When I started blogging in 2007 I was writing for myself. I joke with friends and colleagues that I am just a guy with a computer who loves music. I suspect most, if not all bloggers start this way. I was writing about the concerts and ensembles I was interested in. I was interviewing musicians who interested me. Two years later, I would like to think I am still writing for myself. And I am still talking to the people, musicians, and conductors I am interested in hearing from. But in the two years since I began this blog a strange thing happened; The Gathering Note, formerly Classical in Seattle, became the center of classical music writing in Seattle and the Puget Sound.
As the PI collapsed The Gathering Note became an outlet for Philippa Kiraly and RM Campbell – print journalism refugees. Readership grew as people looked for outlets where they could continue to read about Seattle’s classical music community. Before I knew it, a vanity project, conceived entirely for myself, assumed a prominent position in the coverage and promotion of music in Seattle.
I won’t pretend my attempt to cover the local classical music scene has been perfect. As J, my frequent concert companion will tell you, I am seldom right in my opinions. I am not always the most elegant writer and I do have misgivings about judging the playing of others when I couldn’t in a million years do what they do. My hope has always been to create a forum where a genuine dialog can occur about music. Joe Horowitz’s book “Classical Music in America” begins with a long overview of the lengthy critical back and forth over the premiere of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony Nr. 9. I strive to create a similar dialog among the writers and readers of this blog.
Maybe I am naïve. Maybe the time for discussion about music is over. I’d like to think the people who come out to Seattle’s various concert venues want more than just validation that the concert they heard the night before was good. Classical music isn’t static so the way we cover it shouldn’t be static either.
Today I participated in a round table discussion with local arts organizations about the state of arts journalism in the wake of the PI’s demise. When I got the invitation to participate, I have to admit, I thought to myself – are we still talking about the PI? There is something grimly symbolic and troubling by the fixation with the PI. Arts organizations fret about aging audiences and lack of coverage, yet they often pander to the tastes of board members and mourn the loss of newspapers while ignoring the buzz of activity all around them. Young people are listening to classical music and critical coverage of the arts still exists. Audiences and coverage have changed while organizations have not. Looking backward is not the way forward.
I am not a journalist by training but I have freelanced. I am a lawyer. I didn’t go to J school and I have never been a staff critic. What I know is arts journalism is changing and I think it is changing for the better. Arbiters of taste are becoming a thing of the past when the Internet and recorded music can help anyone become an expert on Brahms, Beethoven, or even someone like Conlon Nancarrow. There are more tools than ever for people to form opinions about the music they are hearing and the events they are going to and just as many ways to express an opinion about what they are hearing. Facebook and Twitter let Average Joes pan a performance or tout its virtues.
These changes might seem unsettling. For people who run magazines and newspapers it is probably as unsettling as the emergence of Napster was to the recorded music industry. I think these changes bother people because they diminish the power of the print media as an opinion maker. In the process, print media is pushed unwillingly in a direction where a workable business model has yet to emerge and the ability to turn a profit is questionable
Arts organizations are nervous for completely different reasons. As magazines, newspapers, and critics disappear there are fewer mainstream publications telling them their performances are good. Ironically this hand wringing is occurring at the same time the explosion of social networking and other platforms has made it easier for their audience to comment on what they are hearing. This new type of commentary isn’t always good, but some of it is very good especially when compared to the Mad Lib concert reviews we have become accustomed to. Ultimately, shouldn’t the opinion of the audience matter more than someone who brands himself a critic?
I don’t believe critics will disappear, but their role will change. Someone has to shape the discourse. Maybe the role of the critic is one of a moderator; someone who might expound on a subject but never pretend to be the final word on a subject. Maybe a critic is someone who is interested in what other people have to say and is willing to provide a forum for them to express themselves. Maybe the critic is the conduit between the media that remain, the audience, and the musicians. What do you think the role of the critic should be?
I have been thinking a lot about a community approach to the coverage of local classical music and whether a new model, that seeks to engage multiple audiences – musicians, concert goers, critics, media – at the same time is desirable or even workable. The idealist in me thinks it’s possible. The pragmatist in me thinks the type of wholesale change this model would require is years away. With The Gathering Note two years old this summer, I can look back on this site and say I have been an audience member, a critic, a member of the media, and now an editor. I am proof that a new paradigm for arts journalism will emerge. As it does, I will still be a guy with a computer who loves music.
Thank you for reading!