Monthly Archives: December 2012

My 2012 New Years Resolution: How’d I do? (Hint: Not that great . . .)

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve made it to December 31.  This is the night that, as Neil Degrasse Tyson likes to point out, we humans have chosen arbitrarily to mark the end of another cycle around our sun.  It’s a time that we humans have also chosen arbitrarily to make attempts to better ourselves.

I’ve never successfully kept a New Years resolution for the full year.  One year I lost 30 pounds by my birthday in August, and every last one was back by Christmas.  Then, there was the year I decided to knit a sweater a month.  I don’t think I even completed one.

For 2012, I chose my resolution a little differently:  I decided to set a resolution that I knew I would enjoy keeping.  This time last year, I decided that, while there are so many arts and cultural goings-on here in Washington D.C., and the area surrounding it, and I often read about this exhibition, or that concert, I never go.

Why don’t I ever go to these events that I know I’d enjoy?  Because I spend all my money on opera tickets.

So for 2012, I resolved to “enjoy more art that is not opera.”  And I set the following criteria to define success for myself:

  1. See a ballet
  2. Attend a classical music concert that has no singing
  3. Attend a gallery exhibition
  4. See a play

As of today, December 31, 2012, I’m 2 for 2.  

I did see a play with my friend Millie and her husband.  A Neil Simon comedy set in a 1950’s television writers’ room. 

Then I saw Così Fan Tutte, Nabucco, and Werther presented by the Washington National Opera.  I went to New York and saw an opera live at the Met for the first time.  I saw my friend Michael’s trio of short operas Fallen Angels.  I saw friends star in local productions of Die Fledermaus, Trial by Jury, and The Sorcerer.  I attended a strange, minimalist performance art piece that was billed as an opera, starring certified barihunk Michael Mayes.  I saw probably half a dozen MetHD broadcasts, several radio broadcasts as well.  I even sang in a few operas myself!

Molly and a friend on Opera Night

Molly and a friend dressed for an evening at the opera.

Then, in December, I saw my friend Erica perform as a featured soloist in a choral concert that was held at the National Gallery of Art, which allowed me to (sort of) tic off the third criterion of my resolution.

So, if we take my resolution at purely face value, I suppose you could call it a success.  I did enjoy more art that is not opera.  I also enjoyed (and sometimes found myself unable to enjoy–I’m looking at you beautifully sung, but boring as hell Met Ernani) an enormous amount of opera.

But I still haven’t gotten out to the ballet, even though I am mesmerized by dancers and find their art to be utterly sublime.  Even though every time I see ads for the ballets being produced at the Kennedy Center I think, that looks fantastic!  And I still haven’t been to any orchestral or chamber music concerts even though there is such an abundance of them in this city.

So here’s what I’m going to do:  just carry those two over into 2013.  I’ve already decided that I need to enjoy more music that doesn’t include singers.   Some of that music will have to be enjoyed live and in person.  So here’s the 2013 resolution:

  1. Listen to more non-vocal classical music, and discuss it in the No Voices Allowed listening club.
  2. Attend a live concert of orchestral or chamber music.
  3. Go to the god damned ballet already!  Yeesh!

Enough with the Sexist Crap, Lebrecht!

Alright Norm, (can I call you Norm?) It’s time we had a little chat.

You see, I’ve started to notice something about the way you criticize certain things that you don’t like, specifically what those criticisms say about your feelings toward women.

Take, for instance, this tweet:

Norman Lebrecht (@NLebrecht)
12/19/12 1:51 PM
Nuns, sluts and Mormons head US classical sales, but there’s a cello rising fast behind…

Clicking on the link reveals that by “sluts,” you meant Fifty Shades of Gray:  The Classical Album.

Now, I know that it’s disheartening to see a hodge-podge of an album, hastily cobbled together in order to capitalize on the BDSM Twilight fanfic sensation, become one of the most popular classical albums of the year when there have been so many excellent and smart recordings.  I know.  It hurts.

But you didn’t say that. Instead, you copped out by using a nasty slur.  Look, the book is garbage.  There’s no doubt about it.  But let us make one thing clear: it is garbage because it’s poorly written fluff, not because it contains page after page of explicit sex that got the housewives of America a lot more excited than their husbands ever did.  The album is also garbage, but not because the women (and men!) who bought it are “sluts.”

Speaking of sluts, I also noticed you blogged about Katherine Jenkins this week.  In fact a quick search of her name on your blog shows that you blog about her a lot.  But that most recent post sort of skeeved me out.

Katherine Jenkins adopts nude look for Breakfast

Here’s what she tweeted this morning: Today’s BBC Breakfast look… Nude dress by Jexika. Shoes Kurt Keiger.

Watch the video here. The top quartile seems to be styled by Barbie.

Still, the interview was revealing in certain ways. On going to America to Dance with the Stars, she says: ‘Unless you’re a fan of classical music, you wouldn’t know who I was’.

Oh, Kaff…. classical music, eh? You know, being vegetarian is not all it takes.

First of all, I’m not sure what you found so notable about KJ’s dress.  Nude is a color.  Did nobody ever tell you that?

Again, I get it.  KJ pisses off every legitimate classical musician, because she makes ten times the money with just a tenth of the talent.  But guess what:  her dress is irrelevant to the conversation.  And so is her personal life.

You know, as often as you spew insults at Katherine Jenkins, you kind of look like the boy on the playground who runs up to the girl he has a crush on and punches her in the arm.  Thank goodness you clarified that for us:

In the meantime, we feel it is important that the public should know that no-one at Slipped Disc has ever slept with Katherine Jenkins. Never even considered it. Wouldn’t do it if she was served up pouting on a bed of leeks singing early Mahler songs. Out of the question.

