Above all,a critic's job is fun


This will be my last Sounds column. I'm leaving The Evening Sun to become music critic at the Orange County Register, which is located just south of Los Angeles.

Once, at the beginning of my career, I said it should be decreed that music critics could only serve a five-year term. After that, I said, critics should step down so a new person could impose his or her opinions on the reading public on matters of music.

How naive I was.

Indeed, it's been five years since I was named music critic at The Evening Sun. And indeed, I am leaving. But if someone had told me I had to leave, they would have had to drag me kicking and screaming from my little cubicle on the fifth floor of the Baltimore Sun building on Calvert Street.

Because there's one thing they don't tell you about this job: How much fun it is.

When you become a music critic, a number of people pull you aside and in grave tones talk about the solemn responsibility that resides in the position. They invoke Schumann and Debussy and the imperious Hanslick.

Yes, I learned there was a great responsibility in being a critic, but once I figured out this great responsibility was to be essentially irresponsible, I became much happier, and, I think, better at it.

A music review is one person's reaction, at a point in time, to a musical event. It is not a report card, nor a communique from the overworld of the connoisseur, politely couched in terms that will not offend the artist nor the presenting musical institution.

When somebody drops a quarter in a newspaper box to read a review, they are buying one person's unvarnished opinion of a concert. The more a critic is true to his or her individual feelings, as subjective as they are, the better and more relevant the music criticism.

Do I regret at times the anguish I must have caused to well-intentioned musicians who suffered negative comments in my reviews? You bet. I think there is a misconception by some in the public that critics enjoy ripping a singer, a pianist, a conductor, or a violinist. Believe me, it never feels good.

But a funny thing happens when the lights go down at the opera house or symphony hall. Personal considerations melt away, and purely artistic forces come into play. It comes down to this: It's either good or it isn't. The critic's mandate is to be irresponsible to the feelings of the artist or the interests of the institution, but bound by the immutable laws of art and performance.

After all, that is why all of us -- critics, audience, and musicians -- participate in this thing called music. It is to reach out to something larger than ourselves.

I have tried, not always successfully, to follow this path in my music criticism. My successor will have his or her own philosophy.

My only wish for the new music critic is that he or she has as much fun doing it as I did.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad