26 March 2018

Beyond Jerusalem

Tomorrow (Tuesday 27th March) you can hear the results of my recent research into the composer Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, he of Jerusalem, Repton, Blest Pair of Sirens and I Was Glad fame.

I have been fascinated by how his shift from a figure of privilege, wealth and social status to one who embraced ideas if social and political reform - not least the cause of women's suffrage - was matched by his growing professional involvement in music.  It is as if for him access to music by all was part of a long-term political switch from right to left.

In my public Forum talk (5.30pm at the Steven Baxter Recital Room in the Yogn Siew Toh Conservatory, part of the National University of Singapore) I can only scratch the surface of a fascinating life which changed the whole course of music in England - transforming it from being a rich man's hobby to a burning artistic ambition which knows no social or economic boundaries.  But while it might seem that this is concerned primarily with English music, the international repercussions of Parry's life and work resonate as far as India, Tibet, South America and, yes, Singapore. 

Please come if you can.

The Best Choir in Singapore

Which is the best choir in Singapore?

That’s probably an impossible question to answer; and an unwise one too.  Choirs here have such passionate supporters that no amount of compelling impartial evidence could (or should) dissuade them from their belief in their choir’s claim to supreme excellence.  There are also so many choirs in Singapore that it is just about impossible to find a level playing field on which to assess them fairly.  There are choirs which perform weekly, choirs which come together just to give one or two performances a year, choirs which exist purely to compete with other choirs, and choirs which sing for the joy of singing and never wish to be exposed to public scrutiny.

There will certainly be those who claim that competition success is conclusive evidence of choral excellence.  But you only need to read the vitriolic outpourings about the recent Singapore International Violin Competition submitted to my colleague Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog to know that, outside the small circle of those directly involved, competitions in music are universally despised and discredited.  And since choir competitions in particular have minimal relation to genuine, artistically-driven music-making, I think we can discount competitive success as an indicator of excellence.

In the field of orchestral playing, it is easy to point to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and say they are the best orchestra in Singapore.  There are other orchestras who can put up a one-off performance every bit as good, if not better, but there are no other orchestras in Singapore who put up a good performance on a weekly basis encompassing such a wide repertory, and do it consistently well.  Even if an average SSO performance does not excite or thrill, the very consistency of their playing over a demanding annual round of public concerts puts them head and shoulders above any other orchestra in the country.

Adopting those yardsticks for choirs, we can discount those which put on one or two big performances a year, which assemble for occasional showpiece events or which restrict their singing to a narrow band of repertory.  That rules just about every Singapore choir out of contention, leaving merely a handful of school, college and church choirs to be assessed as “the best”.  And since most school and college choirs in Singapore have a single-minded focus on competing, their interests lie outside the world of legitimate music-making and do not stand comparison with those whose job it is to make music for the public to enjoy on a regular basis.    

Some years ago, after having heard me for the umpteenth time bemoan the parlous state of choral singing in Singapore, one of my students told me that I should go and hear her church choir as they were “brilliant”.  I duly went, and she was right; they sang very well.  The trouble was their repertory was confined to cheap and cheerful “worship songs”, where words and music are so formulaic and bland that a troupe of tone-deaf baboons could master it without much difficulty.  Searching for the ideal choir, I visited a few other churches and found oodles of enthusiasm amongst choir members but a complete absence of musical variety or challenge in what they were singing.

Then, a year ago, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd reopened after a prolonged restoration.  We have family connections with the Cathedral – my late father-in-law was an altar server there before the Second World War.  My wife insisted that I went along and report back to her, and I duly attended the magnificent opening festivities. More than anything else I was hugely impressed by the choral singing of the Choir of the Risen Christ under director Peter Low and the music so effortlessly supported by organist Alphonsus Chern, which seemed far better than anything I had heard up to that point in Singapore.  Assuming it was a one-off, a special effort put in for the big celebrations, I decided to go again in subsequent weeks, and to this day I have not heard that choir put in a performance which was not unfailingly good. 

More than that, unlike every other church choir I have heard in Singapore, as a matter of course it performs a vast repertory, ranging from medieval plainchant, through Renaissance polyphony, and French impressionism, to Victorian hymnody and bland American-style “Worship Song”.  I may not always like the music they sing, but I always find it beautifully presented, carefully prepared and professionally delivered.  In the course of the year I would reckon they perform over 60 times, and cover a repertory well in excess of 200 different items – which puts them even ahead of the SSO. 

