Titles Are Meaningless

As titles go, some are pretty disconnected from the gist of the text, and since they aren’t always chosen by the author, it’s a double-edged sword, a "chicken or the egg?" question: who’s to blame? The author or the editor?

Take this gem from The Barre-Montpillier Times Argus:

Is new music cutting edge anymore?

Thinking to myself: Hmmm. That’s good question. Isn’t it? I suppose I have my opinion, but I’ll reserve that until I read the rest of the article. I’m reasonable, right? Right.

To all the Detritusites: Given the title, it would seem to follow that we’re about to read a piece about how new music is, or is not, pushing the boundaries. Are you on the same page with me?

Good. Let’s go.

It's been a long time since Vermont audiences have had to be conned into listening to contemporary music, particularly music from their own state.

Uh, two things. One, define “a long time,” please. Seems to me I remember a concert on November 15th, featuring Elliott Cater and Olivier Messiaen, another the 14th before that, and two more October 18th and 17th before that. And those just by the ensemble about whom this article was written.

Moreover, “conned?” If the title is any indicator, then it sounds like our author hasn’t been conned for a long while, the last time only because they featured a raffle for a brand new Sega Genesis.

But it was the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, a group of central Vermont professional musicians, that broke the ice – beginning its crusade to bring today's music to today's audiences more than 20 years ago.

Huh. So really our author means, “Back in 1989, it had been a long time since Vermont audiences were conned.”

Or the title’s “cutting edge” refers to breaking the ice, somehow. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that the rest of the article is a neutral sort of puff piece, kindly describing the new pieces on the upcoming program, putting the performers under the spotlight, etc., etc.

So what gives? Is new music cutting edge? Hello? Did the editor actually read the piece? Or did the author decide to inject his opinion in the title and proceed to write some rather pleasant puffery?

Titles are meaningless.


One more “chicken or the egg?” gaffe:

Unlike the recent [Vermont Symphony Orchestra] program titled "Romance," there's no theme here.

But earlier:

Next weekend, the VCME will present "Enchanted," [...].


Old Is the New New?

As a rule of thumb, I blindly support most new music organizations and their endeavors. Take Akron’s Tuesday Musical Association, for instance:

Tuesday Musical is embracing music made by artists who haven't been dead for more than a century.

...which includes such composers as Saint-Saens, Bruch, Massenet, Sarasate, Fuchs, d’Indy, Janacek, Elgar, Chaminade, Ysaye, Puccini, Mahler, Debussy (who could forget Debussy), Dukas, Busoni, and even Richard Strauss, to name a few.

Hooray, I kinda suppose. Just ask Tuesday Musical’s executive director about the FUZE concert series:

''The target audience is adventurous listeners.”


''What we envisioned was, this series would be presented in an intimate space and what better place than the museum?''

While, yeah, they’re playing newish music, boo, they’re playing it in a museum. Is anyone else’s Irony Meter furiously flashing red?


To their credit, the FUZE concerts sound more hip than Malcolm X Abram's puff piece or I make them out to be.


Thinking Food

So, it's not so much of a critique as it is a I-shoulda-thought-about-it-more-so-let's-think-about-here post.

Having pondered it for a while, I decided to sign the petition to create a cabinet-level post for the arts. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to think about the ramifications of having the arts bureaucratized. What would it look like? David A. Smith of the Wall Street Journal has some interesting things to say about it. I don't think it's as bad as he portrays, but he nonetheless makes his argument well.

Needless to say, I no longer have an answer, but still something tells me that it’s probably a good idea, at least in theory.


Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


Anton who?

Anton Bruckner. Now, give me Beethoven’s skull or suffer the consequences.

What are the consequences?




This, a brief lapse of memory, from R.M. Campbell of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

They played with fervor and refinement, poise and accuracy, despite the occasional slipping of pitch.

The meaningful thing to take away from that is that the pitches slipped. A couple of sentences later:

It would be hard to imagine a more riveting or illuminating reading.

Um, well...


The Ever-Grumpy Crumpie

Fox News is something of an odd interest of mine. Their brazenly argumentative style and ass-kissing provides much unintended humor for my masochistic sensibilities. I mean, who could keep a straight face when, instead of calling the recession a recession, they call it an “economic tsunami?” That’s sure to elicit the kind of viewer response for which I’m sure they’re aiming. But I find it so grossly transparent, it becomes funny. Still, their slogan, however trampled upon it may be, is composed of ideals fundamental to the notion of a free press: Fair and Balanced. That is, biased reporting tends to distort and deceive; fair and balanced reporting, on the other hand, allows us to make informed decisions.

