Arts Writing, and Thoughts for my Blog’s Future

As I hope my readers are now aware, the long-running labor dispute that has devastated the Minnesota Orchestra for nearly two years has now drawn to an official end. In broad terms, I’m happy with the end results, which include a two-year contract for the musicians, the reinstatement of Music Director Osmo Vänskä to the post from which he had been forced out, and the resignation of controversial President and CEO Michael Henson. I have no doubt that over the next few months there will be further developments as the staff rebuilds, as the board membership sorts itself out, and as things generally settle down… but at this point I think it’s safe to say that the biggest of the big-ticket items have all been achieved.

I have been proud to be part of these developments in my own small way, primarily through my many blog posts here on Mask of the Flower Prince. When I launched my blog, my goals were to share insights, raise questions, debate points, and elevate the overall level of discussion of the Orchestra’s situation. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve achieved those goals.

But that brings up a new question: what to write about now?

I don’t mean this in a defeated, pessimistic way—it’s a question of what happens after that happy moment you actually achieve your goals?

Over the last few months, I’ve looked around at the existing arts writing going on here in town, and wondered if there were any holes that needed filling.

And boy… there sure are.

I have to say that over the last few months of the labor dispute, I’ve been less than thrilled with the overall quality of arts coverage here in town.

Don’t get me wrong—some is great, and very much worthy of your time and attention. Pamela Espeland comes to mind as someone who has done great work, and her weekly arts column at MinnPost have been a joy to read. And Pamela’s colleague at MinnPost, Doug Grow, has produced fantastic pieces covering the Orchestra, which is all the more remarkable in that he’s not, strictly speaking, an arts writer. Brian Newhouse at Minnesota Public Radio has been wonderful, giving insightful interviews that should not be missed, and the reviews of Ron Hubbard, Larry Fuchsberg and Randy Beard have all brought forward good insights.

But at other times, the quality, quantity and overall usefulness of local arts writing hasn’t passed muster. Take the Star Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper. It’s coverage of the lockout, and the arts scene locally, has been very hit-or-miss. I’ve written before about their editorial writing and their features stories with some dismay. In truth, it’s only gotten worse since the lockout ended, focusing on items that are irrelevant, lurid… or both. It’s like the paper is trying to attract online clicks by trafficking in sensationalism.

Or a recent article in Mpls-St. Paul magazine that is so lazy, so uncritically locked into the “classical music is dead” meme, and so obviously trolling for website clicks that I can’t bring myself to providing a link to the online version.

At the end of the day, what’s so disheartening about this is there is so much that could be covered, and so many angles a writer could take. Many of us in the community are active participants in the arts; as such, we are highly educated about the various forms, the people creating art, and the overall process of creating art. And it’s not just me that thinks this way; according to the Minneapolis Creative Vitality Index report, creative professional are everywhere, and have an enormous impact on the city. In Minneapolis alone, 20,000 people work in a creative field, with the top professions being photography, music, writing, and graphic design. Together these professions pump $700 million into the economy. And again, this is in Minneapolis alone.

And really, I can’t imagine how the face-painted, sign-carrying crowds at Orchestra Hall over the last couple of weeks could have been any more engaged.

So surely, an arts-savvy community like ours can support arts writing that focuses on more than celebrity gossip.

The interesting thing is that while I was reaching this conclusion, I ran across a fascinating article in Gramophone, the venerable classical music magazine based in England. In it, Martin Cullingford asks the important question, “Why is the wider media failing classical music?” It is worth quoting this column at length:

Classical music – even when the actual music is hundreds of years old – feels vibrantly alive, and that’s something you’ll always find celebrated in our pages as we explore and assess the recorded side of music-making.

The wider media, however, doesn’t seem to see it like that. Newspapers are, increasingly, marginalising the coverage given to classical music. In recent years many newspapers have reduced the number of critics on their payroll and the space afforded to those that are left. Websites allow newspapers to see how many people are reading what, and to make their editorial decisions accordingly. It is, of course, self-fulfilling: if you don’t give the space to classical music then people won’t read about it and the audience shrinks. The arts – let alone classical music – will never, sadly, generate as many hits as other fields. Chasing clicks for clicks’ sake – or, in the case of broadcasting, audiences for audiences’ sake – always risks pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I fully agree.

