I Am Sitting In A Room

Commentary and thoughts on (mostly) classical music.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Return of the Blogger

Now that Halloween has passed I'm dusting the cobwebs off of the blog. (I was cultivating them here for decoration - yeah, that's the ticket.)

Sadly, I haven't been to as many concerts as I would have wanted at this point. When I have gone (Ian Bostridge, Tokyo Quartet) I've been so exhausted as to only be able to listen with a small part of my musical brain. It doesn't seem fair to comment on a performance under those conditions.

Politics weighs on me.
I do want to mention the first
Cincinnati Symphony weekend of the year, which happened back in September. Beethoven's 9th, Paavo Järvi, full house. Good stuff, but as frequently happens to me during the 9th, my mind wandered in the finale.

In this case, I found myself scanning the audience for black faces. When I didn't see any - in a city whose population is at least 40% African-American - all of the high flown idealism about universal brotherhood in Beethoven/Schiller's "Ode to Joy" rang hollow. It's hard to imagine any other sampling of 3,000 Cincinnatians being less racially diverse.

The burgeoning citizen in me can't quite reconcile the city's artistic strengths with its economic struggles and the racial tension that thrums in every neighborhood. Can Cincinnati really afford to fund the arts with so many socio-political issues making it an undesirable place to live?* (Ads for one mayoral candidate claim that 11 people move out of town every day.)

At this point I become very torn. I don't like the obvious answer: no. And I don't have strong enough arguments for the arts. Aesthetic worth, cultural health of the community, etc., all pale when half the black population has been officially boycotting the city since 2001. The question of who the arts are for starts to loom awfully large under these circumstances.**

The Butterworth angle.
In a related vein, I'm disturbed these days by the bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's in my cabinet. After the first few times I had syrup, I noticed that Mrs. B was losing her dusky brown color; underneath, the bottle's plastic is clear. Is Mrs. Butterworth so threatening, too strong a black figure to be nourishing America's breakfast table? Or am I being too sensitive in thinking that her racial heritage is being seriously, insidiously undermined?

* Personally, I've been charmed by the
Queen City since we moved here. The landscape and architecture are beautiful, even in the run down parts of town I've been in.
Greg Sandow's new online book-in-progress is titled "The Future of Classical Music?" I hope he gets into some of these issues. The future's short and bleak if they aren't met head-on.


At 5:21 PM, Blogger Casino Kev said...

Glad to find your blog, Jason. I hope you'll post any harsh comments you refrained from making in musicology seminar.

At 6:08 AM, Blogger sandye said...

dear jason,

i was there for the 9th, too, and often find myself looking out over the faces in the audience as well. i always find a few black faces, but -- considering the fact that music education in the cincinnati public schools has seemingly been mostly, if not entirely, relegated to the students attending the school for creative and performing arts -- not nearly enough.

on the other hand, i read a quote in a newspaper today by Quincy Jones decrying the fact that he feels very strongly that today's black youth, particularly the best known rappers, have little or no knowledge of their (*our*) rich history of JAZZ and blues music either!

*very* sad...

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey J,
You raise a valid issue. Classical music is often geared towards the higher social class, and as always, it's the European Americans to whom reap the benefits. I'm not suggesting programming "token black" composers or even pieces that offer a social commentary, but I'm left with the question, "Why WOULD anyone in the lower class, regardless of race, be interested in classical music?" Although I blame everything on music education, their own lack of knowledge and love for the repertoire is passed on to the students in the public schools. Unless they have been exposed to it in their education, they probably have no interest in going. Take me for instance, I have never been to a Gator Football game, nor have I been exposed to it first-hand. Perhaps, had I grown up with it in my life, I would actually care enough to know who the quarterback is. Kind of a silly analogy, but it's the best I can do. --Christina

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Casino Kev said...

I do think class has been a part of marginalizing classical music as an activity for the cultural elite in Cincinnati. But class distinctions in the US are becoming less culturally defined as they are in Europe. Music Hall is lined with CCM and SCPA students, as well as struggling musicians in the community, who hardly represent a financial upper class. While they seek discounted rush tickets to the CSO, their peers are dishing out hundreds of dollars for Garth Brooks and Bengals tickets. The future of classical music in Cincinnati is classless. We need to dismantle these obsolete identities by introducing different kinds of music into public schools on equal terms.

At 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what you are talking about. At the CSO concert tonight not only did I see black faces in the audience, but I also saw one onstage in the cello section. Allow me to ask you what you will hear at your next eye appointment, "Better 1, better 2?"

At 6:52 AM, Blogger jason said...

Thanks for the reminder Anonymous. I do need a checkup, but I am hardly blind. And I would remind you that "one swallow does not make a spring." Even with your observations, I would be very surprised (if CSO kept statistics of racial profile) to find the total season's black audience reach 1%. Doesn't that give you pause?

At 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mrs Butterworth was always white. Aunt Jemimi, black. My good liberal parents avoided controversy and bought Log Cabin syrup in the square tin can printed to look like a log cabin.

But then again, Log Cabins have now become the refuge symbol for gay Republicans... is there any product image out there that's without an added association anymore?


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