Sunday, May 9, 2010

APP on Live Music in New Jersey

An editorial in the Asbury Park Press from May 1 sparked a lively retort from a member of the Monmouth Civic Chorus, printed in the paper the following week as a guest editorial. The writer of the response, Jenni Blumenthal, was ticked that in extolling the virtues of live music in New Jersey the editorial didn't mention any of the local classical groups.

It didn't mention classical music at all in fact, local or otherwise. I suppose as a classical music fan, I should be offended by that. But the fact is, I'm used to it. The Monmouth/Ocean media and general population overlook classical music. It's very difficult to generate an audience for it, even if you're a world-class outfit like the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra or the Opera New Jersey. That's why theaters in Monmouth County aren't even on the radar for groups like Opera New Jersey. That's why the 50-summer run of the Metro Lyric Opera could halt without any public outcry and without attempt to replace it. That's why NJSO now limits its performances here to an educational "Best Of ..." series of one-hour concerts--the NJSO is bending over backward to cultivate an audience because the culture for appreciating classical music just doesn't exist here.

When the media talk about live music, they are generally talking about longtime pop radio celebrities of one stripe or another, names that can fill thousands of seats at a shot. But that's just not who we are musically, nor is it who we want to be. I don't expect everyone to be a classical music and jazz fan. But most of the live music that happens here is in yet another category: hundreds of small local bands that are touring and may exist as a performing unit only for a year or two. But even that rich, vital culture of bands and clubs that host them gets barely a whipser of mention in this APP editorial. Instead the writer mentions only the big theaters and arenas and the acts that can fill them. The most commericial kind of musical experience.

While some current pop stars, like Lady Gaga, make the list, most of the names mentioned by the APP writer are stars in their 60s and 70s who've turned gray playing their hits of 30 years ago. Classical and jazz traditions exist to continually reinvent the past, but pop rock does not. It exists in the moment and then quickly fades into memory. As a group, what these artists have to offer is notalgia for a time when their music was relevant. There's nothing wrong with that. But if we're trumpeting the musical vitality of New Jersey, citing the living dead as an example is hardly the way to go about it.



  1. I've always found it odd that in most weeklies (and let's not even bother trying to scrape up something called "arts coverage" from most dailies outside of the NYT and WaPo), the club and festival scene gets its own "live music" section while instrumental stuff has to share a tiny slice of "arts" pie with visual arts, theatre, dance, etc. Perpetuates the myths that arts coverage is stuffy, bow-tied-critic stuff and that audiences for "arts" and "live music" are hopelessly different.

  2. Oh, so true. Probably the worst is the amount of space devoted to Hollywood movies, with local critics tripping over themselves to review each multimillion-dollar rehash of some other multimillion dollar rehash--most of it having nothing to do with art but with pure Wall Street-style investment speculation. The newspapers cheer or boo at nothing, and somebody somewhere makes out like a bandit either way. Meanwhile a symphony orchestra could be mounting a historic production of a ballet with a visiting company and get one little brief on a back page. Not even an attempt to strike a balance. No attempt to convince people they should come, to communicate the importance of the event. No attempt to appear anything other than a sucker.

    In "Autumn of the Patriarch" Garcia Marquez's dictator sells the ocean to a foreign company who take away all the water. That's the newspaper industry in a nutshell. They've sold the ocean and they're stuck living with the awful desolation. And they're still doing it, over and over.