But over this past weekend they did something which raised them in my eyes to a class of their own and proved to me beyond any doubt that they are a choir with a consummately professional attitude and standard.  They gave a one-off concert which lasted well over 2 hours and which was in addition to their heavy schedule as part of the cathedral’s usual pattern of choral worship.

Most choirs can put on a concert of 2 hours’ duration, but few of these actually involve the choir singing for the entire time.  A Passion presentation usually has intervals and soloists, instrumental and spoken interjections affording plenty of opportunity for the choir to sit down and give their voices a rest.  Not so this one.  The first half comprised over an hour’s worth of uninterrupted choral singing, while the second half went even further and offered a staged choral performance complete with costumes, choreographed actions and props.

For the first half, the music flowed seamlessly from medieval plainchant, through Palestrina, Handel and Duruflé, to examples of the dreaded “Worship Song” and the Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana.  Yet whether I liked the music or not – personal highlights were a divine performance of Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas and a perfectly poised Palestrina’s Adoramus Te – it was all delivered with flawless musical and technical assurance.  Whatever the music called for – be it the overblown mock-passion of The Holy City or the crisply articulated runs in Lift up your heads, O ye Gates – the choir delivered it with stylistic authority and conviction.  And while my artistic sensitivities were seriously battered and bruised by the sometimes incongruous juxtapositions – an astonishingly good performance of the sublime Allegri’s Miserere Mei which not only soared to the height with unerring security but was sung antiphonally from one end of the cathedral to the other, segued horrendously easily into the turgid and inexplicably popular Old Rugged Cross  – I have to confess it worked so well because the choir sang everything with the same level of involvement, musicianship and technical fluency.  Under the dominant command of their powerfully committed conductor, Peter Low, they maintained a consistent level of technical and musical authority which one would expect only from the most accomplished professionals.

The programme told us that the Cantata The Crib, the Cross, the Crown – an assemblage of various musical ideas ranging from David T Clydesdale to Karl Jenkins – gets presented just once every eight years.  I can see that the sheer logistics involved would be a nightmare which nobody would willing submit themselves to any more frequently than that, but with performances so infrequent, the choir is effectively learning it from scratch each time.  That being the case, they not only had the thing off perfectly, performing it flawlessly from memory, but showed a quality of performance in their actions, dramatic delivery and fluent choreography which, once again, is the preserve only of the most accomplished professional.

And the most extraordinary thing about this was that, even after two hours’ ceaseless singing, the choir sounded as fresh and full voiced as they had at the very start.  Those matters which sort the wheat from the chaff – tuning, intonation, breath control, balance, diction – never wavered from the high standards they had set themselves at the start.  And if it was remarkable that they were still sounding as fresh at 10.15pm on Saturday night as their performance drew to a close (rounded off by Chern’s magnificent solo performance of Bach’s Prelude on Valet will ich dir geben which most people missed because it was given while the applause for the choir was still raging) even more astonishing was the fact that they were all back the following morning to perform a whole different range of varied music for their usual musically demanding Sunday morning mass.

Speaking at the end of the concert, the cathedral’s Rector, Monseigneur Philip Heng, stated that this must be “the best choir in Singapore”.  The priesthood is notoriously resilient to the charms of good church music and dedicated church musicians, so such a statement from a priest is not to be taken lightly.  I for one, cannot do anything but agree with him.

23 March 2018

Writing About Music - Which words NOT to use!

5. Misused words

With the intention of clarity, words have to be used which have clear and universally understood meanings.  Of course, there are occasions where the critic deliberately attempts to obscure a meaning (ie. when being negative) by using words capable of complex layers of meaning and ambiguous interpretation – but such practice should be undertaken very rarely, very carefully and with full understanding of the resultant implications.  The following is a list of words to be avoided in the pursuance of clarity of expression, but which in exceptional circumstances can be used to provide implications which not every reader will recognise.

·         Rendition.  This word is often used as an alternative to “performance”, but it is to be avoided since it has two other meanings neither of which is really appropriate to music criticism.  Firstly, it means the application of an external substance to make something appear superficially attractive or to cover something from view.  Secondly, it means the removing of a person or object under cover so that the removal is not immediately noticed.   As a result, when we write of a “rendition” we could be implying that the performance is false – covering up weaknesses in the music or the performance itself; and we should only use the word if we are fully conscious that this implication is intended.

