Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dear Local Classical Music DJ John,

Readers of my Twitter know I occasionally throw a slightly jesting snarky comment toward our local classical music DJ. I thought I might take a few moments to explain myself, especially as I find myself washing dishes with the local classical music station playing in the background.
When I lived in Orange County, there was a jewel of a classical music station called KUSC. Through my years of experience and travel I think I can say without fear of contradiction that it is one of the finest classical music stations extant. If you are living in Orange County and not indulging in the vast riches of that station, truly you are letting a rare treasure go to waste. I would give special attention to Jim Svejda who is a walking, talking, broadcasting Music Appreciation Course of the highest caliber. So, please bear in mind that I come to this conversation very much spoiled.

I was a little surprised to recently discover that we have a few classical music DJs in town. I'd thought there was one. That's because they are both women (I think there are two) and both speak with the same tone and cadence, somewhere perched between a lullaby and hypnosis, each indiscernible in voice from the other, at least to the casual listener. I never felt any reason to pay that much attention until the recent pledge drive when local public radio personalities seem to feel a disproportionate need to identify themselves. Which is clue #1 to the type of classical music DJ I would seek (or, perhaps more to the point, be) would be somewhere between the mad emotional intensity of Klaus Kinski and the clipped, overly educated voice of John Hodgman or Ira Glass. This is symptomatic of a key difference in taste and philosophy between my local classical DJ and I. I think classical music is one of the most exciting things in the world. They seem to think it is mood music.
One of the DJs is fond of music that tells a story or, rather, is intended to tell a story. Think Carl Stalling, John Williams, Aaron Copland. The sort of thing that sounds like the score for a film.

"Oh, there's funny Billy Crystal in chaps trying to rope the cow. And there he goes with the lasso and, whoops, haha, he missed. And the cow is looking at him disapprovingly. And that sound means he's now climbing over the fence. And now he's thinking about doing it right this time for his son who looks up to him so now he's going back determined!"
That sort of music.

As a Wagnerite there ought to be a level where I can appreciate this in concept, but the Brahms in me rages against anyone who would ever play John Williams when they have the opportunity to play J.S. Bach. I understand that in our modern times a love of film score can lead to nascent higher aspirations in one's musical taste (and clearly it can also lead to some of the most pretentious and snobby statements in recorded history! Sometimes I even surprise myself, folks!) I myself confess to a rather embarrassing, in retrospect, over-excitement over the music of Philip Glass in my 20s (which is a bit like story music for a twenty second scene that is looped over and over. The old joke is "Philip Glass walks into a bar. Philip Glass walks into a bar. Philip Glass walks into a bar. Philip Glass walks into a bar...")
Surely music can tell a story, but that's not all it can do. It can also express things only expressible in that medium. To restrict one's self to "story music" is a bit like restricting one's self to a diet of chicken ONLY.

The other local DJ I know of is a bit difficult as well because it's one of those instances (and I will try to put this as delicately as I can) where one observes a professional whom you can easily tell with no little frustration (especially if you're unwillingly unemployed at the moment) that you are more knowledgeable than them in what they are being paid to do. This DJ leads to the bulk of my comments such as "That piece was not made famous by Looney Tunes!" or "Recordings of the music of Leopold Mozart exist mainly to illustrate why there are not more recordings of the music of Leopold Mozart!" or "You're playing Beethoven's Fifth again?"
I am ferociously passionate about classical music. I do not go a day without classical music. I think classical music can change lives and make people better humans to think more complexly, to feel more deeply, to observe more closely. I think classical music is one of the greatest things humans have come up with.
However, I try really hard not to talk too much about the local classical DJs anymore. First of all, I understand that my critiques are often born from envy of their position and that is a very ugly side of me that I do not wish to encourage. Second, I would be mortified if I learned that the local classical DJs read my critiques as they tend, as I said, to be a bit on the snarky side. So, in the interest of self-awareness and self-improvement, I am here today to bury my practice of short sharp comments about my local classical music DJs on Twitter. I don't want to be that guy. I would rather be marked as one who builds up rather than one who tears down and, following my own logic, time wasted on critiquing my local classical DJs is time I might have better spent on self-improvement.

So I am not going to critique my local classical music DJs anymore because I am going to die one day.

Except that I just spent about five paragraphs doing just that. But this is the last time. If you catch me doing it again, I owe you a lunch.

Anyway, in this glorious modern age of ceaseless wonder, I can turn off NPR after Talk of the Nation and fire up podcasts or live streams from one of the rare things I miss about Orange County.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in the middle of reading: "Night in the Palace of Reason." It's a Bach vs. Frederick the Great, Englightenment vs Faith -- biographical parrallelling the lives of Bach and Frederick. A lot of discussion regarding the Music of Bach's day. What it meant to them, understanding what they were trying to communicate. You might like it.