

I think your needs are clear.

But before I went, Moore suggested -- against his earlier advice -- that I actually get the disc and listen to it once or twice. This could help with my most serious hurdle to remembering any piece I hear live: staying awake.

Good Lord.

"The familiarity of a piece is like a return drive," he said. "It doesn't feel as long because you recognize the landmarks along the way." Also, during the performance, I could focus on a particular section -- say, the bassists -- to give me something to do with my eyes besides close them. That's when I got the awesome idea for Solid Gold Philharmonic Dancers.

That is totally an awesome idea, brah! How about "Orchestral Babes Gone Wild!"?

When I got home, I downloaded Leonard Bernstein's version of Mahler's Sixth and read the Wikipedia entry about the symphony. This turned out to be really smart because I found out the symphony not only requires a triangle, a glockenspiel and, awesomely, cowbells,

Cowbells are, admittedly, awesome.

but, according to Mahler, a hammer that was to be pounded "breif and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a nonmetallic character (like the fall of an axe)." Somewhere, a child-prodigy percussionist is being yelled at for not pounding a wooden hammer dully enough.

I’ll give you that one.

That night, I did a lot of staring at the hammer guy, who, to my delight, was also the triangle and cowbell guy. And his hammer was this gigantic, Wile E. Coyote-sized mallet that he slammed maybe five times onto this enormous wood chopping block on wheels. I couldn't decide if I was more delighted by the notion of Eschenbach, who conducts this symphony all over the world, trying to persuade airport security to let him board with his carry-on giant hammer, or the idea that the Philharmonic keeps a giant hammer and table in storage just for Mahler's Sixth. Or that, for the rest of my life, I can talk about the sublime dullness of the hammer, which gets lost on recordings, as soon as Mahler's Sixth comes up in conversation. Which it will. Because I will bring it up.

Yes, yes you will. Because you saw it, and bothered to learn something about it.

See how that works? Just like wine. In the end, did you learn this? No?

Sigh. Again, I know it’s a humor column. Touting ignorance, snotty-ness, and ridiculing things you know nothing about is hilarious. I almost didn’t do this post. And it is, after all, funny. However, the point (easy cultural legitimacy) is undermined by the fact that the author actually did some research, listened to the piece, and went to the concert.

So what was the point again?


Empiricus said...

I didn't find it funny, just hackneyed. But, he sure prides himself on his humor. Doesn't he? Ironically, his bio was cynical, pedantic, patronizing, etc., ad infinitum, hidden by self-deprecation; it was anything but funny or witty...oh, his poor, poor students.

Either way, I don't understand the impetus to satirize classic [sic] music snobs, unless it's a metaphor for a greater subject or, worse, a "classical music is dead" reinforcement. But, if that's the case, then it wasn't clear, thus, not humorous. Boo. FAIL!

Gustav said...

There's a special place in hell for people who say things like, "I saw Eschenbach do Mahler's Sixth."

anzu said...

Heh. Don't read the comments on my latest post. :-P I actually talked about the peculiarities of audience expectations that are endemic to classical music performances.

First, geez, this is Joel Stein, we're talking about. Never take anything he says seriously. I mean for heaven's sake, the article starts with a glaring typo. (Afew) Any article that starts with a mistake, imo, is not worth my time.

In fact, the very act of linking to him and allotting blogosphere space is already giving him too much credence. He might even be getting paid based on the number of pageviews and links he gets to his article. Do you really want him to earn more $$ for writing. . . this!?!?!? (note: this=his column, not your critique, in case the antecedent was unclear)

Seriously though, this is the sort of stuff he writes.

And Mahler 6 is a really bad way to introduce someone to classical music.

Sator Arepo said...


Yeah, I felt bad about the free publicity, but I couldn't let it go. I'm weak, I guess. Or perhaps baited.

(And I already have read your most recent comments. No worries.)

Aaron said...

Yeah, I felt bad about the free publicity, but I couldn't let it go. I'm weak, I guess. Or perhaps baited.

Yes. In fact, on the evidence of this piece I think you could refer to Mr. Stein as a master baiter.

Murderface said...

Iron Maiden swings, cat!

Murderface said...

Overall, meh. What's true about this kind of humor is the same as what's true about ethnic-, religion-, gender-, race- or whatever-based humor: If it were funny, we wouldn't be offended.

This 'humor' fails the test.