·         Mesmerising. This word is often used as a substitute for “outstanding” or “brilliant”.  However, its true meaning is “to have someone's attention completely so that they cannot think of anything else”, which is usually to imply that it is a stage half way between consciousness and hypnosis causing the listener to lose all sense of perspective or judgement.  “The cat was mesmerised by the approaching truck and was squashed to death by it”.  If someone is mesmerised, the implication is that they have become temporarily incapacitated mentally and have lost the ability to act and think logically.  If we talk about a mesmerising performance, we could therefore be implying that it appeals only to those without the ability to form their own independent judgement.  Again, do not use this word unless you really want to imply that the performance appealed only to those who lacked independent judgement.

·         Lyrics. These are words designed to be set to music which, in the interest of musical shape, do not themselves make any sense.  There is a difference between lyrics and sung texts, the latter being words which were not originally designed to be set to music, so are intended to make good sense.  Never refer to lyrics when you mean sung texts;  Shakespeare, Byron, Goethe, Hugo, Verlaine, The Bible have never provided lyrics.

·         Tune. Musicians recognise tune as temperament (ie. defining the centre of a pitch). The layman recognises tune as a row of notes which provide a variety of pitches.  The two are actually contradictory.  As the readership of music criticism often comprises musicians and laypeople, never use the word tune in any context.  Instead refer to intonation OR melody.

6. Evolving language

One of the great delights of a living language is the continual subtle changes of meaning in everyday words.  As society changes, so the words change to reflect contemporary life.  The issue with this is, when we are dealing with historic matters, words used in the past can have a totally different meaning to that which they have today.  On top of that, at any given moment in history, some words are undergoing a metamorphosis and will mean different things to people from different backgrounds and of different age groups.  This is a list of evolving words which, while in one meaning are relevant to the critic, in others are not – so we should avoid them.

·         Song Without doubt the most confusing word now connected with music.  All dictionary definitions tell us that a Song MUST involve a singer.  It can be one or more, but the singer is essential.  However, at the start of the 21st century, Steve Jobs used the word “Songlist” as a shorthand for a repository of musical tracks on his Apple digital devices, and the word “Song” has become synonymous with “Music” for those people of the generation which developed their linguistic skills in the 21st century – basically anybody under the age of 20.  We are now faced with a problem that the population is divided between those who see a “Song” as a musical piece which involves the human voice, and those who see it as any piece of music.  Our best bet is to avoid the word “Song” wherever possible, restricting its use simply to reiterate titles.  Do not write “this was a recital of songs”, unless that is the title of the concert – instead write “this was a vocal recital”.

·         Gay Another word whose meaning changed during the lifetime of many still alive today and therefore can cause confusion amongst those who were brought up when it meant something different.  Since the word in its previous meaning was often used to describe music by both commentators and musicians (notably composers), and in its current meaning is often used to describe musicians, we need to avoid it completely.  The change came about towards the end of the 1970s when the so-called permissive society started to accept same-sex relationships; virtually every country in the world had legally banned them up until then.  With the growing enfranchisement of those who were involved in these previously illicit relationships, they began to object to the terminology used to describe what had once been illegal, and they looked around for alternative labels which carried none of the censorial baggage of previous words, such as Homosexual and Lesbian.  Since they celebrated this coming out from illegality and general approbation by making themselves as publicly visible as they could through wearing and showing extremely colourful clothing, the word “Gay” – which up to that point had meant “Happy, Carefree, Exuberant” – seemed appropriate.  Very quickly from around 1970 onwards it became the defining word to indicate those with a preference for same-sex relationships.  However, the word in its previous meaning was widely used right up to then, and this can (and has) led to much confusion.  Avoid the use of the word completely, and when it occurs in a title, sometimes a short explanatory passage is required to interpret the word to those who are unaware of its earlier meaning.

·         Sonata. This is an essentially musical term but one which has changed its meaning significantly over the centuries. 

o   In the 16th century and earlier it simply meant a piece of music for instruments alone (the non-vocal equivalent of Song); music intended for instruments without voices (which was very rare) was invariably described simply as “Sonata”. 

o   During the 17th century, Sonata changed its meaning to refer to music played by two, three or four instruments (in the period before such ensembles fell under the blanket coverage of “chamber”), and was further subdivided into terms such as Sonata da chiesa, Sonata di camera and Trio Sonata, which terms began to imply a certain sequence of movements. 

o   In the 18th century, the meaning changed again, reflecting the growing preference for instrumental music over vocal music – there no longer was a need to have a blanket term for instrumental music since it was then so dominant that the word music came to be associated primarily with instrumental rather than vocal works.  The 18th century meaning was more specific: a work in three or four movements in a pre-determined sequence, for one or two instruments. 
In the 19th century, a further layer of meaning was applied to the word, with the invention of “Sonata Form”, which was a specific musical structure found in most multi-movement instrumental works.  The critic must identify the precise meaning of the word when it is encountered and, if necessary, explain it to the readership