Now, in Music Criticland this becomes somewhat complicated, where opinions, not facts, are the precious commodity. Unfortunately, opinions come with a certain amount of bias, impinging negatively on the tenets of fairness and balance, which can distort the reader’s impressions or decision-making abilities. If I were to say, “This review is about a genius named Bach—oh, by the way, Telemann was an abominable fucktard,” could anyone take me seriously? An opinion like that is so irrationally vindictive, so incredibly devoid of informative context that only a mother could refuse to spit on it. Conversely, if I had said, “This is a review about a genius named Bach, whose reputation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was lesser than his now oft-shunned contemporary, Telemann,” then, one, my tone is civil (a rhetorical virtue) and, two, I am now charged with the task of substantiating my claim. It’s a win-win for everyone: I don’t sound like an ass and the reader can expect an informed opinion. Even though critics deal in opinions, there are ways to be intelligent, informative and responsible, i.e., otherwise fair and balanced. Simple, right?

Well, for the boys over at ClassicsToday.com, it is the most daunting task, especially when they have to deal with "non-melodic music"—I’d like to talk at length about how stupid that term is, but I’ll save it for another time. Here, George Crumb escapes their non-melodic wrath:

A few years ago I had the great privilege (in cooperation with Becky and David Starobin of Bridge records) of presenting George Crumb with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the Cannes Classical Awards, which were held at the MIDEM trade show in France.

That’s a lot of name-dropping. Just get on with it.

After the ceremony there was a dinner for the honorees, and George quickly amassed a small band of young composer/admirers.

Just for the record, Crumb groupies are popularly known as Crumpies.

One of these, anxious to display his avant-garde credentials, asked George who he personally enjoyed listening to, and rather presumptuously suggested a few of his own favorites as politically correct examples...

If they were indeed his favorites, then why would he need to hedge? He wouldn't.

(led off--if memory serves...

David doesn’t quite remember, so keep in mind he could be pulling this out of his ass.

(led off--if memory serves--by the atrociously untalented Salvatore Sciarrino).

And, unnecessarily, Telemann was a fucktard!

Fig.1. Salvatore Sciarrino


Synonyms and Antonyms Are for Wussies

Anti-goodbye, everyone. Very reundispleased to see you. Today, we get to hear from Andrew Adler of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, [John] Adams was composing in a style that is typically referred to as “minimalism.”

Some have said that scare quotes are for real men only. Sadly, that leaves me out. However, if that’s indeed the case, then Andrew is a real man’s man. He doesn’t even bother to use real words. Why would you when you can just hyphenate whole phrases, instead?

Indeed, [conductor Jorge] Mester used the same language Friday in brief, from-the-stage remarks about “Grand Pianola Music,”

This one doesn’t smell of fermented fish paste, but still. “From-the-stage,” as far as I can tell, is only used in its non-hyphenated form, as a prepositional phrase. Here, “onstage” could have sufficed—a clear, efficient synonym.

...though in such a general sense that those remarks were almost anti-useful.



Written by Robert Jordan (real name: James Rigney, Jr.), The Wheel of Time (WoT) is an epic fantasy spanning eleven volumes. It’s been turned into a video game, a role playing game, and the rights have been sold for television and film. Here’s what you need to know about it, via Wiki:

At the dawn of time, a deity known as the Creator forged the universe and the Wheel of Time, which spins the lives of men and women as its threads. The Wheel has seven spokes, each representing an age, and it is rotated by the One Power, which flows from the True Source. The One Power is divided into male and female halves, saidin and saidar, which work in opposition and in unison to drive the Wheel. Those humans who can use this power are known as channelers; the principal organization of such channelers in the books is called the Aes Sedai or 'Servants of All' in the Old Tongue.

Additionally, there are eight (seven?) sub-organizations of the Aes Sedai, called the Ajah. They are divided into different colors with specific purposes. For instance, the Brown Ajah is devoted to the study and collection of knowledge; the Yellow are dedicated to “Healing.”



Anti-useful isn’t a word; the antonym of useful is useless—this, according to every dictionary and pipe on the intertube-nets. Stupid, huh? Well, not so fast. Further research lead me to a WoT forum, where one member responds to another, while making clear the distinction between useless and anti-useful.

Member 1: The Yellows have a vital major Talent which is utilized very inefficiently, and until recently their research was zero. They are not useless, they are inefficient and thus more useless than they should be.

Member 2: They are useful, but open to criticism on the grounds of efficiency. Not useless, but anti-useful. The worst Healing in the world is still useful.

