The Boy Who Cried Wolf

While being interviewed, it is easy to realise – within seconds – how informed the person behind the microphone really is. It is your duty, dear fellow musician, to clear all doubts, myths and incorrect information while giving the interview; your chance is there, it’s not difficult to fulfill. You are representing – no matter how significantly – an art field, and probably you want your audience to understand it better. And those who are interested in your work, in your career, in the mechanism of your world, well you have the opportunity to demystify it, to explain and enlighten.

Unless, of course, you think it’s better to keep the mystery, and add some salt to it instead. Then you choose to act differently: you can grab all the clichés and feed them to clueless people who want to remain clueless. For example, “Early Music sounds like it’s dead already” – they used to say that in the Sixties. Someone who never listened to enough Early Music recordings will just take this statement for granted, if it comes from a famous artist. In my country of origin, this is called “demagogy”. This statement belongs to the same category as “Germany takes in refugees, while they don’t care about their own homeless people”. Clueless people will just believe that, and you have just used and misguided them. Is that how you care about your audience? Do you want them to understand, or you want them to “vote for you”, like they voted for Trump?

A few days ago I read an interview in the VAN magazine, of a harpsichordist who made a career out of presenting himself as a “misunderstood and persecuted outsider” (words of a friend of mine). This interview was apparently worth translating and publishing in the German issue as well. As VAN puts it, “his approach to the instrument stands out in contrast to the traditional associations of the harpsichord with the historical performance movement”. This can be (and often is) said about almost every emerging harpsichordist in the last twenty years, wherein I count myself as well: we are many. There is some truth to VAN’s statement, but only when being looked at through a distorted lens. In its essence and poor description, it is actually wrong and misleading. The interview mentioned above would have us believe that the “traditional approach” is boring and dead – which is simply not true. There are tons of records to support such a statement, as there are tons of records to prove this statement wrong, as it is with all kind of news nowadays. Yes, the younger generation is different than the older. Together with growth there comes emancipation, but not always denial. Being stylistically inaccurate or technically careless does not count; this has nothing to do with being a pioneer breaking the chains of old traditions. Conclusion: This statement is more wrong than right, and it is useless, in other words, this is what we call in German “hot air”.

The press needs to start caring more about the facts, and less about freak-shows. Dear interviewer, before asking questions about the harsh reality of the harpsichord and early music academic world, make sure that the person you are just about to interview knows what they are talking about. Would you ask someone from the US who travelled to Germany once for Oktoberfest about German society and the realities of everyday life there? Do you think that this person would be qualified to give pertinent answers? Maybe you really want to know how the reality in those music academies is, by asking people who actually studied there? You could do that, and you’d get your share of scandalous stories and critical issues. But let us not invent any.

The performance practice departments of music academies in continental Europe are the most cosmopolitan ones of all. During my studies in Amsterdam with Bob van Asperen, there were 10 of us in his class, from all over the world (except from the Netherlands, there was nobody from there). Such a thing as institutional “foreign-hate” did not exist, as it does not exist now; we were all foreigners there. We are all foreigners everywhere, in every academy, on every stage. Maybe each one of us felt as an outsider every now and then – how could we not, when we come from a different world and need to adjust at first? This is part of life. And yes, one might experience some snobbery here and there, because some academies are more prestigious than others, but this is only elitism, not nationalism. We can all cope with a bit of elitism: we are adults. We don’t need to cry “wolf!” like the boy in the story.

Did you, dear interviewer, realise that you are talking to this very shepherd boy, who has cried “Racism!” for years now? If the harpsichord world would be a monopoly shared by the “Dutch and French camps”, how do you explain the career of harpsichordists who don’t come from Central Europe, but from Eastern Europe, South America, USA, Asia, Israel, UK & elsewhere? That many of these people studied in France or the Netherlands is easy to explain: that’s where most Early Music departments were, it’s when the Early Music “movement” started. But that changed rapidly, and today there is an impressive number of active and gifted harpsichordists who studied in Spain, Belgium, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland and several other places which are not The Netherlands or France.

The boy in the story gets eaten by the monster he cried for too many times. I think the villagers should have punished the little boy for wasting their time. Indeed, they gave him one chance too many, and then the wolf got him. I ask myself: why does the boy keep harassing everyone? Maybe things don’t go the way he wants, and he is frustrated? Or maybe he is just bored? Maybe he hates the villagers and does it intentionally? Or maybe he truly believes there is a wolf out there? If he would be truly aware about both these things – (1) what a wolf really is, and (2) there is no wolf out there – I think he just wouldn’t do it. Now, if the real wolf would come and threaten other kids, and they cry for help, will anyone listen?

I asked a befriended journalist why does the press often not do their homework properly. Did they forget what they are there for? He said that everyone is struggling for popularity and high rating, and that the pressure is high. When did that happen? Anyway, this has to stop. ““Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully.” (again, not my words). Dear press, start doing your homework properly.

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