Did Shaft Kill All of the Editors?

It's been apparent for some time now that the traditional print newspaper is in trouble. Not only little outlets are flailing--some of the bigger papers (see the Rocky Mountain News!) are going under.

Naturally (in the United States), as in public education, the arts are one of the first casualties in newspapers trying to stay solvent.

In many places, the "Arts" (or similar section(s)) are merely listings of upcoming events, and reviews are relegated to online-only or blog-only status. This, in addition to depriving the reader of information/opinion, has the following chilling effects:

1) The "review" is often only a perfunctory blog entry;

2) The reviewer can be given too many assignments to perform adequately;

3) The reviewers are often spread too thin, over a variety of media;

4) The nature of the "blog" review, as opposed to something that will appear in print, is often inadequately edited; sometimes, indeed, it seems, not edited at all.

We cannot, therefore, put the full blame on the reviewer when things turn out poorly.

Sure, we have room for pages and pages of full-color pics of what who-gives-a-fuck wore to the Oscars. And, as noted, print newspapers are hurting right now.

So it's frustrating when a hard-working staff and/or freelance writer like Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is forced into extra duties. She writes for the Austin American Statesman about, well, about everything musical that's not some kid in a coffee shop with his guitar or new band that thinks they'll get "discovered" at this year's SXSW. She covers music, visual art, dance, theater, and Jeebus knows what else...

...now, mostly, on her paper-hosted blog. She gets basically no in-print column inches, er, of which to speak.

Apparently editing, fact-checking, and spell-checking have been eliminated from the budget as well.

Review: A heaven-sent Rachmaninov's Vesper's

Hmm. Well. Good start JCvR, or whoever titles your blog posts...except for the part where "Vespers" [Wikipedia, sorry] is plural, and not possessive. Which is spelled--or, rather, punctuated--correctly for the rest of the review. Anyhow, proceed:

Grammy-nominated Austin choir Conspirare

While Conspirare may be good--and by all accounts they are--"Grammy-nominated" is about as impressive as "breathing humans." Even "Grammy Award-Winning" would put one in such exalted company as Michael Bolton and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Fig 1: A Grammy Award Winner

Grammy-nominated Austin choir Conspirare stunned and awed Saturday night with a heaven-sent (and sold-out) performance of Rachmaninov’s stirring Vespers at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church.

Heaven-sent, eh? Going for the religious angle on the ol' Vespers (AKA All-Night Vigil, Op. 37)? Let's see how that goes.

Hushed and full of reverence, Rachmaninov’s religious mass for unaccompanied chorus is exquisitely beautiful and a departure from the lush piano music or emotive symphonies for which the Russian composer is most commonly known.

Keeping track of adjectives, Rachmaninov's Vespers are:

Hushed, full of reverence, (exquisitely) beautiful

and not:

lush (like his piano music) or emotive (like his symphonies).

Considered the crowning achievement of Russian Orthodox choral music

Considered by whom? Critics? Experts? Many? How about a citation? Vague reference?

Considered the crowning achievement of Russian Orthodox choral music, the Vespers follow the rules governing the church’s music with no instruments accompanying the voices.

An awkward, if factually true sentence. Pass.

And yet, while Rachmaninov echoes the melodic style of traditional Orthodox Church chants

Well, to be accurate, 10 of the 15 sections of the Vespers are actually based on Russian Orthodox chants. And yet, while I guess this could be considered an "echo" of sorts, this is somewhat misleading. A minor point, albeit one that took me all of 30 seconds of research.

And yet, while Rachmaninov echoes the melodic style of traditional Orthodox Church chants, he nevertheless brings an undeniable — though carefully considered — sensuousness...

Vespers: Hushed, full of reverence, (exquisitely) beautiful, sensuous (undeniably);

Not: Lush, emotive.

And yet, while Rachmaninov echoes the melodic style of traditional Orthodox Church chants, he nevertheless brings an undeniable — though carefully considered — sensuousness with harmonies refined to almost a pure essence.

