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Musical Snobbery

February 4, 2015

On Sunday, like a lot of people, I watched the Super Bowl.  I could spend the next few thousand words breaking down the game and trying to answer such questions as:

  1. How many people who criticized the Seahawks for throwing on 2nd and 1 at the 1-yard-line also criticized the decision to run a play with only 6 seconds left in the first half?  They’re both bad decisions…one of them just happened to work.
  2. Why didn’t the Patriots take a Time-out after the 4-yard run to the 1-yard-line at the end of the game?  That was a huge error on the Patriots part that I have not read much about..because of the interception on the next play.
  3. Why did Nationwide have to kill that cute little kid?

But instead I would like to discuss the musical performances of John Legend, Idina Menzel, and Katy Perry.  That’s not exactly right…what I would like to address is the response to their performances.

On the morning of the Super Bowl, I woke up in Bismarck, North Dakota, having just finished a terrific 3 days as part of the U. Mary Jazz Festival.  Five of us from the festival were on the same 6:30 a.m. flight.  As we were discussing the game, one of my colleagues brought up the singing of the national anthem by Ms. Menzel and the halftime show by Ms. Perry.  I said, “If you miss it, all you have to do is hop on Twitter and Facebook as soon as it’s over to read how terrible it was.”  And we all laughed.

To be clear, I’m not going to discuss Sunday’s performances.  Today’s topic is about how people, especially musicians, react to such performances.

As I checked Facebook and Twitter after the pre-game performances of Mr. Legend and Ms. Menzel, it was astounding to me how many people were trashing these two relatively short performances.  After halftime I read the same vitriol leveled at Ms. Perry.  This got me thinking:

Exactly what is this kind of criticism supposed to accomplish?

Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for blowing off some steam, and I’ve never been accused of lacking strong opinions.  But as social media has become more prevalent, I’ve watched classical and jazz musicians go out of their way to attack musicians in the Pop world for…well…apparently- being successful.

And here’s why it’s a problem:

Trashing these performances only alienates you from your potential audience.

Regularly there are discussions among musicians about why audiences are so small, especially for classical and jazz performances.  We are constantly amazed that the rest of the world has not figured out how great we are.  Then, when presented with music that the rest of the world actually listens to, we lash out.

These kinds of reactions make us look:

  1. Jealous- We’ve never played sold out stadiums, or sold millions of records.
  2. Out of touch- We have no idea what music people are listening to.
  3. Bitter- We should be much better known.

So…what should we do?

  1. Stop telling people they are stupid for liking what they like.  Generally, when someone is told they have bad taste, he/she will get defensive.  Now you’ve created a barrier between you and that person that will be difficult to negotiate.
  2. Show people what you like, and why.  I’m a big believer in education.  If you know someone likes Performer X (that you don’t find particularly appealing), you can share Performer Y with them (as you believe Performer Y has much more to offer) and explain why you like Performer Y so much, and what you think the differences are.
  3. Remain open-minded.  It’s too easy to say that “everything is terrible.”  With an open mind, you just might find some Pop music that you like.  Listen with your ears, not your eyes.

Every generation seems to tell the next one, “Our music was great, and yours is terrible.”  And it’s never true.  There is always plenty of good and bad to go around.

Should we want audiences to grow for what we believe to be good, it’s important to engage in conversations about what people like and why.  With that information, I think we can expand some musical horizons, and do everyone some good.

With that in mind, watch the Grammy Awards this Sunday.  Usually the show is full of performances, many by people you may not have heard of.  Watch with an open mind.  This is the music millions of people are listening to.  It’s worth learning about.

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14 comments

  1. I agree with you somewhat, Joey, except when it comes to the SSB. Respect the SSB. Be respectful with your interpretation and performance. The singing or playing of the SSB is an opportunity to let the song take precedent over your desire to be a Star…

    JP


    • The SSB was written to the tune of a Bar Song. If every performer sang it as written, they’d have to get drunk first.


      • I believe it has been elevated a level or two beyond a ‘bar tune’ since then, Mr. Nesper. JP


  2. Well stated. I am a musician and music producer and even that last profession has become cliche. Seems anyone with Garageband, Logic and PT is a producer. To a certain degree they are as they are producing music. But as you stated do they have an open mind. I am also an audio engineer. So I get many different types of music that pass through my studio. As you said. I have to keep a very open mind. That has also helped me as a producer. I have had the opportunity to bring in musicians together who otherwise would never meet under the circumstances. Imagine a rapper who has this nice track but as a producer I hear strings or piano etc. I could easily recreate a string pad on keyboard or software. But if the budget can handle it I will make a few calls to some classically trained musicians. They come in we talk, make arrangements and record. I can’t tell you how many times I see the look on the individuals faces if utter joy and the raw emotion of the moment. Usually from that point forward, that rapper and those musicians end up continuing to work together. Even going to each others performances. In the end its all music, snobery demolished. 🙂


  3. What a nice, “Let’s all stand in a circle and hold hands and sing ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’ ” bunch of crap. I’m a professional musician (for 40 years now) and I play or have played every type of music there is to be performed. Are there current artists that are outstanding and always perform to a higher standard? Yes, but the majority of what’s out there today is simply crap. Autotuned, run through a computer, created in a studio and cannot be replicated on stage crap. For every Michael Bubble, Adel, or Bruno Mars there’s a hundred more who simply cannot sing in tune, have no idea how to play their instruments properly or can write a song that requires more than a 6th grader’s music theory ability, yet they are paid millions of dollars in exchange for their “entertainment”.

