Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Strange bedfellows

Excellent article in the Vancouver Sun about the CBC Radio Orchestra fiasco, bringing up some very pertinent issues, and breaking down the CRO's budget to a cost of $0.02 per Canadian, which is revealing in the extreme. On this matter, if the comments sections following many such recent articles are to be believed, I find myself in bed with a class of people whom I'd normally decry, that quasi-jihadist sect of snobs who loudly insist that classical music is the only legitimate musical art, and everything else is garbage. That argument, it goes without saying, hurts the CRO's cause more than it helps, and I have no doubt that most of these people would be quick to denounce the greater part of the music I and other living composers write as tuneless, formless crap. And yet, we're forced onto the same side by this issue.

Anyway, Janet Danielson of the Canadian League of Composers asks some tough questions about the CBC's new classical policy, or lack thereof, but the lines that most stuck in my mind were the following:

"Have we really reached the point where to voice a preference for classical music is to disenfranchise oneself?

Then there is the question of genre. The CBC website breezily assures us, "we'll be drawing from a broader, richer and diverse spectrum of music: classical, jazz, folk, world, R & B, singer-songwriter and roots.

Breaking down music into categories of genre is not as clear-cut and fair-minded as it might seem.

Why have "classical" as a single genre -- why not Renaissance polyphony, 19th century art song, French baroque opera, serial music, and minimalism, just to name a few?"

The CBC's much-touted (by the CBC) new aim of being more inclusive of other genres flips the supposed elitism of classical listeners by cramming centuries of musical art into a catch-all category, making it much easier to dismiss. To be honest, I was never entirely thrilled with the classical programming on the CBC, or many NPR stations in the US, for that matter, with their broad over-reliance on 18th- and 19th-century warhorses and kleinmeistermusik from the same period. Any modern/contemporary music you'd hear in time slots before 10 p.m. tended to be "safe", i.e. highly accessible. My "classical" listening tastes are overwhelmingly centered on music from before 1600 and after 1900, arguably the least represented periods in classical radio programming. My listening preferences are/were not really being met, yet if I argue to preserve classical programming, am I trying to suppress other genres in the eyes of the CBC brass?

I'm not a connoisseur of many genres outside my field, though I do try to listen to – and understand – a lot of different kinds of music. I'll freely admit that I couldn't tell you the difference between folk and roots. That probably makes me elitist in the eyes of some, though I prefer the term "specialist". But what is the lumping of minimalism, French baroque opera and Renaissance polyphony into the same category of "classical" music, then shoving it aside in favor of other, much more specifically defined genres within popular music, but the same ignorance and snobbery in reverse?

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