Letters for May 29, 2003

Editor's note: We received dozens of letters in response to Jeff Stratton's May 15 column about the Florida Philharmonic. Below are just a few examples; more will follow in coming weeks.

You Get What You Pay For

It could even happen here: Since Jeff Stratton works at an alternative weekly, how does he miss the point that classical music is alternative? What could be more alternative than a beleaguered art form? Journalists like you should be defending the musicians, not running them down.

I half expected Stratton to tell the violinists he interviewed to "Go back to Poland!" His attack on the Florida Philharmonic was revolting. The rewards classical music gives are different from those of any sort of pop or jazz. The thrills produced by Beethoven's Fifth or the Berlioz Requiem or a Stravinsky chamber piece are different from those of R. Kelly or Blur. I can appreciate all of them, and so can most people if they take the time to do it. That's really the issue here: the fact that so much classical music takes more than three minutes to digest.

Classical music can gain a popular foothold; it's done it in Chicago. And I don't think other types of music were "ghettoized" there. The fan bases there for both are strong, is all.

The New World Symphony is still alive and kicking, and Stratton should check it out. He should find something out about the music before attacking it. He comes across as arrogant as the people he hates.

Marc Geelhoed

Bloomington, Indiana

He speaks for Dubya: I am sure Jeff Stratton has received, and will continue to receive, much "angry" mail from musicians offended by his article about the Florida Philharmonic. I hope you don't mind if I give a different view.

Stratton admits that the philharmonic has been jerked around quite a bit, but then he attributes its problems to being in an ivory tower, so to speak. Well, maybe -- but then so many of these problems are a result of the present-day financial situation everywhere. As is said often, "It's the economy, stupid" (along with a multibillion-dollar war).

So how does the present administration get the public to overlook the fact that billions of dollars are spent in a war looking for "invisible" weapons of mass destruction while money for schools, arts organizations, and help for the indigent vanishes? Columnists like Stratton make it easy for the administration.

He is a fine spokesman for President Bush. I look forward to his next article about teachers who are nothing but lazy, overpaid baby sitters.

Ed Staubach

Indianapolis, Indiana

Stop shoveling dirt on our grave: The demise of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra is one of many sad events in our business of late. It is dangerous, however, to draw conclusions on musician attitudes, career paths, and cultural trends based on a few interviews and the multiculturalism of South Florida.

I don't deny that many of my colleagues in the business are "isolated" from the realities of life. Dedicating yourself to mastering classical music is as demanding as any career ever could be. Nor will I deny that classical musicians sometimes look down their noses at other more "spontaneous" music forms -- that is, "let's grab an instrument and jam" versus practicing four hours a day for 20 years. Classical musicians suffer the same gap as anyone else -- lack of exposure to and appreciation for other art forms -- just as the multicultural masses lack exposure to Beethoven.

As a performing musician and studio teacher, I encounter the "fear of career" question every day, from audience members and students alike. To students, you can't sugarcoat how difficult this career is. If they are willing to gladly make the sacrifices necessary, then I say go for it. You can always become an accountant or high-tech person in your 30s, but you get only one crack at a classical music career -- when you're young. People choose our art for reasons of passion, both performers and audience alike.

As for the survival of classical music in our cultural life, I have few worries. Beethoven symphonies will never go out of style. Whether enough people will know about them to make performing groups viable is and has always been the challenge. No amount of dirt shoveled on the grave of classical music by people such as Stratton can change the fact that it is an empty grave. The spirit of the music, and the desire for people to play it and hear it played, will outlive us all.

Thomas Derthick

Principal Bass, Sacramento Philharmonic

Sacramento, California

Don't talk to me about snobbery: I don't have a lot of sympathy for the Florida Philharmonic either. I think they mismanaged the situation and overplayed their hand with their supporters. But to call classical music a "noble profession that's heading the way of the blacksmith" is shortsighted and insulting. Fine orchestras around the country (including the Sacramento Philharmonic) are working hard to make classical music relevant to a contemporary audience. It is not elitist (in a snobbish sense of the word) for musicians to demonstrate discipline, persistence of vision, and sacrifice to preserve and advance a great art form. The Florida Philharmonic crisis isn't about entitlement; it's about the failure of management, musicians, and supporters to articulate the importance of what classical music can bring to a general audience -- "not the experts and aficionados," the "common man and woman and child." Entertainment that includes extraordinary talent and that is capable of an extraordinary impact is worth fighting for -- especially in a world in which even mediocrity is considered too much work. Mr. Stratton needs to have his "ossified particles" shaken, or at least stirred.  

Jane Hill

Sacramento, California

Don't underestimate Ludwig and the boys: I agree it is sad for the musicians to have lost their jobs, but they are all talented and capable people, and they will go on to other markets. I think the real pity is that a city as large as Miami does not have the self-respect to support a high-profile artistic organization such as a professional symphony orchestra.

When Stratton writes that people these days just don't care about concert music, that simply is not true. It may be true in Florida (which has always been challenged when it comes to supporting professional musical ensembles), but it is not the case in the rest of the country. Granted, these are difficult times, and some orchestras need to change the way they do business. But most of the artistic institutions will survive because of enlightened individuals who believe that their orchestras are worthy of permanence.

I sense the article was born of frustration -- a frustration that is well-founded. However, I encourage you to keep a more-positive outlook. Music will survive and most likely (in a few years) prosper. I honestly think the opinion expressed in Bandwidth was too heavily influenced by the events in Florida. Chin up, old boy! Maybe Dave Barry was right about Florida all along.

Gordon J. Johnson

via the Internet

You're a Philistine and a cad: I am the concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I will keep this very short, as you are not worth the time it would take to dismember your ignorant opinions. I say to you only this: The life that you subscribe to, void of the incomparable beauty of live classical music, will be one that you deserve, lacking in humanity, hope, and inspiration. I would love to hear the hundreds of young people that my orchestra has introduced this year to the beauty of Bach, Beethoven, and Bartok respond to your ignorant and spiteful words. The letters I receive from them paint a very different picture. They could teach you a few things about life.

Margaret Batjer

Los Angeles

It's easy for you to say: I firmly believe that there will always be classical music, even though not that many people listen to it. Mr. Stratton made the point that society is becoming diverse and multicultural. That is exactly the reason that classical music and other forms of music will continue to exist. People have different interests and different tastes. That is exactly what Stratton did -- express his tastes and interests. I respect his opinions. He has the right to express them, because this is America.

Michael A. Taddonio

Pembroke Pines

Talk to the people of Florida: Jeff Stratton's article about the Florida Philharmonic was absolutely stupid. He seems to blame the musicians for the entire situation. The musicians are nothing more than employees, and of course they are mad at losing their jobs. I bet he would be upset too if the pissant paper he writes for went under and dumped him.

He seems to claim that symphonic music and the fine arts in general have no place in Florida. Well, if that's the case, I am sure glad I don't live there. He seems to think that any entertainment not viewed by the mass populous is not worth having. This is a communist attitude, in my opinion. Good thing everyone does not think like he does!

As for the musicians, he's wrong in thinking that musicians feel society "owes" them a living. Musicians know only too well that theirs is a field full of obstacles and that they are lucky indeed to make a living playing music. The fact that the people of Florida don't wish to support the Florida Philharmonic speaks more poorly about Florida than it does about the musicians.  

Paul Randall

Cary, North Carolina

Erratum: In the May 15 Best of Broward-Palm Beach issue, an item on the "Best Herald Scoop of the Herald" should have noted that the play Urban Cowboy remained open after its sponsors announced it would close.

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