Blogatorial

Lisa Hirsch

December, 2004

San Francisco Classical Voice was started to fill the void left in the Bay Area by the print media's neglect of classical music. Over the last few years, a new Web medium has begun to fill voids in the media that werenít all that obvious: the Web log, or blog. During the recent election cycle, bloggers (blog authors) on all sides of the political spectrum got plenty of attention in the mainstream media, because of their sharp-tongued commentary, independence, and fast responses to breaking news. Blogs have become a significant source of information and analysis apart from the interests, in all senses of the word, of the limited, corporate-controlled, mainstream media.

A blog is a sort of on-line journal, with dated entries, cross-references to articles on the Web, and, often, commentary on other bloggersí entries or current events relevant to the blog topic. Blogging software can be set up to allow comments on blog entries, so bloggers can have spontaneous public conversations with their readers. Lots of bloggers include graphics, photographs, or music. For ever conceivable subject, there is a blog, from food and eating, to dogs, to cats to knitting. Not that bloggers necessarily stick to only one subject - the format is personal and intimate, and when youíre blogging on a daily basis, other interests do sneak in. Just about no one is able to resistant the siren song of political commentary.

Just as the newspapers can't begin to cover the breadth and depth of classical music performances, they can't provide much commentary on the state of classical music, and I can't remember ever seeing real musical analysis outside specialist journals and program notes. Classical music bloggers are filling all of these gaps, and with a vengence.

Your average newspaper doesnít write much about contemporary classical composers, unless a well-known composer has a significant local premiere. A few working composers have their own blogs. You might start with Marcus Maroney, whose blog, Sounds Like New, has recently discussed the nature of musical prodigies, his own compositions, and Hindemith. Forrest Covington lives in North Carolina and blogs at The Muse at Sunset, where you can read about the November Chord of the Month.

Fred Himebaughís The FredŲsphere is sui generis; heís a composer who blogs about just about anything interesting that hovers into view. (No, Fred, there are hardly ever zeppelins moored to the Empire State Building these days.) Mark Dancigers and Martin Suckling, Blog@Musica Transatlantica, write about performance directions, what itís like to be a composer, and the joys of music notation software; you can also read their part of an ongoing discussion with Marcus Maroney. Composer, critic, musicologist, and music professor Kyle Gann is among the bloggers at ArtsJournal. (ArtsJournal aggregates an enormous amount of arts coverage from newspapers and magazines all over the world.) He also runs a Web radio station, PostClassic Radio. A recent posting at his blog talks about the Desert Island dilemma in times of 250 gigabyte hard disks.

Also writing at ArtsJournal are composer and critic Greg Sandow and musician, arts administrator, and consultant Drew MacManus. Sandow blogs on the future of classical music. He covers all kinds of issues of interest to critics, musical institutions, and, yes, the audience, including how to build the classical music audience. He's one of the participants in Critical Conversation,, in which 13 classical critics talk about the future of classical music and the role of critics. (Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle is another participant.) McManus can be found at Adaptistration, which covers the structure, funding, publicizing, and management of classical music institutions. Of local relevance: just this past week he wrote about the labor problems at the San Francisco Opera.

A number of bloggers sometimes touch on classical music in the context of general cultural interests. The Honorable Terry Teachout, so titled because he was recently named to the National Council on the Arts, is at ArtsJournal and can be read, along with the pseudonymous Our Girl in Chicago, at About Last Night. George Hunka may claim his thoughts, blogged at Superfluities, are unnessary, but they are always timely and thought-provoking. Reflections in d minor is worth reading and all but unclassifiable.

If youíre the classical music critic of The New Yorker, you already have one of the best music writing jobs in the country. Alex Ross, an erudite and elegant writer in any forum, posts CD reviews, reviews not intended for The New Yorker,, literary quotations about music, beautiful photographs (sometimes of his cats), miscellaneous cultural reports, and commentary on other blogs at The Rest is Noise. He is temporarily on hiatus wrapping up a draft of his book on twentieth-century music, but heíll be back in January some time. Meanwhile, there is plenty to read in the blogís archives.

And heís not the only critic with lots to say outside his reviews. Marion Lignana Rosenberg, critic and classical music writer for Time Out New York, Newsday,, the Forward and various other outlets, blogs at vilaine fille. Writer and pianist Jessica Duchen blogs from London about all sorts of musical matters, from learning to love the Shostakovich symphonies to British amateurism to what sheís listening to. Also in London is Helen Radice, giving us the inside scoop on what itís like to be a harpist - lugging a huge instrument around a huge city, spending a day at a rehearsal for fifteen minutes of playing, trying to keep all those strings in tune when itís cold in the hall, what historically informed performance has to do with the harp.

Possibly the most-linked-to, because he is the most controversy-generating classical blogger, is the militantly conservative A. C. Douglas. I referred above to Marcus Maroneyís posting about musical prodigies. ACD, as he's known, started that discussion by writing about 12-year-old composer Jay Greenberg. (He hopes Greenberg will resist musical pressures and continue to write in a tonal style, apparently.) Alex Ross had some comments about that and Steve Hicken got into the act at his blog, listen. Hicken is using his blog, in part, to discuss what he thinks are the 101 essential works of 20th century classical music; he also writes about being a composer. At aworks: "new" american classical music, Robert Gable focusses on current and 20th century American works. Recent entries have discussed Nancarrow, Cowell, Ziporyn, and Ruggles.

Tim Johnson has some fantastic analysis and discussion of 20th century music at The Rambler; note, especially, the great posting on British composer Brian Ferneyhough. ionarts is a group blog covering all kinds of cultural affairs and events, including classical music, in Washington, D.C. Scott Spiegelberg, assistant professor of music at DePauw University, writes about Musical Perceptions from all different angles - the science of musical perception, what itís like to teach his students, how particular works are perceived.

parterre box isnít exactly a blog, but itís full of entertaining, and often outrageous, reviews, interviews, commentary, and gossip about the world of opera, primarily in New York City. trrill is a group blog written by three pseudonymous opera fans, who reside in Seattle, New York, and, uh, Outer Mongolia? Yet another NYC opera blog is Sieglindeís Diaries.

Several classical bloggers are located in the Bay Area. The Standing Room writes about the Opera, the Symphony (see, for example, his comments on John Adamsís NaÔve and Sentimental Music, which I reviewed for SFCV), the recordings in rotation in his iPod, and his parking tickets. Ching Chang, who has written for various San Francisco print outlets, blogs about Bay Area culture at The Bay Buzz. Iron Tongue of Midnight is my own outlet for random thoughts and opinion pieces; I share Four Cranks with Opinions, a site primarily for record and concert reviews, with my friends Mitch Kaufman, Bob Rideout, and Bill Kasimer, though so far all of the content is by Mitch.

Needless to say, this isnít a complete survey of all the classical blogs out there. The blogosphere is burgeoning, and more and more classical musicians, writers, and critics are likely to join the ranks. Keep an eye on a few of your favorites, click the links to other sites, and youíre sure to find plenty of interesting and informative classical blogging.

This is a corrected and slightly updated version of the SFCV article.