Read the last bit again:

...with harmonies refined to almost a pure essence.

I don't know what that means. Essence of what? Harmony? Sensuousness? Gelfling?

Fig 2: Skeksis Likes Essence, Too!

The fervid intent of the music’s spirituality is undeniable.

The piece...which was written for a church service, based upon traditional chants, intends to be...spiritual. Glad we sussed that one out. Also, using the word "undeniable" in both sentences of a two-sentence paragraph somewhat undermines its emphatic purpose.

Conspirare director Craig Hella Johnson

Seriously? That is awesome. My official unofficial blog middle blog name is now "Hella". Fuck and yes.

Conspirare director Craig Hella Johnson intimately understood the balance between the simplicity and sensuousness of Rachmaninov’s other-worldly score.

Vespers: Hushed, full of reverence, (exquisitely) beautiful, sensuous (undeniably) balanced with simplicity, otherworldly;

Not: Lush, emotive.

Does it seem like any of the words in the "not" category could easily be moved into the "Vespers descriptors" category? I think the difference in the sense of the review would be close to nil.

The choir’s intonation and vocal blend was seemless and perfect, the soloists appropriately soft, the basses gently hit the low B flats. St. Martin’s high-valuted sanctuary provided lovely — and appropriate — acoustical depth and resonance for the spiritually exalting music.

Wait, was this religious music? Because you totally forgot to mention that.

Conspirare’s exacting perfection never translates to stiff, pretentious or distant. Quite the opposite. There’s a sincerity and prescence that underlies every Conspirare concert. No wonder the audience on Saturday hushed on its own before anyone took the stage: The sublime beauty of Conspirare exudes always.

Lastly: "prescence" is, as far as I can tell, more of a common misspelling than a word.

Hopefully, in my overly-long preamble, I explicated my real complaint: The arts are getting the shaft so badly, not only are they losing printed space, but even the most cursory editing is eschewed.

Fig 3: He's coming for you, Arts coverage


Gustav said...

What is a valut(e)? And how is it altered when placed high?

Yes, the role of the music reviewer in most newspapers now seems more the advocate than the locally-anointed arbiter/edifier of culture.

While there may be a few editorial mistakes, the real crime of blog entries like this is that they serve as little more than advertisements. Certainly not the falut (see what I did there) of the critic, who I think in this case does a nice job of highlighting the main work performed, but discussion has taken out of the equation. We learn very little, no context is provided, and the event ultimately passes as just another abstract concert of classical music. Those in the know will go, and everyone else will ignore. What purpose is served? Newspaper are supposed to be a font of information, providing context to the events that unfold on the local, national and international stage -- keep us more fully engaged and educated of the world around us. The more newspapers treat their musical/arts critics as little more than poetic press releases, the public will remain uneducated and organizations like Conspirare will continue to struggle to expand their audience.

Gustav said...

Oh yes -- it's nice to have you back, SA.

Sator Arepo said...


In fairness, this snippet was a preview and not a review; however all of your points are well-taken.

Plus I got to do a Google Image search on "Dark Crystal".

Anyone check out Mr Cantrell this week (Dallas Morning News)? He has a choral concert review that's a doozy. Not a Detritus-y doozy...he's not pulling any punches, go read it. Heh.

Anonymous said...

"...suggesting that there’s a limitation to the variety of emotion inherent in the 12-tone technique?"

I would state that there is a limitation to the variety of emotion inherent in any technique! Every piece is finite, bounded and thus limited as is every technique. It would be impossible for any technique to capture every emotion out there (emotion is finite too)-- such a piece would require that everyone be listening to it at once-- an impossibility when you consider deafness. There are a lot of textures (which are interpreted into emotions) unavailable to tonal music that are available to 12-tone techniques and vice-versa. That's why both should be credible options for the composer today.

writing service company said...

Have you any new ideas on that matter? Grass is always greener on the other side

instadroid said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

instadroid said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)