Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Back In Your Cage, Classical Monkey!

So how is the media greeting the outrage of classical music lovers after the one-two combo of losing classical music programming on CBC Radio 2 as well as the CBC Radio Orchestra?


One shouldn't be surprised. The stuffy strawman that is the skinny white-haired man in his cardigan comparing his twelve recordings of Beethoven's Fifth is as entrenched as the dumb blonde in the pantheon of pop culture derision.

The tale of the tape? Let's take a look at three, count em', three separate columns, whose message can be distilled to the following:


They are like parents calming an errant child, and their patronizing tone is ironic given that it is the classical music listener who is the premier patronizor in our civic space, merely by virtue of his tastes in music.

Ken Rockburn in the Calgary Herald:

It has long been known among CBC types that Radio 2, with its unrelenting focus on classical music, has been a dusty corner of the broadcast world with audience numbers that, even in the imaginary world of public broadcasting where such things are not supposed to matter, are laughably tiny. When the semi-annual ratings come out, Radio 2 suffers from what private broadcasters refer to as "dash disease." That means that for each quarter-hour average audience number there is no number, only a dash. In other words, no measurable audience.

CBC types, like him, I guess.

But what about the facts? Well, you, like Ken here, could have looked at the ratings over at BBM. But then you'd see that Radio 2 not only doesn't appear to suffer from "dash disease", it seems that there are a whole bunch of private broadcasters who lose to CBC Radio 2 on a regular basis. Here, look!

But let's not let data get in the way of setting that straw man ablaze, eh Ken?

And then there's our John Doyle, Canada's Flann O'Brien, writing in yesterday's Globe, cleverly entitled "Note to classical music fans: Get over yourselves":

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not all that worried about CBC Radio 2 reducing the amount of classical music it airs.

No, he's really worried about TV. But John, why do you feel the need to dismiss the loss of an entire orchestra to make your point? A smart, funny man like you? Who cares if you don't care for classical music? If the classical music people are bothering you with e-mails, and you don't care, just ignore them.

Finally, John Terauds last week. It starts out by infantilizing classical music listeners (note, Terauds is the Classical Music critic of the Toronto Star):

Don't mess with what we know and love – especially if it's our music.

We treat our radio stations like an infant who has grown attached to her first teddy bear.

CBC Radio 2 has for years been the favourite plush toy for the country's classical music listeners.

Like many a teddy, our radio network has lost its eyes somewhere along the way. The fur is stained and matted. The ripped fabric around the neck has let some stuffing spill out.

It's not pretty. But no matter. Radio 2 is ours and we're not letting go.

Wow. According to John, classical music fans need a course in change management.

Yes, but I wonder when the Star decides it doesn't need a classical music reviewer Mr. Terauds will embrace "change" when they reassign him to the faith desk to cover the latest church bake sale.

So what do we make of all this? Is it just payback for that snooty Russell Smith for always being so snobby, with his cultivation of tastes in food, clothes and the arts, a veritable scourge?

As anyone who reads me knows, my feelings about the changes at CBC are ambivalent at best. I no longer consider the CBC a classical music station, and I haven't for a while.

My sense is that, pace Ken Rockburn, is that the best thing for classical music listeners to do would be let the CBC succumb to dash disease and let them reconsider their actions through of the humiliation of broadcasting Feist only to have no one listen to her, because no one goes to the CBC to listen to Feist!

What bothers me, however, isn't the content, it's their tone. What's the the source of that nastiness, that patronizing?

As many lovers of classical music know, telling someone you listen to Beethoven is a throw down to a lot of people. People get defensive, or angry, or feel a need to defend their music from my "elitist" tastes.

What's interesting is that this reaction often comes not from the utterance itself (I listen to Beethoven), but the context in which most people think about classical music lovers (pompous jerks who hate rock, also known as the music of the people).

Classical music listeners usually have to go to great lengths to reassure people that they do not in fact hate popular music, or that they are also just ordinary people, usually by talking about Radiohead or Sarah Harmer, or perhaps by drinking cheap domestic beer in front of people suspicious of their classical music listening tendencies.

So what do we have here? Could it be that when it comes to classical music, the ghost of the French Revolution hangs over our collective thoughts? Could it be simply that we still see classical music as an aristocratic pursuit, and that this offends our egalitarian sensibilities? Could it really be something as ridiculous as that?

Could this be the very source of all our problems as classical music listener? Any thoughts?


paul said...

Here in Philadelphia, we suffer under WHYY. They eviscerated classical radio in the region right around the time I moved here. The slack was picked up by Temple University's WRTI, a jazz station. The result was a hybrid station, classical during the day, jazz in the evening (to the satisfaction of neither audience). Worse, WRTI reception is lousy in the suburbs.

WHYY now plays only news and public radio chatter shows, with music segments infrequent and licensed from other stations.

Thank goodness for Public Radio Fan, which lets me find streaming classical stations to which I can listen on my Internet-enabled phone.

> Could it be simply that we still see classical music as an
> aristocratic pursuit, and that this offends our
> egalitarian sensibilities?

Philly seems to revel in a blue-collar disdain for any culture beyond the cheese-steak. The historical significance of, say, Benjamin Franklin, is used only as a vulgar marketing gimmick or territorial gang sign.

It need not be this way. I grew up in a town not far from Interlochen. Classical music was very much a part of the culture, with ready access to concerts throughout the year, as well as plays, musicals, and operettas.

The Interlochen public radio station, WIAA, showed the right way to set up an all-news channel: they started broadcasting on two frequencies. One kept the traditional classical radio format, while the second (WICA) plays talk and variety shows.

Andrew W. said...

Paul, that's the thing. It doesn't have to be this way.

But why is it? Why is one of the pollution rules in North American culture (enclaves like Interlochen excepted) is that classical music represents a kind of threat to mass culture?

And like you, I have moved away from broadcast radio and onto the Internet, although this in and of itself represents the problem of further narrowing one's cultural range...

Muzition said...

Did you see Terauds's bad article about the CBC Toronto protests?