Huh. So according to Andrew, the word minimalism, in order to describe John Adams' Grand Pianola Music, is useful, but not quite efficient.

Andrew’s vast WoT experience to the rescue! Sort of. (Sigh)


Also, Grand Pianola Music over at the Hall.


Titanium Tetrachloride

As if things weren’t already tempestuous in Oakland, Cheryl North, too, had to get in on the action:

The Oakland East Bay Symphony's upcoming concert, dubbed by its organizers "A Global Celebration," almost can serve as a metaphor for our national identity, as exemplified in the motto E pluribus unum.

“In the motto,” “by the motto.” Let’s call this whole mess, well, off. Shall we?

How can the concert almost serve as a metaphor? It’s either symbolic of national identity or not. Can something be almost symbolic? BART officer one: “Wait. We shouldn’t shoot unarmed people.”

BART officer two: “Don’t worry. It’s only almost a metaphor for unnecessary force.”

What really makes my skin crawl is, perhaps, that Cheryl knew her attempt at a metaphor was flawed, decided to leave it in anyway, but made sure to hedge a little bit.

I mean, here’s the concert lineup: Copland’s Appalachian Spring, a newly commissioned Cello Concerto by Nolan Gasser, and the totally non-global Third Symphony by Brahms. Is that not the picture of standard orchestral fair?

To their credit, Gasser’s work utilizes three unusual instruments:

Fig. 1. Erhu

Fig. 2. Sarangi

Fig. 3. Oud

But relegated to subsidiary roles (remember, it’s a cello concerto), these instruments and their players are the only ties to the title, “A Global Celebration.” This is like to wearing all black on St. Patrick’s Day with the exception of one little green tag on your underwear, which is invisible to those who’ll punch you for not being more celebratory.

But really, is this uninventive program what the Oakland East Bay Symphony is earnestly trying to pass off as “A Global Celebration?”

Does anyone else feel duped?

Fig. 4. Global Celebration in Oakland


Going to Concerts for Free Is An Outrage!

Oh, what the hell. Let's check in with Mr. Cantrell!

FORT WORTH – If I had paid for a ticket to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra concert Friday evening, I would have been really annoyed.

Yeah, going to concerts for free sucks.

A number of paying customers certainly were grousing at the end of a program that, even counting The Star-Spangled Banner, had lasted all of 50 minutes.

God forbid.

Even allowing for the FWSO's shorter Friday format – an hour and a half, with no intermission – there was time for all three of the pieces promised for Saturday and Sunday repeats.

Um. 2 X 50 minutes is 1 hour and 40 minutes. Math, anyone?

But the Friday audience got only the Brahms Third Symphony and Wagner Tannhäuser Overture, in that quirky order, not the Mozart Prague Symphony.

I don't understand. What about the Prague?

Maybe if we'd been offered a 1/3 discount ...

But...you said...you didn't have to pay for a ticket? 1/3 of zero is zero. More or less. What gives?


New Year, Same Detritus

C’mon Tennessean! You’re telling me there’s no classical music news? Really?

No. Not really. (See last entry)

I suppose, in the end, it is nice that there is space for Mahler amidst the sea of other random crap. Though, it is a bit puzzling why the story “Angelina Jolie thinking about brief return to film” is found in both “Celebrities Headlines” and “Entertainment Headlines.” Whatever.

What about the Mahler? (Click) Sweet, a concert announcement:

Tonight and Saturday, the symphony will continue its presentation of "Mahler's Sixth."

Sixth what? The sixth double concerto for fife and ondes martenot? Symphonies don’t just play symphonies, you know! Or do you? Have you ever been inside a concert hall? I mean, just for the sake of your inexperienced concert-goers, it might be nice to say, without a doubt, that it is Mahler's Sixth Symphony, instead of just hinting at it.

I’m glad the Tennessean was able to find the best and brightest. Sheesh. Grammar—where to start? The quotations? A lesson in possessives? Titles? Nicknames?

I suppose, if you’re given space for only 130 words...

No. No excuses for poor grammar. Nor vocabulary. And especially not for a lack of musical expertise.

In addition Joseph Haydn's "59th Symphony" also will be performed.

Commas, anyone? Hello...

Also, “also” is redundant; it is the synonym of “in addition.” Don't forget to watch your word count.

Haydn (1732-1809) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) are from Austria...

So far, so good, Google.

...with Haydn frequently referred to as "the father of the symphony" for having penned more than 100 pieces.

(rolls eyes) I’ve written nearly one-hundred pieces. Does that mean I’m almost a father?


