Jerry, Nico, Jody, and St. Francis

Last night, still full of pride and joy and warm feelings for my students’ achievements and their recognition at a humdinger of a commencement, I got home and turned on the computer – only to see that all hell had broken loose at Sequenza 21.
I’d like to set part of the record straight here. Jerry and Steve have never, ever, given contributors any static about the viewpoints we express on the site. They’ve also never suggested we cover something with an eye toward driving revenue or page views. Indeed we’re given tremendous creative latitude; the experience I’ve had here for three years has been quite positive. I think it speaks volumes about their approach that we have many talented contributors who work very hard to provide the site with content day in and day out.
The notion that we are having staff meetings discussing cheap page view spikes is the exact opposite of the vibe of our ad hoc online collective. We’re not compensated for our work, nor do we ever expect to be. Indeed, as Jerry points out, he has subsidized the existence of both the site and the Sequenza 21 concerts. I’m very glad that the site was willing to take on my blog after Splendid (www.splendidmagazine.com) folded. I can’t think of too many other venues on the internet that would allow me to discuss such a wide range of musical topics.
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Now, part two: Jody and Nico and blogosphere animus.
For those curious, here again is Nico’s post about Jody Redhage and other NY new music ‘scenes’: http://nicomuhly.com/news/2009/scene-but-not-heard/
It does seem pretty mean-spirited from where I sit. But obviously, as someone who regularly composes for Jody and has written about her music, I can’t comment objectively on that, other than to say that Muhly and I disagree! And while his critique did reference her music, I don’t think it was particularly detailed. For those interested in a more in depth portrait of Jody’s work, I’d recommend the feature I contributed to Musicworks Issue 102 (Winter 2008) available at: http://www.musicworks.ca/backissues-102winter2008.asp
I think Muhly’s very talented, BTW (as I wrote here: http://www.sequenza21.com/2010/04/nypos-contact-at-symphony-space/)  but as someone who has regarded Birtwistle highly for a long time, I’d have liked to see Sir Harry getting top billing on the Merkin show!
Still, I can understand why he doesn’t, since Muhly probably is a better draw in NYC than Birtwistle. If people come for the Muhly and stay for the Birtwistle, its win-win in my book!
I think Jerry was trying to be an agent provocateur. Those who don’t regularly read the site may not be used to his terse yet effective set ups for many conversations we’ve had here on the homepage. I think I’ve overheard folks having the same conversation he was trying to foster here on the web at nearly every Nico performance I’ve attended.
Nico was commenting on “new music scenes.” He was being a bit provocative himself.  In both cases, rhetoric escalates and feelings get hurt… and words get hurled.
There’s an old story about St. Francis de Sales. A penitent comes to him and confesses to saying something to besmirch a fellow parishioner’s reputation. As penance, St. Francis asks him to go out onto a windy hilltop and tear apart a down pillow. Then, he is to retrieve every feather. The penitent, aghast, says that’s impossible. St. Francis replies, so is retrieving every bit of damage you may have done to that person’s reputation with your words.
Its a hard parable by which to live as a music critic. But I still think its an excellent cautionary tale for those of us who blog to ponder as we wade into the online discourse. In fact, I might tape it to my monitor as a reminder.

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