“You were smart to get out of the newspaper business -- I can feel the industry crumbling beneath my feet.”
This is what a good friend – an arts journalist and classical music critic -- wrote to Robert and me last Christmas.
I fear for more than his job, and the jobs of his colleagues. As a professional musician, I dread the idea of communities across the United States losing their local classical music critics. And that appears to be what's happening.
On Tuesday, the journalism website Poynter Online published a letter from the Music Critics Association of North America that was sent to several newspapers. The letter calls for newspapers to stop firing their classical music critics. It came in response to the fact that several major newspapers, in communities with thriving classical music scenes, have cut their classical critics. Those newspapers include the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Seattle Times, Kansas City Star and Miami Herald.
I've disagreed with the local critic, and I've laughed at the local critic. I've been taken by moments of lucidity and poignant writing, and I've had my blood boil over.
But I can't imagine life without the local classical music critic. That person is a glue, arguably THE glue, that holds the classical music community together. This is a person who...CARES! The critic channels a community's concerns about its symphony, its symphony hall, its scene, its up-and-coming artists, the artists that visit the city. The very existence of the classical music critic reassures us of the existence of this form of fine art in a community.
I am reminded of a concept brought up in a book about a different kind of art: gourmet cooking. In The Last Chinese Chef, author Nicole Mones describes the concept of “meishijia,” the gourmet: “Great food needed more than chefs; it needed gourmet diners. These people were as important as the cooks.”
To thrive, art needs its connoisseurs. We need them like we need money, instruments, and a hall to play in. A classical music critic helps a community to develop and hold the interest of this very important group of people. The critic's comments give us a common measure, a place to begin when talking about a performance. Whether we disagree, find holes in the critiques, feel indignant when he or she doesn't show up for a certain event, we have a place to start.
Not only that, but the classical music critic also helps shape public sentiment about a city's public and private artistic projects. Most often the critic is also the arts journalist, and we hold that person accountable for how everyone sees the musicians' union strike, or whether or not the fundraiser raises enough funds or which conductor is chosen as the orchestra's next music director.
Critics play a huge role, and the time is ripe to recognize this, before it is too late. Write to your local newspaper; let them know how important their coverage is to you, and how crucial their role is to the local arts community.
But why should anyone outside the arts community care about the plight of classical music critics? So what if classical music falls by the wayside?
No, the world won't fall apart. Our cities will keep humming, our cars will keep running, and our days will continue to wind from one to the next.
The consequence really is quite worse. If some of the most deeply beautiful and divinely crafted music that humankind has ever produced falls silent, we'll have a sad problem indeed: We'll never know the difference.
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