2/4/08

I Dream An Editor

Should print journalists be held to lower standards when they are publishing their reviews in "blog" form? Even if the so-called "blog" is attached to the "website" of a print newspaper? Do the editors pop out of existence with a dramatic whooshing sound? Do "blog" writers not have access to spellchecking programs? So many questions! Where's this all leading?!

Here!

Review: Conspirare’s ‘I Dream A World’

Superlatives defy most concerts by Grammy-nominated choir Conspirare.

Uh, okay. I am not sure what this opening sentence means. I hope it means you're not planning on using any superlatives in your column. That would be superlative. (Also: Grammy-nominated? I think I once had a sandwich that was nominated for a Grammy.)

Also: I think that the intent of the sentence is to say that Conspirare concerts, or descriptions thereof, defy the use of superlatives. Or something? I'm pretty sure superlatives don't defy anything. They're words. They haven't the capacity for defiance. I think.

And ’ Dream A World,’

I thought it was called 'I Dream A World'. I'm probably wrong. Your proofreader or editor surely would have noticed if you had mistyped the name of the concert you are reviewing.

the latest program put together by artistic director Craig Hella Johnson,

[Aside: I totally wish my middle name was "Hella".]

proved no exception Thursday night, the first of four presentations in Austin and San Antonio.

No exception to...defying superlatives? Okay, I guess. That seems like a tortuously elaborate construction. Maybe that's your corrective for not using superlatives?

The only choir from the United States invited to participate in the World Symposium on Choral Music this July in Copenhagen, Conspirare tried out some of the music — all by American composers — they’ll perform this summer.

That sounds cool. I'm a fan of supporting American composers. Again with the twisted sentence construction, though. Clarity should be the goal, or so I was taught. Embedded subordinate clauses are cool, but can be obfuscatory. Sometimes a sentence that is its own paragraph might be better as multiple sentences. How about this:

"Conspirare was the only choir from the United States invited to participate in the World Symposium of Choral music this July in Copenhagen. Thursday they tried out some of the music they'll perform this summer, all by American composers."

I do not have any degrees in writing. This is merely a suggestion.

Johnson’s always insightful creative programming

I'm not sure what this means. Does "insightful" modify the compound noun "creative programming"? Because if "insightful" and "creative" both modify "programming", the traditional thing to do is to separate the modifiers with a comma. "...insightful, creative programming..." Perhaps you meant the first thing, or I assume you or your editor would have picked up on this ambiguity.

really sparkled

The insightful creative programming sparkled! Okay, I guess "sparkled" doesn't necessarily count as a superlative. You get a pass on that, for now.

with ‘I Dream A World’ (the title is taken from a Langston Hughes poem).

Hey! I
thought that was the title. You must have just mistyped it, there, earlier. That happens. Other things that happen are re-reading, proofreading, and editing. Except when they don't.

Appalachian folk songs and traditional spirituals joined modern classics and inventive choral arrangementsof [sic] popular songs that all together formed a thoughtful and sophisticate [sic] kaleidoscope of this nation’s varied musical landscape — the perfect profile to present abroad.

Um. I don't know what a "sophisticate kaleidoscope" is, but I'm now determined to get my sister one for Christmas. Also, the space bar is really, really big for a reason. In fact, I think it's the largest key on the keyboard. Is that right? Hold on, let me check. [checks] Yes. Yes it is.

If Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ stands as one of the most emotionally effecting pieces of 20th-century classical music,

(Note: The following has nothing to do with this fine journalist's fine writing.--Ed.) Barber's Adagio for Strings is lifted from the slow movement of his String Quartet. He subsequently arranged it for String Orchestra, as well as for chorus in the Agnus Dei version mentioned below. It stands as a schlocky, if effective, piece of over-effusive neo-romanticism. Already barely tolerable, since its inclusion in the movie "Platoon" it has gained widespread acceptance and popularity which has rendered it completely insufferable, at least for me.

the choral version of the haunting work — ‘Agnus Dei — shimmers even more with fragile simplicity and emotion.

Ugh. (See above.)

And Johnson and Conspirare mastered every tender, delicate moment in an achingly affective performance.

Ah. Now. I have to say that "every tender, delicate moment" [good use of the comma, by the way!] and "achingly affective" count as superlatives. Right? The kind of adjectives and/or adverbs defied by Conspirare's concerts, vis-a-vis the first sentence of this review?

Eh, maybe I'm nitpicking. Perhaps they're merely descriptive, and not superlative. Easy there, Sator Arepo. Just because her editor was abducted by cat-faced aliens is no reason to pick on the reviewer.

Eric Whitacre’s ‘Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine’ was a magnificent modern eight-minute mini-opera with its mesmerizing multiple harmonies, shots of dramatic inflection and sometimes pulsating tempo.

"Magnificent" is definitely a superlative. In fairness, it is used to describe the work and not the performance...I think.

However, 1) "multiple harmonies" is redundant unless you're talking about the most extreme brand of minimalism; 2) "Shots of dramatic inflection" is a meaningless fragment (a dramatic opera? Really?); and 3) "sometimes pulsating tempo" is similarly meaningless. Tempi are measures of speed of pulsations. Tempi pulsate, by definition. Tempo and rhythm are different. The rhythms could accurately (I assume) be described as "sometimes pulsating".

