City Journal Autumn 2014

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Stefan Kanfer
Classic Failure « Back to Story

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Gee... I always wanted to know more about youthful skin and lustrous hair. Now I hear that it's just a 'yammering come on!' Guess I won't hear about 'non addictive weight loss' products either! I don't mean to be disrespectful but surely you see some humor in this! Didn't any of those classical composers wear hair extentions or shapewear? Lighten up, guy. I like classical music, too but I also know its limitations. Be thankful for what you get in this day and age.
"But in recent years, the Times, desperate for income ..." - that is music to my ears!

The NYT under Abe Jr. turned hard left when 'Jr" took over ... remember Jayson Blair? Typical left wing BS.

The fools thought they were invincible because the bought ink by the tanker load and ignored the internet.

The NYT should have sold the newspaper and kept the radio station ...
There was a time when an ideal of the Left was to make high culture accessable to all.

But that was long, long ago. Before they discovered that what was known as high culture was entirely to Eurocentric; thus, to leave it public school classrooms was entirely too hegemonic: It had to go!

And jazz- well, it surely was more American than European, yet somehow it, too, got tossed (except perhaps for some of the more accessable types).

Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, and so popular musics have filled in pretty much everything. And some of it is good (and much otherwise). But what's a kid- who's never been exposed to any music other than 3-4 minute songs in 4/4 time- to think when exposed to some of the longer music forms, or to some of the complex rhythms found in Modern Jazz?

Unfortunately the time to do something about this was 30-40 years ago. And now we're surprised at how grey classical concerts have become, and how difficult it is to find audiences for broadcast classical and jazz?

It's not that all is lost, but, I doubt we've seen the bottom yet.
Detroit has its problems, goodness knows, but we also have WRCJ "(We 'R Classics and Jazz). It is a public and listener supported station but not affiliated with NPR, thankfully.

They play classical music from six a.m. until 6 p.m., jazz in the other hours. I wish they'd go to all classical, but given that the Detroit schools co-own the station, I don't see that as likely.

They do have the brief "this program is supported by..." announcements, but they're quick and non-musical. I consider myself a passably knowledgeable layman in the area, and they play stuff I haven't heard, or heard of, often enough that my horizons are being broadened.

There are also broadcasts of Detroit Symphony concerts, the Michigan Opera Theater, and some other live work. The program hosts during the week (they use a feed from Minnesota on weekends) are knowledgeable, pleasant, and don't intrude on the music.

I used to listen to NPR here and there. Now it's entirely WRCJ and ball games; since I don't like organ music, if I'm in the car Sunday afternoons when they have a two hour organ program of it, I may see what the game or quiz show is on NPR. And occasionally I check out what's on the Canadian radio, although they've cut back their classical programming quite a lot.

At least in this area we seem to be a bit ahead of New York.
The internet is making local radio largely irrelevant the same way that it made local newspapers irrelevant.

If you want good classical music and informative background discussions, try stations online like WCPE, Radio Mozart, Radio Beethoven, and WWFM. The latter broadcasts out of Trenton on 89.1, and is also on one of the HD channels of WKCR in New York. And of course worldwide on the internet. www.ancientfm.com will glue you to your internet radio forever.

Local a.m. radio is the realm of religious programming (a donation of twenty dollars will guarantee that you go to heaven when you die), Spanish music (homesick for your village in Guatemala?), right wing talk shows railing against Obamacare, and medical snake oil salesmen, peddling a dozen different formulations of krill oil that will do everything from make you thinner and taller to growing hair on a billiard ball to ensuring that you never die. Local f.m. is mostly either background Muzak or music that no one with an I.Q. greater than his shoe size listens to, which means most of the American population.

