Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hooray for the Star, but....

There is a profile in today's Toronto Star of Andrew Ager, organist at St. James Anglican Cathedral here in Toronto. (with video!)

I met Andrew a long time ago, at a house on Palmerston boulevard, which I believe he was housesitting. He seemed like a great guy, and it is wonderful to see the Star do a big profile like this. Except...

Well, how about that title? Rebel Without a Choir? Come on! St. James has two choirs! And yes, he is the composer in residence, but he's also the Music Director, in fact, that's his title.

Why do I get the impression that the Star's classical music critic, John Terauds, didn't even look at the St. James Cathedral website? Does anyone fact check anymore?

Oh, I know, why am I nitpicking, the Star at least printed something, right? And Harry Potter gets kids into reading, right? Sure, fine, but here in my little tiny corner of the world, I know a bit about what the article is talking about, and it's factually incorrect. What's up with that?

And yes, there's the tone. Having watched the David Byrne Die Soldaten dust-up, I must admit that it is tiring to read yet another article premised on the idea that the "tonal" composers are somehow in some kind of West Side Story style confrontation with the "atonal" composers. It just doesn't happen that way.

One day, maybe, I'll get into my time as a composition student, and speak a bit about the Hegelian vision of history that pervades how people think about music in music departments, which seems to drive this thinking. I will also get into how "atonal" composers appear to hold a kind of position akin to that of analytic philosophers in North American philosophy departments, which is that being a "composer" or a "philosopher" means, to many people, being a composition or philosophy professor.

But not tonight. Just go read the Andrew Ager profile, and not only will you see what I just mentioned pervading the article, you will also get to read about (and watch) an interesting guy with a really, really, cool vocation.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Batman Returns

Our morning breakfast program, delivering the latest, up-to-the-minute action news to us in real time, led their newscast with, of all the stories in the world to lead with, the premiere of Batman Returns.

To demonstrate the importance of this story to the viewers, we are given moving images of the large static lineup just south of the TV studio of people waiting to view the new Batman movie. An anaconda of mostly sleepy young males, teenagers who would normally not be roused on a summer day for anything, they were standing waiting, for the cameras, at 7 in the morning, to see a movie.

There they stood, waiting to see a movie they have been told contains within it an Oscar-worthy performance. Some would say this, my friends, is the power of art. And you know who would say it, those film studies people who know they are looking at art but have to go to great lengths justify it because the medium they love so much also produced Porky's.

So even Porky’s must be considered, and these kinds of problems have led to the construction of an enormous conceptual infrastructure that begs us to look at the art of cinema.

However, the only thing this morning’s queue signifies is the power of marketing.

So what are all those teenagers doing there? Why was I there, waiting in line nearly 20 years ago for the first Batman film, with Jack Nicholson's Oscar-worthy performance?


Being the first is everything these days. More precisely, being the first to personally experience, or in less jargony tones, to buy something. Like, say, being the first, or nearly the first, does first day count?, to own an iPhone, so you can liveblog your waiting in line to see the new Batman movie and it's so sad that Heath died the way he did.

Without your iPhone, or our local morning show, no one would know that you woke up at 4 in the morning to share in this month’s collective act of consumption, these lingering signs of social solidarity.

But you needn’t feel the least bit guilty, because you, my friends, are not in the presence of Porky’s, you are in the presence of Art. The movie publicist's remarks about the Oscar-worthiness of Ledger's performance are picking up steam, and the Academy needs the love of the people again. Even the critics know when to shelve their misanthropic shivs, and, stuffing this talking point deep into their normally cool bosoms, they are promulgating it.

We are witnessing here, in real time, the birth of a real Oscar moment.

But thanks to the iPhone, the kids these days can all talk about the movie, and how Heath Ledger should get an Oscar, and if he doesn’t it will be because the Establishment controls Hollywood, and Heath was an outsider.

They will say this, as we all do, even though none of these kids, none of us, really, have ever seen an Oscar-worthy performance, because being Oscar worthy isn't something one divines, it is something one is told. But the story is there, a dead, promising young actor, a movie to sell, and a DVD release timed to just before Oscar night.

But it doesn't matter, not to these young men, and women. They know this one is the real deal, because they don’t think they will be lining up for anything else this summer.