Monday, February 08, 2010

My Wife the Socialist?

I was slightly amused to find my beloved wife Marjorie reading articles on World Socialist Web Site. Not that there is anything wrong with a socialist view of life. I grew up with it, taking universal health care and free schooling for granted. In Scandinavia, even the conservatives are further left than any of our liberals. Marjorie remarked how sensible most of the articles she read were. Of course they are. When the Greenback stops being your God and you care about your fellow humans, it all makes perfect sense. Wasn't Jesus a socialist, or some would even say, a religious communist? We had a strong socialist movement between the two wars, with powerful unions. Then WW II happened and it was followed by the Cold War almost immediately. Having anti-capitalistic thoughts or ideas meant that one was a traitor. Although socialism was never outlawed, the anti-Soviet sentiment was understandably high and it was easy to be labeled a communist and have one's career ruined for good. McCarthy's ideas survived a lot longer than his political career. Somehow I feel we would be better off today if In Money We Trust would never have become our motto. Applying for my visas to the US as a student and later to emigrate, one of the questions was Have you or any of your family members ever been a member of a Communist Party? I don't know if such questions still exist.

I found two articles my wife had printed out, both talking about the arts, but written a year apart. They make perfect sense and don't sound the least bit political to me, other than pointing out how American style capitalism has failed the arts. The newer one, Major symphony orchestras in US face funding crisis and the other from a year ago, Massive cutbacks in arts funding by US companies, governments both are well researched and written, strictly sticking to the facts. Most media coverage today, no different from yesterday, seems to have an agenda. Much of the coverage today exists only online and it is unlikely, that a person who is directly involved in a field such as music, would accidentally read these utterances. Printed word still seems to carry more weight, although less and less every day. Gone are the days when a newspaper could give something a stamp of approval or disapproval and it would actually sway the public opinion. On the contrary, praise in the media is viewed as something fishy and people rush to see movies and read books that have been banned by the critics. 

Often one wonders about music critics' intentions. Last year at some point a NY Times review was very negative about their local orchestra's principal horn's performance as if he should be replaced because of this bad write-up. Then other critics for the same publications rushed to praise the same fellow, as if to say Don't you dare touch him. Just recently the paper gave a glowing review to the Chicago Symphony and many of its individual principals but again picked on their solo horn. The French horn is a tricky instrument and even normally wonderful players can sound awful at times. Perhaps the paper should send its reviewers to the provinces to hear how hideously a has-been can sound. Age is not kind to brass players, either, and it shows quite easily with musicians tooting their horns and trumpets.

Newspapers have had to downsize and art coverage has been one of its first victims. This is not surprising as such a tiny percentage of Americans care about the arts. Critics have been fired or bought out. This often has been for the better as these deaf-and-dumb people knew next to nothing of what they were writing about. Sometimes a review would be written in advance: I particularly remember a flautist being praised in print to high heavens by his good friend the mighty critic. Too bad he had fallen ill and wasn't playing the concert. As these people are purposeless today and no one is going to hire them, they may start writing for a blog, churning out the same biased nonsense as before. But one has to go to a blog to find it. In a paper a reader might accidentally bump into an art review while looking for the business or sports pages. No such luck online. A blog or someone's home pages are only interesting if they are about a wide range of topics and have thought-provoking content. A pink-slipped critic's writing skills don't add up to much and any reader, perhaps at first a regular, will soon see through an agenda and quit visiting the pages, especially if donations are asked in order for the blog or similar venue to stay alive.

Usually local art blogs praise the event being "reviewed", to please the people involved, thinking that brown-nosing will work both ways, even long-term. A couple days ago I was sent a link to a different kind of a local blog. At least the writer was at some point a well-respected professional, so his opinions carry some weight. A local organization specializing in vocal cord activity may not be very pleased as the writer was not particularly happy about a high-school budget musical production of a Mr. Green whose works they are specializing in this year. Break your piggy-bank in the summer and there won't be much left for the winter. But controversy is good: niceties don't advance any cause. The organization in question prefers using very zaftig singers on stage, perhaps so that the old folks with poor eyesight can see them from a distance of a quarter mile. This at the time when the Met and European opera houses prefer eye candy, as with high definition cameras zooming in, looks do matter. No cameras locally and no weight limit either. May be this setup is a blessing as the oversized singers can find work here and Musical Models can stay in the big cities.

Another sad sign of the times: a landmark violin shop in Philadelphia has closed its doors. Moennig & Son was rightfully famous and will be sorely missed after serving us fiddlers for over a hundred years.