Gudiance on Writing Programme Notes and Music Criticism - 1

Students on my Music criticism course are given written guidance on many aspects of technique.  A question from someone writing programme notes for a diploma recital has made me think that some of this guidance might be relevant to them, so I reprint parts of it here:

1. Introduction
In all its various guises, the objective in music criticism and in writing programme note is to clarify and explain.  To do this, language has to be simple and direct.  This paper aims to give pointers to help achieve this, without diminishing the essential individuality of each writer’s use of language. 

2. References and External material
There is a golden rule in all writing for non-specialist musicians - the majority of consumers of music criticism and programme notes; NEVER use footnotes or citations – if to read our work, the reader is obliged to refer elsewhere, its independence and immediacy is negated. It means we are not using our own words (and, by implication in criticism, not expressing our own views) and, furthermore, it imposes on the reader an obligation to expend further effort to understand what should be immediately evident. 

In music criticism, material from external sources directly connected with the item under review (second-hand) should be used sparingly (if at all) and without exhorting the reader to find that material for themselves.  Where, in academic writing, we might expect full detailing of material derived from external sources, in criticism, we must acknowledge briefly without identification.  Thus, should the need arise in the critic’s mind to quote from booklet notes, programme notes, or publicity fliers, the words taken would be placed in inverted commas and merely acknowledged as “according to the booklet notes"/"the booklet notes tell us”/”the publicity told us”, etc. etc.  If (and this should rarely occur) the critic wants to use material from a source which was not directly connected with the subject of the review (third party), a mention of the author or source material should be made, but without excessive detail.  For example, “When Mendelssohn took a boat to the Hebrides, his fellow passengers reportedly said he looked ‘very green in face’.”  This acknowledges that the words have come from a third party source, and there is no need to identify it.  If it needs to be identified (perhaps because it offers an unusual opinion), keep it short.  “Mendelssohn’s scherzo movements are usually considered light and airy, but Malcolm Smyth has written that this one ‘is more in the manner of cows dancing on concrete’.”
You are obliged to identify words which are not your own, but you are under no obligation to acknowledge their precise source.

3. Musical Terms

There are certain musical terms, usually in Italian, which are universally recognised as such, even if the majority of those who recognise such words have only a vague notion of their correct meaning.  The writer should recognise this, and treat them as ordinary English words in passing (ie. “the first movement was an allegro and full of joy”).  Only when the word is a specific title should it be treated differently.  However, since the precise meaning of these words is not widely known (even amongst musicians) the writer must be careful of using them other than when reporting what the music is called or described as.  Do not use them as English adjectives, since their shades of meaning are too complex to be treated as such.  So, “the performance was not really allegro” is wrong, while “despite being marked allegro, the performance seemed very slow and solemn” is acceptable. 

Music criticism/programme notes are not forums to provide the level of education required to explain the implications of these technical terms, so do not attempt ever to explain them.  In addition, from your target audience, try to identify the level of musical knowledge and how far you can use these terms without explanation.  Often a young audience will not even know basic words like crescendo; so rather than use them, suggest “the piece gradually grew louder”, whereas a more mature and experienced concert audience would know the meaning and you should not write down to them in a way which might be perceived as insulting their intelligence; use the term in its correct context “towards the end of the movement there was an extended crescendo”.  The same applies with words like forte and piano.  But when we get into more specialist and cumulative terminology (“Lebhaft”, “Sehr Mässig”, “doucement”, “andante quasi adagio”), if necessary, some translation or word of explanation will be appropriate – in which case do not relate the word to other terms, nor give dictionary definitions which often do not illuminate adequately, but explain them in simple English.

15 March 2018

The Bus Stop Challenge

It's called the Bus Stop Challenge.  At least, that's what I call it, and as I don't know anyone else daft enough to have had the idea, it seems as good a name as any.

The idea is you find a queue at any bus stop - in most countries that's no challenge at all, even if finding a bus stop is becoming increasingly difficult in some areas - and ask everyone in it whether they have any contact with - direct or indirect - Western Classical Music.

You might find a man with a grey mop of tousled hair who tells you he conducts the London Symphony Orchestra, or a bald headed septuagenarian who tells you he is kept awake at night by the young man upstairs practising his drums for his next drumming exam.  But both count as having a relationship with Western Classical Music.

