An Open Letter To Internet Radio Algorithms
Dear internet radio algorithms.
The way you do classical makes me want to puke into f-holes.
This is a phrase I started using in 3rd grade. I was in 3rd grade 32 years ago.
As far back as I remember music, I remember classical music. My parents weren’t terribly into classical. My mother loves Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but she couldn’t tell you Spring from Autumn, though she’ll happily admit that she’s not really interested in knowing music.
My grandparents, on the other hand, were well-versed in classical. And jazz. And some pop, though not very much. A lot of Dixieland, Big Band, Swing. And classical. Once upon a time, my grandmother was a concert pianist and my grandfather had his own dance band. He could play any wind instrument.
I fell in love with cello when I was in first grade. At the beautifully weird elementary school my brother and I attended, that’s was the first year you could enroll in music. But only for stringed instruments, winds had to wait until third grade. (When he could, my brother opted for oboe. What a weirdo.)
The ensemble introducing stringed instruments declared cellists had an easier time learning if their left-hand pinky went past the top knuckle of the ring finger. I didn’t care that my fingers weren’t ideal. I would make it work. I showed off my hands could stretch! I had done a year of piano lessons and could bridge an octave from thumb-to-pinky. By the way, I didn’t like piano lessons.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter too much whether my hands were ideal or not; most 1st and 2nd graders at all interested in strings wanted a violin. I got to learn cello!
So, my intellectual interaction with classical music began more than thirty years ago. Long before I began studying cello (it got to be “studying” kind of serious, private lessons on weekends in Chicago, not just ensemble classes in the afternoons at school), I knew (at the very least) the melodies of the biggies like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Bach’s 3rd Brandenburg, etc..
The first young persons’ orchestra with which I played had a rehearsal conductor that I precociously found lacking. With every ounce of the earnest melodrama a 9-year-old might impart, I bemoaned to my all-knowing grandfather, “he is like a bear! Both hands do the same thing! Every five measures, he’s another beat too slow.”
My grandfather did not likely pat my head and ignore me. It is very likely that he knew I wasn’t fucking around. My grandfather, my kindred spirit, was my first conductor. I learned how to follow a baton from his own deft, long hands.
For my first (very big) performance, the program concluded with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, conducted not by the no-rhythm bear who had rehearsed us, but by a fiery, brilliant woman. She smiled, she fairly danced, she was perfectly fucking joyful. I had my music memorized, so I didn’t — I couldn’t take my eyes off her, her face, her hands, her baton. I trusted her immediately, fully.
I have no idea what her name was. When the fireworks went at the end of the piece (timpani? blanks shot into barrels?) I wasn’t startled. My cello and I were the same, together with the others to make an amazing sound, all part of this glorious moment. There was nothing shocking at all about it.
I’m long past playing cello now, though I’m pretty good at appreciation. And, for an abjectly armchair, fully un-credentialed critic, I’m OK saying that I do or do not enjoy a performance.
I took myself last year to a performance of the Emperor Concerto that I hated from the beginning (because of the conductor (not the pianist or orchestra, both of which I would have liked if they didn’t seem so much like they’d rather not be there, dragged about the piece)). At lunch with colleagues the following Tuesday, I said (with no hope of anyone knowing what I meant), “It was fucking awful. I wanted it to end so badly I clapped between movements.” One of my colleagues coughed like he was choking on his noodle soup. I almost yelped. “You understand?!” We saw each other, his metal-water-green-copper eyes met my own mismatched green/gold. He nodded.
For the uninitiated in philharmonic etiquette: wait to applaud until the whole thing is done. This is signaled to the audience when the conductor lowers her or his arms all the way.
Take this comparison: there are many theatre companies that might perform Hamlet or Midsummer Night’s Dream. One company does not produce the same show as another. I don’t overmuch love the Emperor, but it was on a program with other pieces I VERY MUCH love, so I took it in, with the unstudied expectation it would be OK enough. I didn’t stay for Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky), which is really one of my favorites ever.
I wrote most of all of that to say to anyone with any idea about algorithms: just because it’s classical music does not mean it is calming. Bach is generally cheerful and mostly groovy, (I’ve got theories. I won’t discuss here). For reals, google. It appears as though you’re trying to sink the entire “lowercase c classical” genre simply because there’s no copyright by which you might get with profit. None of the classical mediation radio! is good for what it says it is. It is Romance; the Baroque pieces are buoyant and there are too many terpsichorean glories, whether vast or tiny, to be considered “soothing.” Personally, I don’t find nearly anything “soothing” written by Ravel, Mahler, or Faure. They’re enervating, maybe rousing. Usually I hate Debussy, because I longly and largely hate Debussy, so he’s no good for “meditation” or “soporific.” All of the mentioned composers stir me out of easy or sleepy and fully negate the lullaby because I’d rather stay awake to listen. What the hell sort of meditation do you expect is ensuing via Saint-Saens? Can you stop it?! I want to listen and sleep at the same time. Riots don’t only issue from the flights of Wagner or marches of Williams. There’s a lot to hear in a lot of works.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the corded shell,
His list’ning brethren stood around,
And, wond’ring, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound,
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?