I Am Sitting In A Room

Commentary and thoughts on (mostly) classical music.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Sol - La - Ti - D'oh!

The Simpsons roasted classical music a couple weeks back. I only saw the episode mentioned on a couple of the blogs on my regular route. The Artful Manager & Adaptistration both have quick synopses and relevant quotes. Follow the links for a recap if you didn't see the show. Neither writer found the episode’s treatment of classical music as disturbing as I did.

In the space of two minutes the music was summarily dismissed as dull and irrelevant. Three separate strands - the core symphonic tradition, complexity/atonality and simplicity/minimalism – got this treatment, and a handful of diminishing stereotypes were thrown in for good measure (effete musicians; even the players don’t like new music; da-da-da-dum – the hook as cell phone ring - is all that matters).

Usually the show balances respect for art and artists while backhanding the greedy, corrupt and misguided motivations of the people and institutions around them. In an earlier episode, Homer is exploited by an art dealer who sells his heap of junk as "outside art." After being a flash in the pan, Homer decides to find his voice and create an original piece. Marge introduces him to Pop Art with humorous results that do not once denigrate the art.

In the same way, this recent episode skewered Springfield’s plans to build a performing arts center to bridge the “culture gap” with its rival neighbor Shelbyville. They hire Frank Gehry to design the hall and while both he and the Disney Hall-esque PAC are gently lampooned, the radical design was never ridiculed. None of the townsfolk looked at the model and said "What the hell is that?" Gehry even guest voiced his character.

Classical music did not get the same evenhanded treatment. No one stood up to defend it. Couldn’t the writers have found a place to drop in a classical music luminary - someone like Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, or Lang Lang? The conductor was a generic nobody, basically a straight man. And Lisa - the musician of the family and the cultural conscience of the town – why didn’t she have anything to say about the Philistines of Springfield?

The darkest irony is that on opening night the hall was completely full of precisely the people arts administrators want to see – the everymen and women of Springfield. And they walked out of the most sure-fire programming imaginable – Beethoven’s Fifth. If things have got that bad then we are right and royally screwed.


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