The challenge is actually going up to these strangers and posing the question.  It's certainly a challenge too far for me - I did it once when I was so seriously under the influence of alcohol that I can't really remember the responses I got - but a number of my students (who are more courageous than I) have accepted the challenge and their results have been staggering.

This is by no means a legitimate scientific study, but while my London students reported about 1 person in 25 picked at random from a bus queue acknowledged the relationship, in Singapore the figure in Singapore is 2 in 5. 

In Singapore Western Classical Music has seeped into everyday society to an extent which I find astonishing.  Partly that is the active involvement of the government, but even more so it is the emphasis so many Asian parents put on music as an important skill in the development of their children.  The fact, also, that Singapore presents a disproportionate number of its young people to the graded exams administered by the three London-based exam boards - cumulatively, around 10% of all candidates world wide are in Singapore - adds to this; indeed, students report that a majority of those approached at bus stops relate to Western Classical Music through a relative or neighbour doing an exam.

We might also consider that in Singapore travel by bus covered a wider social range than in, say, the UK.

I may need to douse myself in hard drink and go out and do a few more interviews, but it would be fascinating to know how Singapore stacks up with other Asian countries.  (Hong Kong's a good example - the place is positively brimming over with bus stops and their associated queues.)

Certainly it seems that Western Classical Music has a firm foothold in Singapore Society.  The question is, however, whether that is to the advantage of either or both.  Just because people know about something, does not mean they either care about it or even appreciate it.  I have a suspicion that we are not doing enough to nurture this relationship and transform it into a positive thing; at the moment we still seem obsessed with the idea that it is a minority interest and are working to change that when in fact this seems to indicate it is far from being any such thing.

If you ever have the courage, please do the Bus Stop Challenge and let me know what you find.  I can't compensate for black eyes and broken noses when the wrong sort of person is approached at the bus stop, but I can offer my sympathy and a soothing piece of music to ease the pain.

13 March 2018

Music Critic Abuse

A light hearted discussion among critics about the uninvited use of diminutives of people’s names led to some recollections of rude names we have all been called as a consequence of our professional activities.  It was summed up by one of our number suggesting that “it is a hard life being a critic”, to which, I am sure, we all sagely agreed.

But is it?

True, finding outlets for criticism which are respected, read and (most importantly) reimbursed is just about impossible.  Most of my critical work today is submitted to the public free-of-charge, and I only continue to do it to try and hold back the tide of ill-informed, partisan and barely-literate ramblings from those who submit “customer reviews” or congratulate their friends and heroes on YouTube.  Yet I eagerly jump at every chance to submit a piece of critical commentary when even the tiniest amount of cash is on offer.  Why on earth would I do that if it was such “a hard life”? 

All critics seem to have a story or two about being called rude names, about being accused of not knowing what they are talking about, and about their supreme ignorance in the field in which they purport to have some specialist knowledge.  Yet, when I think back over 40 years as a professional music critic, I can recall just three artists who have spewed invective over me for a review I have written, one where an artist certainly should have done, and one bizarre occasion where an entire band spewed voluminous hate mail at me for a review I did not write on a concert I did not attend. 

Of course, such invective from those who were not directly involved is commonplace – people hate it when you prick the bubble of their particular inflated opinions – and has only become more widespread (and vicious) with the growth of social media outlets with their scope for spreading anonymous anti-social poison.  I, like all critics, ignore such things as the incoherent ramblings of the criminally insane; unless, of course, the writers have the guts and intelligence to append their real names and contact details to their comments.  This, though, is not something unique to critics; anyone who utters an opinion in the public domain opens themselves up to the violence of the anonymous imbeciles whose lives revolve around spreading hatred.

Mostly, the critic receives nothing but praise and respect from artists, even when the critic has done little to deserve it.  The relationship between critic and artist is necessarily fragile, but I have to say in my experience, artists make it easy by being so generous in their acceptance of a critic’s opinions, even when those opinions seem to contradict the artist’s own.  What makes being a critic so worthwhile is that generosity of spirit and willingness to engage in constructive dialogue which the vast majority of artists possess.  Perhaps where that relationship has turned sour is as much the critic’s fault as the artist’s.  Let me give the three examples in my experience; you can decide why the relationship broke down.  (I thought long and hard about whether to name names; but in the end, since two of them are still alive, I decided to spare blushes all round and call them A, B and C.)

