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CLASSICAL  February 2005

CLASSICAL February 2005

Subject:

Re: Crumbs From The NPR Table

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 25 Feb 2005 17:07:20 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (128 lines)

Kevin Sutton replies to me:

>>I've got nothing against Car Talk per se, but I do wonder why a
>>publically-funded station carries it.
>
>Perhaps for the same reason that they carry Garrison Keillor or Mountain
>Stage or The Thistle and Shamrock or From the Top or Marian McPartland's
>Piano Jazz or Broadway Revisited or Hearts of Space or Jazz Profiles or
>Jazzsets with DeeDee Bridgewater or Lost and Found Sound or the Minnesota
>Orchestra or Performance Today or Pipedreams or the St. Paul Chamber
>Orchestra or St. Paul Sunday or Sunday Baroque or Symphonycast or World
>Cafe or World of Opera to name a few.

I don't know about you, but my station can afford to carry only two of
those shows.

>>NPR news is probably the best this country broadcasts, but does anybody
>>need more than four hours of it a day?  This American Life, Terry Gross,
>>and the other chat are fine programs - Gross is one of the best
>>interviewers around - but they don't contribute anything basic to the
>>culture, as classical music, roots, and jazz do.
>
>The list I wrote above contains twenty programs predominately devoted
>to music.  Nine of those are classically focused.  For some reason all
>you guys who continually whine about NPR have come to the conclusion
>that "culture" and "cultural literacy" equals classical music.

Then obviously I'm not one of all you guys.  I've never made that
equation, and I haven't heard anybody on this list make it.  Indeed,
when I wrote, I had roots and jazz at the back of my mind, as well as
classical.  Obviously, your button got pushed, perhaps because nobody
mentioned the other stuff by name.  The problem, as I understand it
from other posts, is that most aren't getting the other stuff either.

>This simply isn't the case.  There is a great deal more to the culture
>of a nation than just the music of dead white European guys.

Yeah, there *is* more.  I argue, however, that the slice is diminishing
not in favor of some rich cornucopia of art, literature, and ideas, but
for one thing: essentially news.

>Terry Gross' interviews are with people who for good or ill have greatly
>influenced our culture, our habits, our ways of thinking.  These people
>may work in television or in theatre or they might write good books, but
>that is all a part of our culture, and it is as valid to public broadcasting
>and discourse as is any musical genre.

Again, I think Terry Gross one of the best interviewers around.  I
have nothing at all against her or her show.  Hell, I *enjoy* her show.
But, as I keep saying, public radio is a scarce resource.  She is still
essentially a news product, and news has come to crowd out just about
everything else.  I'd have no objection to a public station carrying
Terry Gross if they also cut back on NPR news rebroadcasts.

>NPR has a duty to serve the entire public.  Not just the high brow members
>of this and other mailing lists.

I disagree.  It has the duty to serve the public not being served by
commercial radio.

>I don't mean to lecture (and since I make my entire living as a
>professional musician, I think that I have some authority to make this
>statement), but music simply doesn't interest everyone.

Neither does history, algebra, economics, or serious literature.  Does
this mean that public education shouldn't teach it?  Most of the public
seems interested in very, very little.  I'm sure more people know about
Usher than abut Robert Frost.  This attitude simply strokes the prejudices
of the public, just as commercial radio mostly does.  Why then does
public radio deserve public funding?

>There is a diversity of opinions, a diversity of talents and
>interests, and several million paying customers to entertain (yes, that's
>what I said, entertain) in the listenership of National Public Radio.

Well, obviously you have made the mistake of saying that education
excludes entertainment.  Believe me, if I weren't entertained, I wouldn't
stick around.  But the half-hearted attempts that pass for most classical
programming on public-radio stations aren't particularly entertaining,
because they present music without context and, apparently, without much
understanding.

>Those people who send in their pledge dollars have every right to have
>their interests represented as do those of us who love classical music.

Yes, they do.  But public radio was formed to be an enclave out of the
way of commercial and market pressures.  It has become as dollar-grubbing
in its ethic as commercial radio - but among those who like to think of
themselves as "cultured." As has been pointed out more than once on this
list, it doesn't take a lot of money to program a station with the kind
of stuff you and I are talking about, certainly not the kind of money
raised by my NPR station this year.  It's the news and the syndicated
shows that take the bucks.  And the trend is for more of this, rather
than less, which reinforces the commercial ethic, rather than lessens
it.  Again, why should NPR get my money?

>To say that This American Life and Fresh Air are not culturally valid
>programs is snobbery at its worst.

I've never said they weren't culturally valid (although obviously that's
how you took it), but being called a snob bothers me not in the least.
I did say that they weren't primary product - that is, they mainly comment
on primary material rather than produce primary material.  This doesn't
at all mean they're bad shows.  But they are shows of a certain type,
from a certain part of culture - the part that increasingly crowds out
the other parts.  When was the last time you heard Jared Carter's work
or Galway Kinnell's on air?  When was the last time you heard a really
good exposition of history on public radio?  I hear it regularly on
BookTV, but not on NPR.  When was the last time you heard a Harold Arlen
song (NOT from Wizard of Oz) on NPR or an Art Tatum or Bud Powell solo?

>There are thousands of outlets for classical music.  If I, for one
>example, started with the first cd in my collection and played them
>through to the last, it would take me nearly two years of 15 hour a day
>listening to get through them all, ONCE!

Yes, but you're not the only person on the planet, either.  It seems to
me that public radio has an educational mission, which it seems, in many
markets, not to be fulfilling.

I see too much ignorance even from college-degreed people to be happy
about this.  It feels - though I have no real proof - that the education
needed to sustain a viable culture is dwindling.  There may well come
a time that so few people will know enough to want to hear a motet by
William Byrd that no recording company will issue the software.
Complacency over this doesn't seem justified.

Steve Schwartz

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