Internet classical music stations are the future, and the future is now. WQXR is irrelevant.
Ya gotta start somewheres.
I second your concerns about classical music programming in NYC. Living in Chicago between 1975 and 1996, I was spoiled by the wide-ranging programming of classical WFMT. Baroque, classical, romantic, and modern; brand name composers and unknowns; chestnuts and rarely programmed works; heck, the station, to its great glory, even aired that killer of audiences, lieder. Plus, the commercials were read by the announcers and always seemed somehow integrated into the music. Since I moved away to the Washington, DC metro area, I've learned the station has become a victim of the same demographic pressures as other, once great classical markets, including NY. Still, I wouldn't make too much of the Cision listings: WETA-FM in the DC area made the listing and its program comprises Top 40 classics only. (The Baltimore station WBJC is quite a bit better, but the reception in many parts of DC is spotty, especially in bad weather.) Want, say, to hear Mahler? You might get a movement every now and then, usually something from the 4th or the Adagietto from the 5th. I can remember hearing the entire 8th on FMT. And, in my experience, satellite radio isn't a whole lot better. I fear classical music radio has reached its sell-buy date. At least there are other ways to play and stream the music.
Balderdash!

Articles like this offer the writer an opportunity to boast of their skill and repertoire, couched in the sanctimonious shroud of "cultural demise."

Perhaps the culture you hold so dear isn't really worth saving.

Culture is simply, "the things we do," and unfortunately, the number of people willing to winnow through the subtle nuances of composers and orchestras that don't really match the verve of the classics is diminishing.

These classics hold firm because they well and truly speak to the human condition and will continue to do so regardless of the specific performance, presentation or audience.

The subtle complexities that seem to make one arrangement stand as superior, ultimately come down to a new marshmallow color in the box of Lucky Charms.

The classics are for the masses, which is where the money sits in the pockets of the average.

Ultimately it's YOUR culture that is moving two standard deviations beyond the mean.

You have become even more special than your mother once whispered into your ear.

Like they always say, if you are "one-in-a-million"; really and truly one in a million; there are 8 of you in New York.

Unfortunately that's not enough to support your tragic radio station

A follow-up thought: One can find "classical" music in almost any format (cd, album, even radio). But to introduce newcomers to "classical jazz"--this takes a bit of digging. This is truly unfortunate. I do not mean, here, to put down the importance of true classical music (of which there is much). But to introduce newcomers to truly classical jazz (Miles Davis and John Coltrane are just the very tip of the iceberg) is almost impossible today. Bach, Beethoven, Haydyn, etc., will always be with us. Let's dig a little deeper, though. NPR shouldn't be only about "classical" music. It should orient itself to what truly has contributed to GOOD music that stands the test of time.
Alas, I reside in the cultural wasteland of Central Indiana. Our public radio stations carry NOTHING BUT classical music. Which is fine . . . to an extent. But less than 2 hours (drive) to the east of me lies Dayton, OH. Dayton's public radio carries not only "classical" music, but, more interestingly, "classic jazz". Why the disparity? Oh well, at least there's Sirius XM.
The remedy I adopted a couple years ago for this problem is to stream BBC Radio 3 into my stereo system from my computer or cell phone. The stream is in high-def and there is more classical music programming than any one person can find time to listen to. There are both "general" music programs but also more specialist fare (opera, choral, live concerts, new CD reviews, etc), and knowledgeable people to discuss it all. In more than 35 years of listening to classical music on the radio I've never found anything to match BBC Radio 3 on any U.S. station, especially NPR-affiliates. Most of them gave up classical music long ago, anyway, and have now morphed into left-wing talk radio.
D'accord! Once again. the dumbing down of the culture.
Right on! Thanks, Mr. Kanfer
I had to go to XM Radio for good classical music 24/7, but it too has its drawbacks.

When I'm on the computer, I also listen regularly to concertzender.nl, a Netherlands station that has a number of genre stations.
It always amuses me when a classical music station falls into the hands of NPR. People, esp. older people who knew public radio between, say, 1955 and 1980. They invariably think it's going to be a return to the quality programing they knew back when. Ha! Here's the guy responsible. Meet David Giovannoni.
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/11/arts/television-radio-public-radio-s-private-guru.html
It is easy to chronicle the decline besetting classical music, both radio, concerts and orchestras, but it is a different thing to suggest thoughts on possible solutions. Stefan Canfer does the former well but remains mute on the latter.
Not all that helpful.
I'm sorry to hear about this QXR slippage; I used to listen online at work. Upriver in Albany/Schenectady, WMHT in its 41st year, save for the morning drive time, has gone to canned (Minnesota) programming in short blocks, yielding one movement segments.

