#pieces Issue 50

…we’re reading, listening to, and putting together.

What’s going on with John Adams’s Twitter lately?

In Lolita, Humbert Humbert says, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” It’s a hilarious line—far funnier than anything in Alejandro L. Madrid’s article, which simply makes a reasonable point about tokenism in the musical canon. The composer Alex Temple and the musicologist William Robin, both of whom we’ve interviewed in VAN, responded appropriately:



Adams doesn’t express his own opinion here, but commenters are negative, including one #MAGA type. Still, we couldn’t agree more with Zachary Woolfe’s words: “As we try to envision classical music’s future, it will be necessary to think not just of what we sing, but of who sings it, of the faces we put forward as we claim continued relevance in an ever more diverse world.”

Welcome to the new VAN, same as the old VAN.

This blog, Pieces, is the part of our new site where we’ll be commenting on day-to-day topics between issues. Also, we ’ve organized our many articles by subject, category, author, and issue number. Have a look around!

Is the “cryptic, tricky language” of music holding poor children back?

In a recent Guardian piece, Charlotte C. Gill argues that reading music is an unnecessary barrier to entry in music education. It’s “a cryptic, tricky language – rather like Latin – that can only be read by a small number of people, most of whom have benefited from private education. Children who do not have the resources, or ability, to comprehend it, are written off. Even when they are capable performers,” she writes. Of course, it’s not a language that communicates abstract or discrete ideas well, but like French or Mandarin, wealthy children do tend to get better instruction in it than their poorer peers. What’s less convincing is the idea that not reading music is a huge barrier to musical success. Pop stars who don’t read music can be billionaires, while music theory adjuncts sightread Wagner operas but don’t have health insurance. If there really is a “wealth elite presiding over music” with a pro-score agenda, it’s not a very effective one.

Alex Ross comes to the defense of music criticism.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen Alex Ross’s new piece on the state of music criticism. We don’t have much to add. But we don’t quite agree with the idea of reviews as “the shoe-leather journalism of the cultural sphere.” VAN doesn’t do regular reviews, preferring to focus on meeting artists and reporting larger stories. Still, concert-going, lots of interviewing, and ears to the ground with sources ought to keep us in shape. Isn’t that what real journalists do all day—listen to people talk?