Inane at MCANA

by Barry Drogin

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inane adj : INSUBSTANTIAL, SILLY, see INSIPID; implies a lack of any significant or convincing quality (an inane interpretation of the play).

- Merriam-Websterís Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition

In Gatecrashing the NOA, I wrote that I was bothered that "academics who know the smallest minutiae about matters of a hundred years ago... are all so blissfully unaware of music theatre and the current opera scene." I paid to attend "Shifting Ears: A Symposium on the Present State and Future of Classical Music Criticism," held at Columbia and sponsored by MCANA and far too many other organizations to list here, and through most of the two-and-a-half day meeting I did not feel that desparate feeling one sometimes gets at such events to get up and scream, "How can you all be so ignorant?" because, on the dais, surprisingly, everyone was not. The audience, on the other hand, was another matter, but one only found that out by talking to individuals, something the deities on the dais did reluctantly, if given the proper deference.

I did not learn much at the symposium, nor did I attend to write about it, or to be bothered by it; I went for the same reason I attend NewOp meetings, to shmooze, possibly make some business connections, contribute and participate in the discussion if it moves me to, and hang on to that feeling that I still exist. Considering that, unlike the NewOp meetings, I did not have to fly to Europe and possibly pay for a hotel to attend, Iíd say I got my equivalent moneyís worth.

Just as my writing about NewOp meetings is typically limited to my little daily e-mail posts to C-Opera of impressions and reactions, I donít feel an unequal need to launch into a detailed analysis or summary of the symposium. On the other hand, I donít suffer from what Alex Ross called, in a handout, "the disease of politesse." When youíre in the presence of deities, you are obligated to ask polite questions and be instructed in the proper answers. When youíre in the presence of colleagues, if you donít suffer from "the disease of politesse," I think disagreement is allowed.

I disagreed with Joseph Horowitz, whose "Criticism at the Crossroads" states that "American classical music degenerated after World War I." In the name of politesse, I apologized for sounding heretical, but suggested that one could alternatively view the same set of facts as an aberration disappearing rather than a decline, and I was disarmed and incredulous when he responded that he agreed with me. Say what? Was this simply his own expression of the disease of politesse?

At least I cannot accuse Alan Rich of suffering from this disease when he characterized the totality of my contributions to the symposium as "inane." The outburst had the feeling of two lefties battling it out while the conservatives take over the White House, the Supreme Court, and both houses of Congress. I can only attribute it to Alanís being stuck with the Los Angeles rather than the San Francisco beat, and not being as famous or influential as Frank Rich. A last, cantankerous hurrah, which, to those who rushed up to me afterward, apparently made himself appear to be more inane than I, although it resulted in the requisite chilling effect on both of us.

There were a few 900-pound gorillas being ignored in the room, each of which made brief appearances and were consequently shied back to their corners. I guess, in the end, this symposium, held in New York City, was primarily intended to make those outside of New York City feel that New York City itself, and its newspapers and magazines, were still important. It accomplished this goal. If thatís a silly and insubstantial observation lacking any significant quality, like everything you have just read, then so be it. At least, at the moment, I feel like I still exist, even if I am embarrassed by my own prose style.

P.S. To continue in praise of Alex Ross, he also wrote, "Nothing is more off-putting than the critic who puts down one kind of music in order to praise another. There is no need to mention Britney Spears until such time as Ms. Spears writes her first piano quintet." Apparently there were many attendees who did not take the time to read Mr. Rossís comment, and insisted on mentioning Ms. Spears in a derogatory manner. Personally, I am already on record as admiring Ms. Spearsí use of Extended Vocal Technique in "Oops! I Did It Again" (yeah, and of praising Meredith Monk as well, what of it?). Oh, and Iíve written in praise of a performance at the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, too. I do not expect to earn a Pulitzer Prize for such writings.

P.P.S. As an "extremely personal and often amazing" writer, I've decided to belatedly dedicate this piece of drivel, or, as my former teacher Laurie Spiegel would probably have it, doggerel (due, undoubtedly, to her fondness for dogs, particularly her own, Digidog), to the memory of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thomson. As Amy X. Neuburg sings in her "Life Stepped In" (available on her 2004 CD, "Residue," in which she performs a spectacular telephone conversation with herself), "Bring more substances."

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007