You Don’t Have to be Smart or Even Sane to Listen to Classical Music — Part #4

July 19, 2010
Name: Jim Kxxxxxxxxxxx

E-mail Address:

City: Anchorage


I love the music. I hate the constant hourly reminder of funeral home advertisments. I am reminded all day that I or someone in my family will die. I am already aware of that. I would not use that funeral home as they have planted a point of distaste and disgust in my brain.

Sorry but others where I work feel the same.

The listeners to your kind of music are already aware of the need for funeral homes and which one they prefer.


Dear Jim,

Your email is wonderful news!

I didn’t realize KLEF had hourly announcements from a funeral home.  What a terrific boost that is to keeping classical music on the air!  When did these ads start?  Where should I send the bill?

Before I heard from you the only funeral home ads I was aware of are those from Janssen Funeral Homes (locally owned, three locations, Anchorage’s most-often-chosen funeral homes).  Scott Janssen has been on the air with us for years, thank goodness, but sadly his ads are on only twice a day.

So, assuming you’re not completely hallucinatory and are actually hearing real ads, Janssen’s sure is getting its money’s worth.  Two ads provide the same impact as twenty-four!  It’s just one more example of how KLEF is a superb advertising value.  Thank you for helping me point this out.

But it does raise another question:  Since you say you speak for an office full of people, what sort of hours do you folks keep anyway?  Janssen’s ads air at 6:30 and 8:30 a.m.

Fortunately there is good news for you and your long suffering co-workers:  now there is a special service for people who are too smart to support the businesses which make it possible for KLEF to broadcast the music you claim to love.  Simply tune your radio to 96.4 FM.  That’s how KLEF sounds when no one advertises.



You Don’t Have to be Smart or Even Sane to Listen to Classical Music — Part #3

July 10, 2010

Classical music radio fulfills many purposes.  One is to allow the feeble-minded to claim there is something in the world to which even they are superior.  Here’s an e-mail from May 29, 2009:

From: Carl

E-mail Address:

City: big lake


too bad everytime i try to listen to you guys on the web all i get is a popup telling me to load a MICROSOFT (E GAD!!!) product the won’t run on my Mac.   there are a lot of us out here.

In response, the long suffering J.R. Zufelt replied and patiently provided a link which would allow Carl to run the evil Mircosoft software on his saintly and pristine Mac.  Carl’s exact reply is regrettably lost to history but amounted to, “I never point my browser to any Microsoft site.  How dare you?!?”

Carl has lofty ambitions!  He imagines himself as both wannabe classical music snob and an Apple snob all rolled into one.  I sense though that Carl’s real passion isn’t the music.  Don’t you?

More than a year has passed since his e-mail and the stock market value of Apple has surpassed that of Microsoft so it is fair to ask how much longer Carl will remain loyal to Apple.  Snobs often use failure as ratification for their choices.  “It used to be the best but then it become popular,” right Carl?

Let’s Cook Up A Promotion — Part #1

July 7, 2010

We can and should ensure a brighter future for classical music.  Let’s do it worldwide.  Why not?  (For background on this article see “Reader Steve Strikes Back” elsewhere on this blog.)

Here’s a quick look at our situation’s strengths and weaknesses:


1)   Our product is wonderful.  When people listen to classical music free of the social and emotional baggage with which it is often associated a significant percentage enjoy it.  We can attract new fans for classical music.

2)   There are lots of people who will give the support of our cause at least lip service and in some cases a great deal more support.

3)   Due to KLEF’s geographic location, we can make use of Alaska’s aura, which is a significant source of fascination all over the world.

4)   Support may be available from unexpected quarteres.  With the decrease in oil production, Alaskans are seeking alternative sources of income.  Increased visibility will assist the tourist industry which should take an active interest in this promotion.

5)   This is an ad hoc promotion.  We’re not limited by the traditions of any established arts organization or board of directors.  We’re limited only by our imagination.

6)  We have a radio station on our side.  That’s an excellent forum to build from.


1)   We have no significant budget resources, at least for the moment.  We’ll need a concept which is catchy enough to help raise money and which will find traction in the mass media and cyberspace.

2)   Any concept clever enough to achieve significant media attention will ruffle the feathers of the classical music mainstream in much the same way they looked down their noses at the YouTube Symphony.

Our strengths out-number weaknesses three to one.  Wow!  We’re rolling already.

Here’s my idea, all rights reserved:

We’ll tie into what will surely be the forthcoming public fascination with the end of the world which is said to be coming on December 21, 2012.  Mayan calendars, Nostradamus, and Edgar Cayce can all be woven into a tapestry where classical music steps forward to save the world.