Stanley Sadie - editor of Musical Times
A is a hugely popular and successful composer of choral music.  Back in the 1980s when I was writing for The Musical Times I reviewed a collection of his pieces and suggested that, while they were attractive and eminently practical, there was a tendency for A to resort to stylized formulae rather than risk adventurousness or genuine originality.  My editor (the late Stanley Sadie) showed me the response that was sent to him as a personal letter from A.   It heaped abuse on me (“Who is this person?”, “I’ve never heard of him”, “He does not know what he is talking about”, “Unless you get rid of him I will instruct my publishers not to submit anything to your so-called publication”…you get the gist), but Stanley thought it terribly amusing and took no further action.  I have often reviewed A’s work since, nearly always positively, and have never had any further correspondence from him.

Christopher Pollard -
Gramophone editor
B is an organist who, in the early years of CD, produced such a flurry of CDs that one seemed to land on my desk every month.  I liked them all, but once in the pages of Gramophone I suggested that, with so much varied repertory being recorded at such a phenomenal rate, B was “at risk of falling into the routine” and of “allowing the desire to record outweigh the quality of the music being recorded”.  I never said it did; I merely said that one felt that such problems were a hair’s breadth away.  My lovely editor back then, Christopher Pollard, passed on to me a letter submitted from B for my comments.  B had written that he was so appalled and offended that he had seriously considered suicide.  My impertinent response was that it was nice to think that my review “almost had a beneficial effect on the organ world”.  Luckily this correspondence remained private at the time.

The Western Mail offices in Cardiff in the 1970s
C was a hugely popular and famous jazz drummer who appeared alongside a local Welsh band in the late 1970s when I was a general arts reporter for the Western Mail.  I was sent down from Cardiff to Swansea to review the gig and in my piece I suggested that, in order to highlight C’s contribution, the amplification was such that, coupled with his own extremely enthusiastic drumming style, we heard C and just about nothing else.  And more than that, one continued to hear C’s drumming resounding in the ear drums for several hours after leaving the venue.  This ignited a response from C’s agent (C having long since returned to the US) which pointed out that I “knew nothing about jazz” and demanding a public apology and retraction.  Large numbers of irate C fans also wrote in, and I was called into the editor’s office, then occupied by a giant of man called. Duncan Gardner.  He offered me a drink and, on hearing that I was contemplating moving to North Wales to take up a part-time job as Sub-Organist at Bangor Cathedral, encouraged me to take it telling me that, “just because you have kicked up a small hornet’s nest, you don’t need to think that you are God’s gift to journalism”, but then offered me a promotion to Senior Arts Correspondent in North Wales (actually the ONLY arts person with the paper based in North Wales – and I ended up more as a general journalist there).  The brouhaha over C eventually died down, but to this day have tended to fight shy of jazz reviewing not because I don’t like it – in fact jazz is my favourite means of musical relaxation – but because, as the C issue showed, jazz aficionados seem to know intimate details of every jazz figure since the genre began, and I feel very much out of my depth in specialist discussions on jazz.  (Someone recently observed that while, in the classical music world, people have become obsessed by juvenility, child prodigies and a total lack of experience and previous exposure, in jazz, respect is not earned by practitioners until they have been in the business for decades and can point to a lifetime of experience in building their present level of musical ability.)

I probably was too inexperienced to offer views which would be seriously accepted by A, I was probably too involved in the organ world to be seen as impartial by B, and I was obviously far too young and not grounded enough in the world of jazz to have the respect of C’s agent.

Arvo Part in more elevated company than mine
Luckily Arvo Pärt probably never read the piece I wrote in Organist’s Review that suggested he was a “fraud” and was simply trying to fool us all with his “silly Pari Intervallo”; and if he had, I suspect he was then far too elevated (in every sense of the world) even to deign to comment on the one critical opinion I regret having committed to print more than any other. 

But I have often wondered what prompted just about every member of a Singapore wind band, and their conductor, to shower me with hate mail (some of it threatening physical violence, and all of it unstinting in its abusive content) after I wrote in this blog some comments about an (unnamed) wind band I had seen in Hong Kong which performed bad music very badly indeed under an extremely bad conductor.  I can only assume that the cap I had created for the Hong Kong group fitted the Singaporeans so well they naturally assumed it was for them; apparently they had given a concert in Singapore at around the same time as I had attended the one in Hong Kong.  I have, however, made a personal vow never to review a performance by any wind band anywhere in the world – just to be on the safe side.

It’s not a hard life being a critic, but it is an eternally entertaining and absorbing one.