But you know what? The passion for music is still out there, as is the passion for learning more about it.

I’ve seen this first-hand.

I have been amazed at how hungry people have been for information about the Orchestra. My blog posts break every rule and flout every bit of conventional wisdom about social media—they are long, detailed, and have little to no graphics. And yet people are reading these posts in large numbers. All over the world.

And so, I think I’ve found my niche… at least for the time being. I want to continue telling stories. I want to share stories about classical music that are personal, interesting and timely, with the hope that they resonate with readers. I can offer a unique perspective as a performer and as a well-seasoned observer, so that I can give a real sense of what it is like to be at a concert, to help readers understand the experience of music. And, I can pull back the curtain and give insights into what it is like to keep an arts organization up and running.

Most of all, I want to go deeper into my topics, so that my posts feel rich and satisfying.

So by all means, keep my blog bookmarked… I’m not going anywhere. And I like to think I can tell a good story, with lots of quirky personal details!

And in the meantime, check out some of the writers I mentioned above. Hopefully, together we can keep you informed and engaged… and excited about all the wonderful arts experiences coming up.

See you soon!

 

Xochipilli

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6 thoughts on “Arts Writing, and Thoughts for my Blog’s Future

  1. Thank you, Scott! I’ve enjoyed your posts throughout our long community ordeal, and appreciated your “reviews” from the singer’s point of view. I share your frustration regarding arts coverage in the Twin Cities. While I spent several happy seasons on the roster of the MN Chorale, my musical home is a wonderful mid-size a capella choir celebrating its 26th season, which has been reviewed in the local paper exactly – never. Personal connections, personal invitations, comp tickets, 25th Anniversary celebration – doesn’t matter. With your knowledge and understanding of the choral arts, and the wide range of great choral music available here, you could make a full time job out of reviewing only choral concerts! Won’t you consider it?

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  2. Thanks again, Scott for your wonderful and enlightening coverage of this unbelievable chapter in Minnesota’s cultural history. I look forward to reading your stories.

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  3. I’m another who discovered your blog only because of the situation with the Orchestra.

    You are a good writer, but most important, you are both thoughtful and insightful. I look forward to continue following your blog.

    Aside from the MO and the SPCO, there seems to be virtually no coverage of the classical music scene in the metro area. More attention to choral groups, and especially chamber music groups, would be much appreciated.

    I’m not a musician, so I am not wired into the scene, but i would certainly like to know about it — which in turn would lead to more frequent concert attendance.

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  4. You’re right about the Strib’s abysmal performance in covering the Orchestra fiasco, but that’s pretty much true about anything normally newsworthy. You might give Doug Grow and his colleagues at MinnPost for their thoughtful, if not voluminous, coverage. That’s where all the best writers from the Strib went.

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  5. Dear Scott — so glad you will continue to write your wonderful posts! My novel, “Perceval’s Secret” that I’ve recently published as an e-book, blends literature and classical music. The main character is an orchestra conductor from Minneapolis, and he’s deeply involved in the classical music world — first in the dystopian America of 2048 and then in Europe, based in Vienna, Austria.
    If you ever want a guest blogger or to interview another blogger in the field, I’m very open to that. Please contact me at http://ccyager.wordpress.com.
    Thanks for writing the way you do!
    Cinda

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  6. MUCHAS GRACIAS Scott,
    Your work is appreciated. May I suggest that you continue on the same themes. You could also write about Latin America, the Aztecs, etc, your other specialty.

    I was moved by Osmo´s interview with Brian Newhouse in which he called the musicians his children and that they needed each other. We all need governance change. Maybe you could team up with Gina Hunter and Rep. Kahn on this one. Osmo said that crimes were commited against music and the perpetrators do not even know it, or seem to care. To me it has been a case of the fox guarding the hen house. I also think the musicians need to continue with their empowerment to seek changes and assist with fund raising efforts. Their educational outreach is outstanding.

    How about an alternative fund raiser to the defunct symphony ball?

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