We’ll present simultaneous live performances which culminate at the moment of the solstice with live coverage on the internet and other media.  Further concerts celebrating our success in saving the world would follow.  There are ample opportunities for product tie-ins, travel bargains, and positive exposure for Alaska and classical music devotees.  We’ll sell Alaskan and Alaskan products for the businesses wise enough to sponsor us.

And here’s the best part:

This all comes with a money back guarantee!  That’s right; if we should somehow fail to save the world we’ll refund everyone’s money.

I can see it now:  “KLEF Saves The World”(c).  Coming December 21, 2012.

There’s no time to loose.  The forces of darkness have a head start of nearly one hundred years.

Are you with me?

Target of Opportunity

July 2, 2010

This is not what I promised to post next.  I am mindful of my commitment to outline a classical music promotion but this link came my way thanks to Google auto search set for “Classical Music.”

It’s a discussion on another blog where a reader asks how to convince someone “classical music isn’t boring.”  The answer of course is,   “Live an interesting life.”

Things have come to a pretty pass when that’s even a question but I think you may find this discussion revealing.  Ask yourself how many of the proposed solutions might really be effective.

Reader Steve Strikes Back

July 1, 2010

I’ve had a jolly time pointing out the folly of others and could go on for a long time.  Failure has bred failure in the world of classical music for a hundred years now so the material is almost unlimited.  The eight posts I have completed don’t even begin to get their arms around the self-defeating behavior which the classical music world mistakes for normalcy.

But Reader Steve brought me up short.  If you haven’t done so already I encourage you to read his comment for yourself beneath “Rating Points & Finger Pointing:”

He said, “Okay Rick, if you’re so much smarter than everyone else why are you just pointing out other people’s failings?  Can’t you get on with something more constructive?”

Actually he was more diplomatic but that’s what it boils down to, which is an excellent illustration of why I like Steve so much.  Yes, I am proud to say I know him and yes he’s built a highly successful career marketing products and services many people had long since written off as hopelessly out of sync with the times.

So, Reader Steve poses a fair challenge and I shall endeavor to meet it.

The only downside is that no less than fifteen articles about the state of classical music will go unwritten.  I’ll list the titles at the bottom of this article since I really do intend that every one of them eventually gets written.  I bow to no man in the joy of blaming others.

But for now it’s on to loftier things:  Coming next to this blog, “Let’s Cook Up A Promotion – Part #1.”  By all means please play along at home.

To begin, let’s set some reasonable goals for our promotion.  How about these?

1)  Worldwide impact.

2)  A positive change in the public attitude towards classical music.

3)  Self-supporting through the involvement of businesses who wish to participate so they can enjoy financial gains.  We want to appeal to partners who are stakeholders not just donors; though donors are most certainly welcome and will always be needed in classical music.

Are these goals reasonable?  Are they desireable?

As for the blog articles which must be set to the back of the stove, here are the titles which I share in the hope of whetting your appetite and to assure I’ll be able to remember them:

It’s All Beethoven’s Fault

Meet the Voice of the Devil — His Name is Greg Sandow

The Systematic Poisoning of the Musician’s Mind

“Music Ho!” and the Tragedy of Constant Lambert

What’s the Purpose of Music?

What’s the Purpose of Radio?

Commercialism:  The World’s Seal of Approval

Bastard Children, Modern Music and Child Support

The Disingenuous Tyranny of Excellence

Football and The Three Tenors

Saving Classical Music:  Women and Children First

Assign Blame and Then Promote the Uninvolved

Commercial vs. Public Radio as a Classical Music Forum

Lots of People Listen Until You Give Them Reason to Leave

The Music of Polonius

Rating Points & Finger Pointing

June 28, 2010

It took me a long time to get this blog rolling.  I thought about it for years but it was only eighteen months ago when I finally resolved to start.  It seemed like a good idea get the lay of the land for classical music in cyberspace so I typed “classical music” into a Google service that continually searches the internet for new content.

The results were an eye opener.

“Classical music” gets lots of hits every day; far more than I can read, but I do read a lot of them and I have learned many things.  Among the more important lessons:

1)      Nearly an eighth of the articles have to do with classical music from India.

2)      A whole lot of people write about western classical music, though.  The nature of their postings is all over the map.  There are learned papers, idle questions, and all sorts of praise and disparaging remarks about classical music in general and certain performers in particular.

