Monday, February 04, 2008

Classical Music Bloggers are Macs, Traditional Media are PCs

I had an interesting conversation at a house concert in Toronto just over a year ago. A man I was talking to that evening bemoaned the fact that Toronto only has one opera company. Excuse me? Only one opera company? Exasperated, I asked him what made him come to that conclusion, to which he replied that from listening to the radio and reading the Toronto papers, the only opera company he ever heard about was the Canadian Opera Company and wished that there were others. Still stupefied, I informed him that he was completely mistaken and that there were in fact over a dozen companies in town (in fact, there are at least 17 in the Greater Toronto area at present). He still didn't believe me. To give the papers their due, writers who work for the Globe and Mail, National Post, and Toronto Star do mention the smaller opera companies from time to time and review their work, but on an occasional basis compared to their regular coverage of large organizations such as the Toronto Symphony and Canadian Opera Company. (It must also be mentioned that The WholeNote Magazine does chronicle the entire classical scene in Toronto to its farthest reaches, although this type of magazine is a rarity in North America.)

You find a similar situation with radio stations and television, although classical radio generally has a much better record of broadcasting a wide variety of artists and works, with special kudos given to the CBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, numerous European radio services and NPR stations. Still, radio's scope is limited to classical artists that are recorded, and by its nature usually ignore segments of the classical music world that aren't represented by recordings. Classical music is featured even less on television, given the economic realities of the medium (although cameo appearances often work in the format, such as my recent interview for CBC television). And what always looms over radio and television coverage is the ever-present specter of cutbacks and cancellations.

But how does one measure success and prominence in the classical world? Shall we celebrate only a few prominent soloists and ensembles, or chronicle the masses of music educators, orchestral musicians, chamber players, soloists, university students, amateurs, professionals, and administrators that make up the bulk of the classical music world and toil in the mines far from the star-making gaze of newspapers, television, and radio stations.

But take a look at a few classical music blogs and you'll find a completely different scene, with plenty of composers, artists, companies you've never heard of, new and exciting projects, a sophisticated level of discourse, and an exciting community far from the stuffiness classical music is supposed to embody. Part of the promise of classical music blogging lies in the following limitation of traditional media:

Except for a few major newspapers, traditional news media only report on a very small segment of the classical music scene, targeted towards the media outlet's demographic, and fit into the space alloted by editors and producers.

Classical music blogs have no such restrictions, are only limited by the vision of their authors, and aren't subject to restrictions of space and economics. They are not limited by utilizing a sole medium (words), since a classical music blogger can easily expand the range of the medium through offering podcasts, online downloads, traditional books, ebooks, or even radio programs in addition to their core blog. In fact, there are huge chunks of the classical music world and its stories that literally never got their due until these types of blogs came along:
  • Africlassical - the major contributions to the classical music world from the African diaspora.
  • The Concert - written by soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, and follows her career from graduate school to the Met and beyond.
  • Opera Chic - the scandal-filled world of the opera scene and its larger-than-life players.
  • On an Overgrown Path - the nooks and crannies of a wondrously diverse classical music culture
  • Wolf Trap Opera - the inner workings of a vibrant opera company chronicled from the drawing board until opening night.
  • Oboeinsight and Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog - instrumental niches that are usually not given their due, but in fact yield a vast wealth of insight into the art and industry of classical music (in addition to being uber-cool places to hang out).
Not to mention this humble blog, which focuses on the diverse (and lucrative) activities of those pianists that choose to make music with others and go on to become some of the busiest people in classical music even though they are often omitted from programs and reviews, and under-appreciated by the general public.

I'll be the first to admit that no media outlet is ever completely neutral--every single writer has their agenda, their issues, and plays favorites. But the classical music blogosphere seems to have a more interesting cast of players, a wider scope of activities, no publication deadlines, creates their own demographics and rules, sets their own agenda, and does it with a passion that is bringing in a surprisingly large number of new readers every month (click on the Sitemeter stats of a few blogs in case you disagree).

The impact of classical music blogging is still being created and I still feel that nobody has yet chronicled what the medium can actually do, but 2008 already feels like the year in which classical music bloggers are starting to get their cred. So load up your Bloglines, Google Reader, or NewsGator account with your favorites, get connected to a part of the music world that's actually growing, and hopefully you'll enjoy what you hear.


  1. Thanks for the mention, Chris - excellent post on new media! I'll be sure to link to this.

  2. Thanks, Jason. I'm especially looking forward to those that disagree with the article and their comments on the subject...

  3. not forgetting with some very obscure composers

  4. Thanks, violist in vilnius! We need a festival or something to get the word out with so many voices within the classical community. Hey, there's an idea...

  5. I know you wanted people to disagree with you, but unfortunately, I'm in full agreement. Here in Perth, Western Australia, there is very little arts reviewing - and it's only for the big events - the symphony orchestra, and the opera company. Blogs are where I have to go to hear about other performances - and it's important for me to hear about what's going on in other cities, because Perth is so isolated.

    I actually complained about the lack of arts reporting a little while ago. Basically complaining that for a city the size of Perth, we've only got 2 news papers. Read it here: A Pressing Issue.