Johnson’;s

Really?

own arrangements surprise and delight.

Borderline superlative, in context. Certainly effusive. Effusion is not defied by Conspirare. Apparently.

His gracious setting of Eliza Gilkyson’s ‘Requiem’

Really? I have an open mind about the pop/classical ("art") music divide, but...really? And: is "gracious" a superlative?

still impresses after its debut last year on Conspirare’s Grammy-nominated double CD.

Okay. Like I said, I have an open mind. It could be good. But this is totally the second time you've mentioned "Grammy-nominated" in this brief review. To recap: winning a Grammy is a dubious honor, at best. Being nominated for a Grammy is tantamount to being the Libertarian presidential candidate.

Johnson’s touch on Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of Clear Blue Morning’

Really?

was utter mastery.

Sorry, "utter mastery" is totally superlative. Haven't you heard? Conspirare defies superlatives!

He brought an ethereal yet modern finesse

I have no idea what this means. It may or may not be superlative.

along with great harmonic depth and new twists on tempo that only Parton’s a;ready-lovely tune

Sigh. Psssht. Clean-up on aisle semicolon typo. Any available editor, clean-up on aisle typo. Psshst.

more astonishingly beautiful. How perfect.

Superlatively astonishingly beautiful. How superlatively perfect.

7 comments:

Murderface said...

From Random House's Dictionary, via dictionary.com, omitting illustrative phrases, first definitions only:

defy:
1. to challenge the power of; resist boldly or openly.

superlative:
1. of the highest kind, quality, or order; surpassing all else or others; supreme; extreme.

So, the root of the review's first sentence reads: Extremes boldly and openly resist most concerts by....

I have no idea what that might mean, but I'm having a lot of fun imagining it.

Usually, when one wants to supra-superlatively [sic] praise something, one says that the thing praised "defies superlatives," indicating that previously existing superlatives were found to be insufficient.

Even that construction is the grammatical equivalent of "giving [>100] per cent." It might be possible to redefine a superlative, but to exceed it would be literally impossible.

I yield that this gripe might be pedantic. However, unlike those who commonly speak of supracental* percentages of effort, people who use turns of phrase like "to defy superlatives" usually do so to display their erudition as much as their admiration, and as such, ought to know better.

*This word may be made up.

Anonymous said...

Not to nitpick a nitpicker- but some of Eric Whitacre’s music is minimalist influenced [as well as pop influenced] and uses what could be termed as “multiple harmonies” in a technical description. Now I wasn’t at this concert and don’t know the piece performed, but the chance remains that the descriptive terms used could be proved applicable to the piece. This goes to prove a point which is that any words are essentially powerless to describe musical events. At least a superlative ridden article might create an enjoyable read rather than a complete “technical” readout of the concert (which I might add would be equally incomprehensible if you haven’t heard Eric Whitacre’s music to begin with). Small point regardless- keep up the good posts.

LBrezhnev said...

Not to nitpick the nitpicker of the nitpicker (well, yeah, I guess that's what I'm doing), but SA's point is that in the vast majority of Western concert music, outside of the very purest forms of minimalism (the "play a C7 for 4 hours" variety), there are always "multiple harmonies". The phrase, regardless of Whitacre's influences, minimalist or not, is too obvious to offer any insight at all. We wouldn't write about Beethoven's multiple harmonies... (But he has I and V! Multiples!)

I suppose you could make an argument for single harmonies based on some kind of head tone/bass diad at the background level, but that makes me want to induce emesis via fetid, five day old oysters.

Sator Arepo said...

@ Murderface:

Good point. I noticed this too, and amended the post to reflect it.

@Anonymous:

I understand your point. The word "harmonies" seems in this context to simply mean "chords". I could be wrong. Basically, I agree with Comrade Brezhnev's defense of my assessment. However, your comments and insights are most welcome, and your point is well-taken.

Whitacre's music is indeed often minimal. Your objection is noted, sir. Thanks for reading!

Empiricus said...

For Ryzin's information, a mini-opera is called an operetta. So, in lieu of her tini-oversight, I will call an eight-minute operetta, an operini.

Pshhh. "Dream a World." Sounds like an essay by an eight-year-old Martin Luther King. I will call him Martini.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Ibrezhnev, I should have clarified my reading. Does “multiple harmonies” refer to multiple simultaneous harmonies (I + ii) or multiple consecutive harmonies (I then ii)? I interpreted it as the former as the later is truly non-instructive (as been pointed out now a few times). Most terms referring to musical attributes are essentially powerless- when we talk about a “Symphony” are we talking about a pleasing consonance, or a two-headed drum, oops, or a multiple movement piece for orchestra? Even the later in the "common-practice" could refer to a piece with a time range of 5 minutes to 105 minutes and from one to several movements. Not helpful.

My finer point centers around the question- what words can we use effectively to describe musical affect? The answer to this subsequently makes me more sympathetic to reviewers trying to “cover” concerts. And to think all this, and I don’t even like Whitacre!

Mush Mouth said...

Can I nomiate this editorial review for a Grammy?

I'm thinking...record of the year? 33rpm if possible.