First of all, Brian Sacawa corrected his error of saying his earlier post, that I then commented on, was by a visual artist. It was not. It was by someone else. Since then there have been more comments at Drew’s site, and I realize that 1) I’ve been challenged 2) I offended several people 3) people who don’t know me read what I write differently than people who know me and 4) I need to be more careful about what I quote; my “pearls before folks” was (duh!) seen as “pearls before swine” and I don’t call people swine, nor do I think those who don’t care for classical music are pigs or “less-than-people” people . Really. But I liked the pearls part and I let my fingers run away with words sometimes. So I do apologize to the “real poster” of the comment. I wasn’t calling you a pig. Honest.

But the visual artist has challenged me now. And I’m not sure how to take that, as I’m never up for a challenge. (I’m not a very competitive person. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone into music since I’m not competitive, eh? I’ve always taken what I’ve been given, but I’ve never fought for more. Call me lazy (like a pig in mud?). Call me wimpy too, because I also shy away from confrontation. But since I guess this one is my fault—I got into this one and now I have to deal with it—I have to take it like an oboist. Or something.

Anyway, I clearly stepped on folks’ toes, for which I do apologize. Anyone who knows me I hate toe-stepping! But I have very large feet.

So here’s the challenge:

Let’s not let our preconceptions about visual artists hide a very real fact: visual artists experience a lot more classical music than classical musicians take time to experience visual art. I say that as someone who has listened to classical music my entire career as I worked, and whose many artist acquaintances do the same. I would challenge any oboeist, or any other musician to be able to do the visual equivalent of what I and another graduate student did one night, while working in the studio: whistling the last movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, in its entirety,
while alternating music phrases between us, in a playful exercise of sheer joy over the music and our communication. Maybe, we missed our calling!

She’s right; I don’t see enough art. I wish I could say she was wrong, but to get to a gallery just doesn’t happen enough for me. And I’m embarrassed by that. And I can’t look at art while I work … I can’t practice or perform and manage to do anything else at the same time. I know some colleagues who read while playing (even in performance!), or who watch TV while practicing. I can’t do it. When I was in my “wannabe poet” stage I couldn’t write while listening to music either; it was one or the other. Words took my full attention. Music took my full attention. (For the record, the house is silent right now.)

As to whistling? Nope. I can’t do that either. First of all, I can only whistle while inhaling (really!), but to whistle Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is simply an impossibility for me. I can’t even imagine doing that.

So I fail the challenge. And I apologize to the visual artist whom I clearly offended even while my blog was in response to comments she didn’t even write, nor did I name anyone at all. If you read this blog, dear artist, I am sorry for the offense!

If I hear from her and she wants her site listed here I’m fine with that—I’m all for promoting artists. But since I’m still not into naming names, I don’t feel comfortable providing the link at the moment.

To all of you: If you can whistle Beethoven please send me a recording. And if you want to disagree with me about anything that’s okay. I’m pretty darn wimpy. I’m insecure. But if I put something offensive up at this site I deserve to be called on it.

I still stand by my “classical music isn’t for everyone” thought, though. I think that one is okay … isn’t it? Does that stomp on toes? I would think those that don’t like it would nod their heads and say, “sure isn’t!” and those that like it would say, “Gee, maybe that makes me special.” (To the non-lovers that’s okay too … they can just smile innocently and say, “Sure, you’re very, very specciiiall,” in a very special and knowing way.

OH … and this doesn’t mean I don’t believe I shouldn’t introduce classical music to people. You never know who will fall for it! My mother brought a bunch of friends to see La Boheme. She didn’t know what they’d think. I kind of had them pegged. One that I’d decided was a definite “Never again!” sort went home and told her husband she loved it and would go again.

So you never know.

Yeah, I do realize that the artist was suggesting I do the “visual equivalent” of whistling Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. I did get that. It’s just that I’m not sure what that might be, and I have to be honest and say I haven’t the talent to do even a smidgin’ of visual art. It’s a drag, to be honest. But there you go. I do put little eyeglasses on my music when I need to pay attention to the conductor. Does that count for anything?

I didn’t think so.


  1. terminaldegree

    Well, that’s a toughie. Anyone can listen to Beethoven while creating visual art, or driving a car, or nursing a baby, or dusting the furniture. So a lot of listeners sort of feel (at least in my music appreciation classes) that they have ownership of our field. That’s great–it’s wonderful that they take the time to listen and get a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction from it. But sometimes when someone tells me they have music on “as background music,” I sort of wonder if they are also the types who buy a “work of art” because it matches the sofa!

    I’d still say that we hear a Beethoven concerto somewhat differently, after having played in the middle of the orchestra instead of hearing it from the audience’s standpoint. We’d probably hear it differently yet if we had experiences as conductors or as violin soloists. It just means that we listen differently, just as my sculptor friend sees things in great paintings that I don’t notice (until she points them out, and then I’m happy to start to see differently).

    But I *do* use works of art to get across musical ideas. For example, Georges Seurat’s pointillism is a great way to teach students to “connect the dots.” (In other words, if they keep making an “event” of individual notes instead of creating phrases, we talk about backing away from the painting so that the dots blur together into a picture.) And I think students should be familiar with Dadaism if they’re going to study Varese’s Ionisation, or with Matthias Gruenewald’s Isenheim alterpiece if they’re going to play Mathis der Maler. The students at the university here seem to like this approach. Recently I was in the practice rooms and saw that they’ve decorated the practice rooms with prints of famous works of art. Suddenly the practice rooms are much nicer places. And what better ways to work on improvisation or tone colors than when inspired by art?

    So to suggest that “I know more about your field than you know about mine,” well, that bugs me a little. Because I make my music students visit the art musems, the ballet, and the opera. And I expect my music students to understand how impressionism influenced composition. In other words, I want them to be well-rounded performers. And I know a lot of other musicians who take the same approach.

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    I did think, TD, after I calmed down and got over feeling horrible about offending someone(s), that what I was being asked to do was … well … maybe not quite realistic. You’re right about music being so different than visual art. I love both very much, by the way.

    I love your teaching skill, using art when teaching music. Every time you talk about how you teach I am more impressed.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post … you put things into words so much better than I.

    I could have avoided the whole challenge by writing my blog entry with more care, so I do understand why someone felt the need to lash out at me. And I’m a big girl so while I get all upset for a time, I get over it. (I just hate offending people.)

  3. Hey, it’s YOUR blog. It is possible for an offended person to, uh, simply not visit your site, right? :)

    (Note that I haven’t read the whole debate. It’s just a thought.)

  4. Patricia Mitchell

    The problem was that a rather popular site (two, actually) mentioned this blog entry. And I DID, after all, using the “casting pearls” line, which was … um … not kind.

    And, mostly, I try not to attack an individual. It’s not my plan to do that on this site.

    But anyway, all’s fine now, so no worries on my part. (Aside from the fact that the Giants are behind 0-2 right now and we need to win, win, win! ;-)