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

Sunday, October 10, 2004


Late Wednesday night when I first posted on seeing the Chicago Lyric production of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” the first and shortest opera of Wagner’s “Ring” tetralogy, I made unfair insinuations questioning the commitment of professional musicians to the music they play.

It was unfair, but I had my reasons. Weak reasons, but reasons.

Conductor Daniel Barenboim has commented that job satisfaction among orchestral players is among the lowest (or maybe the lowest) of any profession. Several months ago Greg Sandow posted a long-ish email from a stay-at-home classical fan who went to a symphonic concert to hear them play music from a video game he played a lot -- he only went this time because a friend talked him into it -- and while he enjoyed the concert he was put-off by how obvious it was that the players held the music in disdain. And the night before I saw “Rheingold,” a free volunteer performance of music by John Cage appeared to me to have been received far more warmly than Chicago Lyric’s Wagner.

None of these anecdotes gives the slightest indication that any professional player is playing less than his or her best. Professionals have a sense of honor, and they don’t ever want to make fools of themselves. They play well whether they like the music or not.

As it turns out, professional harpist and excellent blogger Helen Radice of “twang twang twang” recently made trenchant, provocative comments that pertain to all of this, somewhat confirming my insinuations but mostly blowing them away, and either way, putting them in the bright and sympathetic light of personal experience. A coincidence that Helen is a harpist, in this post about my hang-ups about money and music: Lyric’s “Rheingold” orchestra boasted 4 harps, but the program listed only one harpist. Presumably Wagner’s score requires more harpists than the typical opera. The program lists dozens upon dozens of annual donors and single-production donors, but they don’t list everybody in the orchestra.

This tells me something about how the world works.

And Helen’s post closes with one of my favorite lines from Shakespeare, which tells me something about how music works.

"is't not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of men's bodies?"

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