ArtsWatchers arriving today might notice that I’ve shut down the comments to Tristan Bliss’s “non-review” of a recent 45th Parallel concert.
That’s not unprecedented, but it’s not something I expected to do at all when ArtsWatch flickered into existence on July 1, 2011. ArtsWatch was supposed to be a place that encouraged debate and disagreement. It still is but not when the comments attack the writer or other commenters personally. I killed off several comments that went WAY beyond what I consider constructive argument, though I left a few I find pretty awful just so you can get a little flavor of what I’m talking about.
No, calling out the writer and challenging him to compose a piece for 45th Parallel if he has “the balls,” as one 45th Parallel musician did in the thread, really isn’t constructive. It IS kind of amusing, from the outside, especially when Bliss, a music composition student, picked up the gauntlet. But if you look at it from Bliss’s point of view—and I’m just imagining, I haven’t talked to him—it must be a little startling. 45th Parallel swims in the ocean he hopes to compose for, and the hostile reaction his “non-review” received must be giving him serious pause. I hope it makes him yet more resolved to push his ideas about how classical music can and should evolve in the 21st century, though I’d understand if he took his musical interests in an entirely different direction. At this point lemonade is still possible if Bliss composes a piece, 45th Parallel plays it, a new audience hears it, and we all rocket forward toward musical experiences richer than ever.
Some commenters thought that Bliss’s post (which I didn’t edit, by the way) shouldn’t be a part of Oregon ArtsWatch at all. Let’s clear that one up right away. ArtsWatch gives arts writers a place to publish and provides a development process that we hope will help them down their paths as writers. We believe that those engaged writers can make the culture-shed we inhabit better—more responsive to change, more aware of the possibilities for the future, fairer, more inclusive, more democratic, and yes, even more musically astute. If Bliss continues to write for ArtsWatch—and I hope he does—watching his turns and shifts will be fascinating. One of the best descriptions of a critic I ever heard: A critic is someone whose education goes on in public. I love the open-endedness of this, the very opposite of the image of the close-minded critic we are used to seeing. Yes, Bliss has a home at ArtsWatch for as long as he wants it. Of course, you do, too! And so do the many writers who contribute to our classical music stream, each coming at things from a different perspective. That multiplicity is one of the things I’m happiest about on our site.
This is aside from what I think about the essay, which took a 45th Parallel concert as a jumping off point to talk about how classical music can become more exciting to Bliss’s generation than it is now. (He was a lot more passionate about it than that simple sentence is, which is why he got the reaction he did, I suspect.) I would love for a discussion about that topic to continue on the comments thread here. Not just assertions and certainly not insults. Real arguments.
- What responsibility does any classical music organization have to the music composed in its own time? What about its own geographical place?
- What responsibility to classical music in general does that organization have to cultivate its own future audience?
- What responsibility does it have to make it clear what it thinks is at stake in any given program it produces?
Those are the questions I thought about after reading the Bliss essay. And then I tried to imagine various schemes and mechanisms music groups might employ for various answers. Bliss suggested a few for those groups who do want to locate and attract new audiences. I would count 45th Parallel in that number, by the way, despite the reaction to the essay, and I know a little bit about how much energy the group has put into its education efforts. I thought the program in question was pretty progressive, actually, though I didn’t attend. Which is why I found their response to the post disconcerting, though maybe, after 38 years of working in the media, I’m more inured to negative comments than 45th Parallel is. If you accept the challenge to create experiences that a new generation of classical music fans will enjoy and embrace, then Bliss’s post is simply a data point to be considered in your problem-solving.
So, those questions. If you have thoughts about them you’d like to share, by all means! The comment thread rarely approached any of them, and if you’re really interested in the existence and evolution of music in the classical tradition, they are the ones that matter. Let ‘er rip!