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CLASSICAL  July 2004

CLASSICAL July 2004

Subject:

Re: My Tower Records Experience

From:

Forrest L Norvell <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 28 Jul 2004 03:30:27 -0700

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Bruce McKinney wrote:

>Several posters have relayed their experiences with the help (or
>lack thereof) at their local Tower stores.  This got me to thinking:
>Is the help any better in the rock and jazz sections of the store,
>and is this whole issue because of the general, overall dumbing down
>of society or the current economic climate which forces businesses
>to hire teens at minimum or below minimum wage?

I would suggest that it's neither; there aren't many rewards for working
at chain stores, and while the employees don't get paid minimum wage,
they don't get paid a living wage either.  As such, you generally get
whatever expertise they have and not a whole lot of enthusiasm for going
above and beyond the call of duty.  At the Tower in San Francisco, they're
well-informed about rock, jazz and underground musics of various kinds,
less so about classical.  The clerks aren't rude so much as disinterested;
they're simply not paid well enough to care about things outside their
orbit, and I don't blame them.

I do the bulk of my shopping at independent record stores -- one of
which, Amoeba, is the largest record store I've been in outside of Japan,
and has a fantastically broad selection.  For a record store, it pays
well, and has a reputation for treating its staff equitably.  I know
many of its buyers -- the foundation upon which any good store rests --
and they're all passionate about their various genres.  As a result, the
store has broad and deep coverage in most areas.  Even in classical, the
stock is varied and constantly changing.  If you can snag one of them
and know what questions to ask, they'll do their best to answer them,
and will generally succeed.

Also, I think, in general, shopping for most other kinds of music is
easier than shopping for classical.  If I want to, say, figure out how
I feel about Shostakovich's Preludes & Fugues, I might reach for my Rough
Guide or my B&W Guide and see what's recommended.  Oh, they recommend
the Tatiyana Nikolayeva recording on Melodiya.  Hmm...  no Nikolayeva
or Melodiya.  All the store has is the Ashkenazy version, and it's close
to $50...  but look, there's a Maxim Scherbakov recording on Naxos, and
it's only $13.  Am I going to regret picking the cheap one up?  I suppose
I could look it up on the Internet when I get home, but I'm here in the
store now.  I could try asking the clerks, but they aren't likely to
have a considered opinion on the subject, given how much classical
inventory they stock, and besides, their tastes are different from mine.

(In the event, I picked up the Scherbakov and was delighted by how
playful and sparkling it was -- very surprising, given Op. 87's reputation.
Recently I found a version of the Nikolayeva recordings on Regis, and
while her playing is precise to a fault, I think I actually prefer the
Scherbakov, which cost 1/3 as much.)

Most other genres don't have so many free variables -- for a given
classical work, the ensemble, the conductor, the soloists, and the
circumstances of the recording are almost as important as the piece or
the composer.  If I run into someone who can give me expert advice on
that kind of thing, I'm pleased, but I'm not disappointed if I can't
find anyone who can help me.  There's a lot of music out there, and it's
beyond any mortal's ability to stay on top of it all.

That said, the selection is still much better online at Archiv, and there
are better deals to be had at Berkshire.  Unless you're really set on
the tactile appeal of flipping through CDs in racks or trying your luck
with the bargain bins, online is the way to go.

Forrest Norvell
ozymandias G desiderata     [log in to unmask]     desperate, deathless
(415)823-6356       http://www.pushby.com/forrest/    ::AOAIOXXYSZ::

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