A New Low For Classical Music Journalism

Normally, something like today’s topic wouldn’t even merit attention but this particular transgression is so extreme, it would be irresponsible to let it slide by under the radar (and thanks to Frank Almond over at non divisi for bringing this to everyone’s attention). Specifically, it is a post in the Village Voice blogs by Tom Cowell, published on 7/3/2013, and labeled as “Passive-Aggressive Satire.”

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-023With the odious title The Ten Most Bangable Members of the New York Philharmonic, the post goes on to deliver on the headline’s promise by listing 10 members of the New York Philharmonic along with their (copyrighted) PR photos and sophomoric blurb related to the topic.

Simply put, there’s nothing successfully satirical about this post; it’s just lazy, sloppy fluff. For example, if the point was to soften classical music’s tone, simply changing “Most Bangable” to “Sexiest” then writing related content would have been a better step.

The duo of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report are masters of satire that doesn’t shy away from adult themes but if there’s any underlying tone in this post meant to hold a mirror to classical music by showing an exaggerated reflection of a stereotypical stuffy environment, it didn’t even come close to the target.

Ironically, at the bottom of page one is a link to another Village Voice post titled How Not To Write About Female Musicians: A Handy Guide (h/t Joe Patti).

I could even go out on a limb and offer some benefit of the doubt by saying the possible point of the post was to deliberately generate negative feedback in the hope of amplifying the satirical reflection. But in order for that to work, any over-the-top ideas or content should never cross a line that could agitate regrettable behavior in a field known for its share of psycho-fans (yes, they exist, even in the age of shrinking audiences).

Does the classical music field take itself too seriously for its own good? Absolutely.

Does labeling the post as “Passive-Aggressive Satire” excuse the Village Voice for such a horribly short-sighted decision? Not by a long shot.

Should any of this prevent readers from contacting the Village Voice to complain? Not in the least; to that end, you can contact members of the Village Voice staff via their email contact list.

If you decide to contact them be sure to cite the article title, URL, author, and date published; then be sure to respectfully tell them why you think the article is unsuitable for a publication with a history of quality classical music coverage and what you expect them to do about it.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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12 thoughts on “A New Low For Classical Music Journalism”

  1. If that piece was meant to be satire, I don’t think the intention was to satirize the classical music world; the target was tabloid journalism. Personally, I thought the piece was stupid but harmless. If you want your outrage to be taken seriously, missing the point of the article you’re criticizing isn’t a good place to start.

    • If the point was to satirize tabloid journalism, they could have just as easily used fictional ensemble and musicians. Because that wasn’t what VV decided; as a result, it was far from harmless.

      And a point here: the email address used for your comment is not a valid email address, which indicates you’re attempting to abuse protections typically associated with anonymity. Normally, this means your comment would have never seen the light of day but an exception has been made in this instance because this issue does rise to a level of concern to be addresses.

      Even if we take your perspective as the intended point of the VV’s article, a satire of tabloid journalism, this is precisely the sort of writing that inspires unbalanced minds to act out. The classical music fields has a big enough problem with stalkers, most of which are focused on name-brand guest artists. Many of those individuals can afford the financial burden of personal security. Orchestra musicians, even the NYPhil, don’t have those resources.

      I’ve seen these problems and they aren’t inconsequential nor are they something to be casually dismissed.

      Consequently, using your perspective as the basis of intent, the VV post is just as reckless and irresponsible.

      • The email address I used is valid. I get email there all the time. It’s my main address.

        The idea of stalkers never occurred to me. I’ve never heard of that being a problem among classical musicians. Rereading your article, I see that you did mention that as a potential problem, but it’s so vaguely worded that I missed it the first time. Might I suggest rewording it?

        If dangerous stalkers are a real problem for classical musicians, and the Village Voice article could exacerbate the problem, then I agree that their article was irresponsible. Otherwise, I read it as a clumsy satire of tabloid culture.

      • Classical musicians definitely have stalkers. Even classical music BLOGGERS have stalkers. Especially female ones. I know from experience, unfortunately. You can argue whether or not they’re dangerous, but many of them are unsettling enough that you don’t want to encourage them…

  2. The joke itself is obvious. Shocking juxtaposition of high/low culture, pushed to an extreme. As humor, it relies on the shock value of going too far. It’s about as funny as a frat boy whipping out his junk unexpectedly at a baccalaureate.

    The satire defense (if it’s even being made) is a screen for artlessness and lack of a rich idea. If anything is being satirized here, I suppose it’s our oversexualized culture. Fine. But calling something “satire” doesn’t put it above criticism. Far from it.

    You can see there is knowledge of and appreciation for the broad range of roles required in a symphony orchestra. A librarian is in the piece, and how often does that happen? Mr. Cowell must know a thing or two about this orchestra, and he almost certainly loves it. So, ultimately, this comes off as a really stupid way to introduce an orchestra in a casual tone. I assume that asking these members about their favorite NY eatery may be too safe and stale for the VV. But Cowell could have done something… I don’t know… creative? Aren’t writers supposed to be creative?

    • I think those are good observations all around Aaron and even from a generous perspective on intent, the entire thing leaves you feeling confused and uncomfortable.

      I’ve heard about some theatre groups with regular actors who do multiple weekly shows decide to approach an evening with some odd goals, such as making the audience feel so uncomfortable that they leave and what the reactions would be up to that point. To accomplish that goal they apparently did some pretty outrageous stuff but even then, that is very different than the VV approach.

      I still think that’s giving the VV more benefit of the doubt than it deserves but I’m willing to go that far if it was the case. nonetheless, some of my points above about the dynamic consequences should have been on the mind of someone who probably knows the field well enough to know better.

  3. As a beginner blogger on classical music, I said a silent prayer when I read the title of your article. “Dear God, Let this not be about me.” Having then read the offending article, with disgust, I might add, I concur with your views. It also illustrates the responsibility that any writer has, both ethically and morally to avoid cheap tricks to increase readership. Ultimately, your article inspires me to be a better writer and hopefully gets a cursory extra visit or two to my blog. Thanks for your always interesting and thought provoking articles.

  4. Despicable. At a time when high-profile sexual assaults are horrifying nations (see Brazil, India, our armed forces – a problem for men and women, by the way….) this article is not a joke. The way it was written has nothing to do with the NYPhil, or the poor people targeted – he could have made the same comments about any photos he dragged off the web. It’s not an attempt to “loosen up” classical music, but an exercise in shock jock-ing that doesn’t benefit anyone and doesn’t even make you crack a smile.

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