|Image by Wakalani, on Wikipedia Commons|
Warning #2: This post will reveal yet again my love of being optimistic and perhaps idealistic so if you don't tend do be this way, well, keep reading, but just consider yourself forewarned.
OK, now that we've gotten that out of the way, here goes.
I have a really hard time understanding why it is the world still finds a need for critics, especially in the classical music world. I'm not just talking professional critics, I'm also referring to the everyday critics among us musicians, professional, amateur, whatever. In a time when we so many of us are trying to find ways to continue performing in the midst of budget cuts, shut-down organizations, and lost funding, shouldn't we be doing whatever we can to encourage a positive outlook on our profession? And shouldn't we let our performances speak for themselves and let audiences just listen and take away from a performance or a recording what they are inspired to take away?
About a week ago, one of the world's most renown string quartet's came to our tiny town of Blacksburg in the foothills of the Appalachians of southwest Virginia. This created quite an amazing flurry of excitement and not surprisingly, the concert was sold out. It was the place to be that one night. Faculty members from the music school at the local college were there, private teachers were there with their young students, amateur chamber musicians were there, chamber music afficionados were there. I was delighted that I was also able to attend and I too was swept up in the excitement, especially because I had never heard this well-established ensemble perform live. What an honor.
And then what a shock, when I was still grinning from ear to ear after the first half, to overhear many individuals expressing their incredible disappointment with this group of musicians. I was stunned. Completely stunned. And angry. We were hearing and seeing a group of individuals that have found a way to make music-making a viable way to live; a group of musicians that is invited around the world to perform this repertoire; a group that has amazing skill and experience. Yet this is what I heard:
"They don't move enough."
"There's not enough visual communication between them."
"They weren't even together some of the time."
"I don't like [so-and-so]'s sound."
"I have to say I'm really disappointed."
Aack! I really, really wanted to cry or scream, take your pick. First, because these comments were coming from people that were clearly not enjoying the performance which was a shame and second, because these comments were being made in such a way that members of the audience could hear them and possibly absorb them into their own hearts and ears for the remaining piece on the program. Don't get me wrong, of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions but I was saddened that people felt a need (or a desire?) to be so critical and that it was shared in the presence of others in the middle of the performance.
Not every performance can be stellar. Not every performer or performance can be loved by all. But why can't we at least think the best of every one of our colleagues? Why can't we just be supportive even when we're not in our comfort zone? Why do we have to sound like we are more knowledgeable than those around us? Isn't it possible that these types of attitudes only help in giving our world of classical music a snobbish, uppity, and not-fun reputation? And when we're the ones performing on stage, is it any wonder that anxiety runs high and that fear of criticism can undermine any performer's best intentions? It doesn't work to explain such criticism away, saying, "Well it's not like the performers knew what I was saying about them." Think again! Most performers have an uncanny ability to sense an audience's vibe in a given performance situation and when it's a bad vibe, there is practically nothing worse. Who wants to play for an audience that is clearly passing judgement with every note played or sung?
Let's think twice before we decide to step into the role of critic. Perhaps there is a better, more productive way of passing on our love for the music that we so love to hear and a more supportive way to encourage our musical colleagues. Can't we be friends among critics rather than critics among friends?
Our future just may depend on it.