Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Alex Ross and Felix Salmon have been discussing the musical processes which produce chills -- tingling in the neck, literal goosebumps -- in the listener. Interesting description of a solo instrument emerging from a musical sound-mass, a solo oboe, say, over a string background: one suggestion is that the solo instrument recalls the cry of a lone animal on a plain, separated from the herd, calling up primal mammal memories.

Yesterday, after having read this a few days before, I came across a reference to a new Cole Porter bio-pic, which made me want to hear Barbra Streisand’s version of “You’re the Top,” which she recorded for the opening and closing credits of her 1972 comedy with Ryan O’Neal, “What’s Up, Doc?” It’s on a best-of compilation I found used a while ago, and it’s great -- she displays her whole voice, from the top to the bottom of her range, from a lilting flirty whisper to a hysterical roar, from intense drama to goofy humor. When the hysterical roar came in, suddenly, I got literal goosebumps. Chills. The sudden shift in timbre, and the intense emotion communicated -- cannily, it comes on the line, “you’re sublime” -- overtook my expectations, even though I’d heard the record many times before.

Chills may be too subjective an experience to systematize the cause, but I’d guess that a sudden shift in timbre, even if it’s subtle, may be key, which is not unlike the solo oboe suggestion. In any case, I’m happy to read other people’s thoughts on the matter.


Article in Sunday’s NY Times says that conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim gets paid more than $2,000,000 a year for his part-time conducting gig with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Base pay for players in the New York Philharmonic is over a hundred grand. The Philharmonic’s conductor, Lorin Maazel, makes more than Barenboim.

Salaries like that, man, and people worry that classical is dying.

Note, however: the conductors make a lot more. When Barenboim said in his book of conversations with Edward Said, “Parallels and Paradoxes,” that orchestral players have among the lowest job satisfaction of any professional class, he didn’t mention that he got paid 20 times more than they did for the same night’s music. Money can’t buy me love, no, but money changes everything.

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