And more recently, amid the incessant put-us-in-your-will plugs, we are getting crossover pieces (Classical pieces adapted to movies, etc.). I suppose that's important to try to attract casual listeners (who might not be amending their will at the moment), but it's a far cry from the aspirational MHT of the past 40 years. Prior to that we enjoyed a QXR affiliate, owned by the Troy Record Newspapers, but WFLY long ago went rock.

Sigh: I think this is yet another of my institutions that is aging out.

As a child we listened to classical music every Friday afternoon during art class. The instructor would tell us a bit about the piece and the composer and we would listen as we did our projects.

The only way to instill a love of complicated music is to expose children to it early and consistently. We went to symphonies and operas at least twice a year.

If one listens to the complexity of the rock and roll from the sixties and early seventies you will hear people who were raised on classical music making rock music. Think Jethro Tull, Chicago...

Today's music is not informed by classical music and is shows in its lack of complexity or use of music theory except by accident

I am not even sure that the culture has any younger instructors left who would even have a basic classical music understanding. Recently a local highschool music teacher explained why the school was focusing on a trite and popular rock tune...because the kids like it.

Baaa
Mr. Kanfer must be young. I gave up on WQXR-FM in the latter 1940s, and tried occasionally the NY City Station. There were two "Classical" stations playing in Los Angeles in the 60s-80s, and one is left, the USC station. The radio in my car, a toyota Camry, lost the quality of its speakers three years ago, so I gave listening, although the local jazz station from Long Beach State is more tolerable, in terms of the ratty speakers' treble range. So I drive silently, and never use the FM radio at home, though my hifi equipment is superlative. CDs will have to do for an hour pre-dinner. I mean, in short, interesting music on the airwaves has been lost long ago, when the other Classical station in LA was sold in the 90s to pop.rock, etc. Driving in the UK and Ireland offers nothing worh hearing. So, that did it, for the 20th Century, though fine recordings of rare and standard repertory are still made. From an age of silver, we went to Bronze, and now live past iron in the age of lead lead leat.
The question is "What to do?" I'm ready to hear some answers instead of the restatement of a problem that is at least 50 years old.
I've pretty much ditched Over-The-Air radio and TV and listen almost exclusively to satellite radio broadcasts which - as Mr. Kanfer points out - have much better and more diverse programming than WQXR. Somewhat curiously, some of them 'broadcast' from S. America, Asia and Eastern Europe - as well as the hinterlands of the USA. (AKA, "Flyover" country.

I too long for the 'QXR of old but it seems apparent the marketeers at NPR don't see it that way and probably never will. Alas, the dumbing down of America continues apace... even at the supposed bastion of sophisticated taste.
The compelling need for financial support has caused some classical music stations to re-orient their programming. The wonderful WRR-FM in Dallas has introduced thousands of North Texans to classical music over the decades. However, a couple of decades ago, the station began to re-format its playing schedule from entire works to individual movements at certain times of the day in order to work in more commercials. Many purists (myself included) were pained by the compromise, but we recognized the financial realities.
The Cision list of top ten is based on Arbitron ratings -- that is, the number of listeners. It does not reflect the content of programming. So those top-ten stations are as likely as not to suffer from the "cloying melodies and warhorses" syndrome referred to above. The one in my listening area, which seemingly leads the top-ten list, certainly does.
WQXR plays wallpaper music that is best suited to a dentist's office. I would imagine that they do this because their audience research tells them so. On the other hand, Q2, which is only available on the web, is fantastic. One could imagine what WQXR might be like if they actually programmed according to the curatorial taste.
What a kvetch. Overexposed Mozart, Bach and Beethoven pieces and - horrors! - Respighi. Stefan Kanfer should be sentenced to 6 months of listening to talk radio and hip hop, and not the interesting kind.
Hey, Stefan! Why not try to convince the federal government to give a bigger slice of the pie to arts and arts organizations?
A such kind of article should pursue not only critical aim but also give some useful information to music lovers. For example, it will be interesting to explore the top ten classical music radio stations. Alas, the proper link is absent.
So true. The station's programming is horrible. Same compositions over and over again. I've emailed them regarding this numerous times. Hoping your commentary will make a difference.