    The Beatles were masters of the studio but could still stop lunch time traffic by playing on a rooftop (and nobody knew who the heck was playing) and draw a crowd playing live, without studio gimmicks or computer wizardry.

    People like what they like, ’tis true, but popularity never has never been and never will be the determining factor of what’s good, be it music, literature or any kind of art. It’s time to face the fact that a lot of what passes for music these days just plain sucks. Not the style or type or anything else. Simply the inability to PERFORM.

    I say we kill the halftime show as we know it for the Super Bowl and let the year’s winner of DCI or BOA put on a show. You know the kind where musicianship and showmanship that is miles beyond the ability of the average Joe makes us clap and scream with delight. Or we could just keep having “big stars” lip(outta sync) and try to disguise their inabilities with flash and fireworks.

    One last thing:

    The National Anthem is properly performed as written with very little embellishment or rearrangement. Whitney Houston set the bar for performing The Star Spangled Banner. More like that and less like karaoke open mic night please. Show some respect.


    • This is the most intelligent offering in this discussion. The rendition of the SSB was painful to listen to. It is time for this country to stop wasting millions of dollars on musicians without the ability or desire to perform at the level required to earn that much money. We need to find ways to reward people who have a positive effect on the health and safety of the public.


  4. Whitney’s SSB is great, but Beyonce’s is da BOMB, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, Wayne’s last note adds the frosting. If you haven’t heard it YouTube “Beyonce Star Banner Superbowl 2004.” It is musical candy. Stunning, really, and not sync’d. The girl has chops and SWAGGER, and she’s earned my admiration and respect. JP


  5. Okay–but it’s problematic to claim that all classical/jazz musicians only listen to/enjoy music they play. The world is not black and white. There are plenty of classic musicians who are fully engaged in popular culture. Check yourself before you speak on behalf of the entire classical music world.


  6. Hi,Joey; Ray Bruce here. Marty K. turned me on to your blog with this particular post and, while I’m not a musician, I do find great advice here. As a father of two teenagers, I often dislike the music they like. I have also found that when I voice my dislike of their musical tastes, I injure my connection with them, I lose a little bit of influence with them. This further inhibits them from sharing more with me. Thanks for underscoring what I should have already realized!


  7. Good luck with “encouraging people to reward those who are positively affecting the health and safety of the public.” You’d have an easier job of finding an oboist that can play a gig with less than five reeds…


  8. To Keith Mayo,

    You certainly have a right to your opinion, but I’m not sure why you thought you should be so disrespectful to a great musician and nice person like Joey Tartell. Rather than take the road the you chose, I am going to rewrite your post in order to make it more respectful and less hysterical. Hopefully it will guide you in future posts on public forums. Also, to any young musicians reading this thread, acting like a clod on the internet does not make you “cool” or a great musician. I’d play 100 gigs with Joey Tartell before I played one gig with a bitter old cynic.

    As a professional musician in many styles for 40 years, I respectfully disagree. While there are many current artists that perform at a high level, there are others who simply rely on autotune. For every Michael Buble (not Bubble), Adele (not Adel) and Bruno Mars, there are others who do not perform to the same high standards. Since I am not a part of the Los Angeles music scene, I cannot be sure how many fit in this category, so I will refrain from making overstatements about the numbers. I will also avoid making assumptions about the musical knowledge of these people since I don’t know them personally and am unaware of their level of training.

    The Beatles were masters of the studio but could still stop lunch time traffic by playing on a rooftop (and nobody knew who the heck was playing) and draw a crowd playing live, without studio gimmicks or computer wizardry.

    People like what they like, ’tis true, but popularity never has never been and never will be the determining factor of what’s good, be it music, literature or any kind of art. It’s time to face the fact that some of what passes for music these days is not at the highest level. Not the style or type or anything else. Simply the inability to PERFORM.

    I say we kill the halftime show as we know it for the Super Bowl and let the year’s winner of DCI or BOA put on a show. You know the kind where musicianship and showmanship that is miles beyond the ability of the average Joe makes us clap and scream with delight. Or we could just keep having “big stars” lip (outta sync) and try to disguise their inabilities with flash and fireworks. This of course does not really apply to Idina Menzel, who is a veteran of Broadway and has paid her dues as a singer for many years.

    One last thing:

    The National Anthem is properly performed as written with very little embellishment or rearrangement. Whitney Houston set the bar for performing The Star Spangled Banner. Of course, I’m really contradicting myself right now, because Whitney took several liberties with the melody. Show some respect by singing the national anthem the way that I personally feel is correct, and don’t bring any of your own personality to the performance.


    • Well-done, Ken. JP


  9. Whitney gets my vote for the SSB. There IS no contest. Not yet.


    • Have you seen Beyonce’s Superbowl SSB presentation, Dana?



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