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Listen Magazine

March 19, 2009


            News was popping up last week that the good people at Arkiv Music (who are having a sale for the rest of the week on nearly everything) had expanded their ventures into the world of magazine publishing.  Listen, is billed as ‘America’s bimonthly magazine about classical music in our daily lives.’  I was lucky enough to get a free copy of Listen, I guess because I recently bought a few things from Arkiv Music.


Some thoughts (good and bad!) below the fold.


            You have to admire a company trying to embarking a large brand new business component in this economy.  I guess it’s a little easier for them to stomach since they can remind you that everything you’re reading about can be easily purchased via their retail music store (and a ton can be listened to here), and its also easier when Listen’s concept owes a lot to Grammophone.  I also think it’s a great idea to highlight the everyday relevance of classical music to many people in various locations, as editor in chief Ben Finane says in his welcome letter – its why I spend time doing this blog and the radio show.

            Then again, I attempt to focus more on the potential and future of classical music’s relevance.  I strongly believe that listening to classical music isn’t exclusive to a certain type of people or income bracket.  “To listen is to pay thoughtful attention to sound” is something anyone can do, really.  This might earn me a few classical music demerits, but I bet there’s a whole lot of people who find themselves listening to some New York Philharmonics with as much attention as teenage girls listening to the latest from Hannah Montana.  Its important to emphasize careful listening to music, but it’s slightly delusional to assume that people who appreciate classical music automatically listen more careful than people who stock their music shelves with other music genrees.

I’m personally not particularly interested in reading a magazine to make “new discoveries about the finer things in life.”  Listen is making the assumption, it seems, that classical music is reserved for people that can spend a hundred dollars on a meal before seeing a performance at Carnegie Hall.  That’s fine – those people do exist and will probably enjoy reading this magazine.  I, though, would rather grab a hot dog from a vendor between the subway and the hall. 

            Then again, I’m a classical musician, and as far from rich or famous as one possibly could be.  That probably puts me outside the target audience.  But the greater issue is that Classical music is only going to continue becoming a niche market for the rich and famous if Listen becomes the exclusive face of classical music culture.  On one hand, that’s not their concern – they’re just a music magazine supporting a music store.  On the other hand, though, Listen potentially could become that face, and if they do society becomes a stakeholder in how they advertise classical music.  Flipping through the magazine, I feel like I’m not a part of their club.  If I was just starting to explore this classical music thing, would Listen help or hinder my exploration into classical music?

            Also, maybe its because I know the people putting down the money to make the magazine, but some of the articles in the magazine, while enjoyable to read, come off as being thinly veiled advertisements.  The short commentary on Satie by pianist Alexandre Tharaud was interesting, but obviously only existed because of his upcoming album of Satie Music.  Rolling Stone tends to feature artists who have recently put out albums, but their recording resumé does not become the focus as it seemed to in Isabel Bayrakdarian’s feature story.  If you’re going to take time out of Leon Fleisher’s day, why not ask him about more than just a brief overview of his recordings?  Or, to put it as cynically as I possibly could, detailing Handel operas isn’t bad writing, but was the story written to help move some product sitting on the shelves too long?  It doesn’t help that the great majority of the ads have Arkiv Music’s website on them somewhere.

Some more questions: Why did the magazine feature Kind of Blue as one of Helene Grimaud’s favorite albums when she also spent time raving about Eminem?  What is the hidden message behind a remark on how amazing it is that Seattle historically had more than just ‘fiddle and dance fests’ early in its life as a city as if people outside of major cities are just heathens, or how the magazine sets up the stereotype of immigrants having a strong work ethic as if its suspect? 

Don’t get me wrong – the survey of the Seattle scene was great, and I hope to see an Icebreaker festival at some point.  I’m glad I found out about the Met Opera’s video service online.  Arkiv Music has also done a great number of things for the music – their recommendations on composers I was unfamiliar with have never failed to delight and their efforts to reissue out of print music is very exciting (I’m a pack rat who hates to see great things just vanish).  This is also just the start for Listen, and so great things may come.  I hope to pick up an edition sometime soon and hear about the classical music of Bodunk, Iowa or Crabapple Cove, Maine.  I just fear their efforts can only appear to be an elaborate advertisement to buy CDs that will in effect segregate the classical world further from the world at large, when classical music really needs to be finding itself in the ears of everyone in society – for both society and classical music’s sake.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2009 5:11 pm

    I heard about Listen magazine via a classical music forum. Before going straight to Arkiv’s site, I Googled this new title. Your blog post came up, and I’m glad that it did – for three reasons:

    1) Because it’s well written, intelligent and gives me a reasonable (and impartial) idea of what I can expect from Listen magazine.

    2) Because I understand where you’re going with this statement: “If I was just starting to explore this classical music thing, would Listen help or hinder my exploration into classical music?” (Especially as my classical music blog is aimed at listeners who are just starting out.)

    3) Because I can now add a link to this blog from mine – and your feed to my Google Reader.

    Thank you for a genuinely enjoyable and informative read. I’ll be back …


  2. Doug permalink*
    April 19, 2009 11:49 am

    Thanks! I dig your site too – its now in my google reader!

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