Of course, now we all know what you really found lacking in Fifty Shades of Gray.  KINKY!


I spent some of the weekend reflecting on the tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, but I spent most of the weekend trying to avoid thinking about it.  I read a list of the names of the dead, and cried when I read their ages, most just six and seven years old.

Those of us in the arts community understand, perhaps more than most, that music is a tool for grief.  So this morning, I turned to Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder.  Mahler set poems written by Friedrich Rückert upon the death of his children by scarlet fever.

The text of the poems in German and in English can be found here.


Singers: Stop Listening to other Singers All the Time. It’s Good for You.

I always get kind of miffed when I see those compilation albums that are like, “Relaxing Classical Music,” or “Unwind with Classical Favorites”  because it implies that classical music is boring, or that it can lull you to sleep.  No!  Classical music is exciting!  It’s intellectually engaging!  It’s filled with pathos!

And yet, lately, I’ve come to realize that classical music is an excellent tool for stress relief.  Not because it’s soothing and pretty, but because when I actively listen as melody and harmony come together to tell their story, I can be truly “in the moment.”

Okay, I kind of hate that phrase, in the moment.  It is a little too Oprah-Chopra for me.  But, when I consider how much brain energy I put toward worrying about what has already happened, and freaking out about what hasn’t happened, may never happen, well, I’ve gotta give those hippy-dippy, New Age gurus some props.

Here’s the thing though:  No singing allowed.  This premise does not work with opera, art song, choral music, or any music with voices or words.  I’m a singer and a student of singing and when I hear singers I simply can not turn off the analytical side of my brain.  I’m inevitably singing along, or thinking about how I would improve on the singing I’m hearing, or comparing it to a better performance I heard of the same piece, or marveling at how brilliant it is and thinking about what makes it so brilliant, and lamenting that I will never be that brilliant.  With all that running through my head, I’m not relaxing.

But when I turn put on a string quartet, or a piano sonata, or a violin concerto, then, finally, it’s just music for music’s sake.

Why don’t I listen to this stuff more?  When reading something about classical music movers and shakers not long ago, it occurred to me how little awareness I have of composers and performers who haven’t really impacted the opera world, and I think that’s something I have in common with most singer types.  In college I took Symphonic Lit as an elective and was the only student in the class whose primary instrument was voice.  (As an aside, I’m sort of surprised how little I remember from that class.  I think we talked a lot about Mahler?  I’m sure I had to write a term paper but I have no recollection of what my topic was.)

Singers, we should be listening to more of this stuff.  We should listen because it will make us more well-rounded as musicians.  We should listen because our fellow musicians deserve our admiration. We should listen because, knowing nothing about the technical intricacies of cello fingering, we can enjoy the performance with out being so damn critical.  We should listen because it is a genuinely pleasurable experience.

So, singers, and everyone, get thee to Spotify!  If you’re not sure what you want to hear, check out this list of the top 10 Classical albums of the year.  From it, I particularly enjoyed Jeremy Denk’s Ligeti/Beethoven for being delightfully cerebral.

Or, if like me, you love women who bust into “old boys’ clubs” then check out Nicola Bendetti.  Seriously, there just aren’t that many women in the upper echelons of instrumental soloists.

If you have a favorite opera composer, maybe find out what else he wrote.

I’m resolving to listen to one long-form or four short-form classical recordings or performances per week.  Join me?

Retta Loves Classical Music, Doesn’t Love Racist Assumptions about her Musical Taste

My friend Hillary posted this excerpt from the Conan show on her Facebook today.  In it, Parks and Recreation actress Retta explains that she loves classical music and belts out some Vivaldi.

Now, I’m a white girl.  I have never been victim of racism, but I do know that assuming that a woman who looks like Retta would be a fan of Hip-Hop is capital-R Racist.  And I just love the way she shuts the haters down.  It’s Vivaldi, bitch!

Are Classical and Pop Music Fundamentally the Same Thing?

Certain types of geeks could spend hours describing the taxonomy of the extraordinary variety of music that has been created since the beginning of civilization.  Then again, omnivorous music lovers sometimes joke that there are only two kinds of music:  good music and bad music.

My last essay discussed how the term “classical music” describes such a huge assortment of music that perhaps we need a new terminology to talk about it.  After giving it some more thought, I wonder if we need only one word:  Music.

It seems like the more you explore the distinctions between so-called “popular music” and “art music” (or classical music), the more those distinctions break down.  For example, take a look at this clip in which a young classical pianist collaborates with a hip-hop beatboxer:

Or this one, brought to my attention by Twitter follower @AkselToll, which features a break dancer poppin’ and lockin’ to a similar keyboard piece by Couperin:

Baroque music, like the two keyboard pieces above lend themselves perfectly to the addition of a modern dance beat.  You’ll find that the line also blurs between Rock music and music from the Romantic Period.  Give a listen to these tracks:

One is the opening movement from Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Maj.  The other is my favorite track from Radiohead’s groundbreaking 1996 album Ok Computer, as interpreted by the Vitamin String Quartet.

When it comes down to it, all any music is is just the careful arrangement of melodies, chords, and rhythms.  They can come together to form something elegant, powerful, mournful, or just skin-crawlingly awful.

Maybe blurring the line between classical and pop forms is also the way to grow the audience for classical music.  It would  have to be done carefully though, because the danger is that you end up with more of that skin-crawlingly awful crap that I linked above.  For instance, what if the Vitamin String Quartet were to give a concert in which they played both the Ravel and the Radiohead?  What if an orchestra backing up a pop singer, got their own interlude in which they could perform a Tchaikovsky symphony?  Would audiences go for that?

Music is music.  Wouldn’t it be grand if all music lived together in one big happy family?  Or would it be more like a dysfunctional family?