Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Some Ramblings: Blogging, Identity, and the Variable Quality of Reviews

Some random musings, probably not well organized, after reading publicist Maura Lafferty's posting about who reviews and using social media effectively (make sure to read the comments).

Yes, indeed, the ABS review that Maura links to is not what I would call a music review, because there is just about no discussion of the music beyond the level of "it was pretty." Okay, well, it's Bach and Telemann. The question then arises, what is the article that is now going by "review"?

Well, it's one person's experience and observations about attending a concert. In the comments, John Marcher writes about the "slippery path" of blogging, noting that he was a rock listener who now writes about a range of performing arts, including opera and concert music.

That question of who reviews. SFCV's reviewers are mostly current or past performers, music students, music teachers, and music journalists, but I know of at least one reviewer who is a deeply experienced listener to and reader about music; he started writing for SFCV by sending in a review he'd written. SFCV liked it: hired!

Not all music criticism that gets published is of the same high quality and we should not pretend that it is. Because of the sheer number of reviewers (and because of the light hand of the editors, which is mostly a good thing), the reviews at SFCV do vary a good bit in quality. I've seen a few reviews there where I wish the editors had had a little talk with the reviewer, yes, I have.

This goes on at all levels. I mean, you've seen me slagging Bernard Holland, right? He was the NY Times's lead classical music reviewer, and during his last few years at the paper, after Anthony Tommasini took over as lead, man, Holland was pretty damn variable. I don't read Mark Swed regularly; I know there are folks who have a few bones to pick with him. The name Martin Bernheimer makes some people see red - and MB is an excellent writer, whether you agree with him or not. I once saw an article in the S.F. Opera program about sopranos that talked about how of course we prefer listening to Liu to listening to Turandot, because Liu "is a mezzo." Well, no, she's not. That was a failure both of the writer and the editor.

I realize that Maura is pointing to a slightly different problem, that of the person who apparently knows little about music but is getting a platform to write about it at a journalistic organization anyway; see, for example, the Madama Butterfly review she links to. This is happening now, more than before, because of general problems in the newspaper world, the decline of respect for expertise, and the rise of blogging and other social media. Everyone's always been a critic, but now it's easier than ever to get your opinions out there for people to read. As the lines between journalism, criticism, and social media continue to erode, yes, we are going to get more nonreviewers reviewing classical music, and we're going to see more sites like Bachtracks, which I discussed in a previous entry.

In the comments to Maura's posting, John Marcher also discusses what happened when his blog entries were also published at examiner.com. Well, if you're a blogger, it's a good idea to retain your own identity. Case in point: In October, 2009, Alex Ross greatly reduced his blogging at The Rest is Noise to blog primarily at The New Yorker. (I was apparently the only person to express doubts publicly about this move.) By June, 2010, he had resumed using Noise as his primary blog. Moral of the story: if you have a location that works, it's best to stay put and to have an individual identity.

I'd say there's one semi-exception to this. Bogging at a high-profile, high-prestige group site such as ArtsJournal, Sequenza21, or Inside the Arts is a major benefit. You're in the kind of company where there are synergies. Somebody reading you will read other bloggers at that site and vice versa.


Joe Barron said...

>>The question then arises, what is it the piece?

People call Romanus they go the house?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, man. About to fix that and another unclear spot.