And another little Tennessean promo about the same concert:

While neither piece, thematically speaking, will necessarily start your 2009 off with a big Cheshire grin, Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 in A major “Fire” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A minor “Tragic” remain two enduring examples of brilliance from two of classical music’s masters.

Instead of watching Barack Obama give his inaugural speech, we’re going to show archival footage of his fifth grade book report. It’s not thematically as good, but he got an A on it.

Way to sell it, people. Tickets start from $15 and go up to $85! Enjoy!


Compare and Contrast!

I’m winding down my day, so I’ll simply let you fill in the punch lines. All you have to do is compare and contrast these next few paragraphs.

1. This is an excerpt from Mark Kanny’s puff piece about John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, found in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The action, such as it is, takes place during the day and night leading to the first detonation of an atomic weapon on July 16, 1945. After a soundscape created digitally by Adams, the opera begins with a chorus of scientists singing about physics. It sets a gray, prosaic tone as the characters worry and wait for the countdown to conclude more than three hours of opera later. "Doctor Atomic" is too long, particularly in the time spent at the test site. Scenes in each act at the Oppenheimers' house provide welcome contrast.

Oh, rarely have the words poured from a penny pencil with such feverish fluidity!

2. This is Ralphie’s Theme, from A Christmas Story.

What I want for Christmas is a Red Rider BB gun with a compass and a stock and a thing which tells time. I think that everybody should have a Red Rider BB gun. They are very good for Christmas. I don’t think a football is a very good Christmas present.


And just for giggles, more from Mark’s Pittsburgh puffery.

I like the opera's quietly haunting ending. The novel "Black Rain" by Masuji Ibuse is a good way to explore the world hinted at by the opera's final words.

Kwuh? The opera’s final text...which is quietly haunting...it hints...of a world...in which a different text...enables good exploration...of the operatic text?

Pfft. (brain fart)


And really, it's too long? Opera much?

If It Erratum Enough

This from the Sacramento Bee:

Didn't get that new keyboard for Christmas, eh?


In Defense of Anne

We make it a point to check in on Anne Midgette of the Washington Times [Edit: Er, post] every so often, as we do all our friends in the critics’ circle, just to see how she’s getting along. Maybe we’ll find something to poke fun at, but, more often than not, we won’t. She’s a strong writer who covers a ton of concerts and recordings each week. It’s a tough job.

That is why I think this deserves some attention. It’s a published response to one of her reviews in the Opinions/Feedback section.

Her writing was woefully poor, both in its structure and the specifics of her observations.

Since we don’t make it a priority to comment on comments, I’m a bit apprehensive about this endeavor. But, in the past year, we’ve seen many far, far worse tidbits of poor writing. That’s why I think Anne deserves some Detritus Credit (new low introductory rates, for qualified customers only). Here’s what the opinion writer finds troublesome:

This passage in particular represents how turgid and incomprehensible I often find her:

"Much of [Elliott Carter’s] work, to me, is like the product of an elaborate, state-of-the-art camera used to take black-and-white greeting-card images of urban environments: The technology can outweigh the impact of what's actually being conveyed."

Okay, the simile might be a tad convoluted, but I see Anne’s point. And while I disagree with her sentiment, I’m also familiar with a hoard of other writers who wouldn’t be so tactful, or so aware of their falibility.

What’s more, and more importantly, Anne prefaced her opinion of Carter’s music with the all-exclusive pronoun, “me.” It’s her opinion, no one else’s; the reader is free to disagree. Therefore, it’s “silly” to take it as something else other than an honest, indisputable opinion.

Getting through that sentence was a slog, and what I understood struck me as silly.

Well, it’s silly to be hypersensitive about a colorful simile hedged by “me,” too. (I’d have no problems ripping this a new one if she had said, “Carter’s music is an elaborate...”; stated as fact, that would have sent me Segwaying to a gun show in San Antonio.) The point is subtle, I suppose.

Fig. 1. Bloggers Segwaying

When she said of Carter's music that its "hallmark is a complexity too intricate to be apprehended by the ear," she could have been describing the limits of her own ear.

I do not have, by any means, an infallible ear, but it’s pretty decent. And I’ll tell ya something, Joe Opinion Holder, I can’t hear half the “technical” stuff going on in his music, especially without a score of some form of a priori information. Most can’t (I’ve only met one person who could, and that’s freakishly rare.). So, for most (by most, I mean 99.9999% of people), this is a truism. Are you implying that you possess a set of special, one-in-a-million ears? I think not, Joe.

While I applaud your defense of Carter’s music, Joe O. Holder, your critique of Anne is well off-base.


Also, what’s with the opinion Editors over at the Post? Remember this?