3)      The majority of the people who present themselves as knowledgeable and supportive say that classical music listening has declined in recent years.  There’s a certain amount of bona fide research which points in this direction as well.

4)      Many of the same people who present themselves as knowledgeable and supportive blame the decline in classical music listening on the attitudes of the general population.  They are too poorly educated, their attention spans are too short, they have no respect for their elders, nobody appreciates what’s really good any more, blah blah blah, etc., etc., etc.  Imagine any other businesses taking this attitude toward its potential customers.  Imagine a company that makes automobiles blaming everyone and everything but themselves when sales decline….oh wait….that’s what some auto companies did.  How did that work out for them?

Most of the world’s population has become used to living without classical music.  These people shrug and accept whatever blame accrues.  Their lives go on.  Arts advocates can point fingers for an eternity if they wish but it won’t bring larger crowds to concerts.  In fact, the opposite is true.

But not everybody in the classical music business is drawing smaller and smaller audiences.

Just one example I happen to know intimately:  KLEF’s share of radio listening has increased more than 46% during the past year.  Survey after survey, our audience shows steady increases.  Our share is presently the second highest of any classical music station in the country, second only to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Does this mean Anchorage is a hotbed of classical music appreciation?  I doubt it.  If a large number of people choose to listen to classical music in Anchorage it’s a good bet there are lots more people in lots more places who are willing to listen too.

The trick is to attract those people and make them want to keep coming back.

You Don’t Have to be Smart or Even Sane to Listen to Classical Music — Part #2

June 24, 2010

I have obscured her name for obvious reasons.  She hand-delivered this, so she knows where we are.

You Don’t Have to be Smart or Even Sane to Listen to Classical Music — Part #1

June 21, 2010

And I quote:

“Concomitant with the ubiquitous and pernicious ascendance of pop-cultural and populist thinking in our culture that began in the mid- to late-Sixties, and today is in full sway, is the appalling decline in the quality and character of critical writing in the arts in the English language mainstream media (we omit from consideration all academic and specialist publications as they constitute a separate realm altogether; one which we’re incompetent to consider).”

What could be more convincing than a poorly written screed railing against poor writing?  In case you think I am making this up or should you actually wish to try to read more from this author you may do so here:

Classical Puritans and Heresy

June 20, 2010

The finest classical music critic in the country writes for the Washington Post.  Her virtues are enormous but her work inadvertently shows why classical music has lost so much ground in public consciousness around the world.

I am not writing this to be unkind to Anne Midgette.  I admire her work tremendously but she has the same blind spot as nearly everyone who has made a career of studying classical music in the last hundred years or so.

There’s no doubting her affection for classical music.  She knows so much and writes with such apparent ease I am jealous.  Her pieces are crisp, lively and knowledgeable.  She even has a charitable spirit.  When she’s not impressed with a certain artist or a certain concert her attitude is that of tough love.  She doesn’t get nasty just for the sake of nastiness.

That’s a long list of virtues.  Nonetheless; she is part of the problem.

When someone as thoughtful and educated as Anne Midgette clings to a false assumption it illustrates just how pervasive classical music’s self-deception has become.

Though they mostly deny it, the classical music elite have worked to isolate their music from society for more than a hundred years.  They imagine they are emulating Beethoven but in fact they are emulating the dodo.

Fortunately, there are signs of recantation, at least in the case of Ms. Midgette.  She’s on the verge of embracing YouTube Legacy Lesson #10, “What is said about a concert before and after it takes place is more important than the concert itself.”

This is heresy for the faithful elite indoctrinated with the myth that performance is everything.  Any suggestions to the contrary violate a basic tenant of the critic’s profession.

No, that’s not just another one of those cheap shots at critics.  You’ve heard the jokes:  “Those who can do, those who can’t write reviews that shoot the wounded on the field of battle,” etc. etc.

Anne Midgette and the top echelon of her colleagues don’t deserve that.  For the most part they are genuine fans of music who have been lead astray.  What’s passed for musical thought for the last hundred years or so rejects the whole idea of music as a social phenomenon.  To her credit, Ms. Anne Midgette is trying to come to grips with all the damage this has caused.

Here’s a piece of the most recent evidence, posted on her blog last June 10:

It’s well worth reading in its entirety.  You’ll sense, I am sure, that she’s uncomfortable with classical music’s status quo but she’s even edgier about what it might take to make things right.

The critic’s lot is not a happy one.

Here’s her key line, which you can find in the fourth paragraph:

“I wonder if to some extent it’s a question of marketing — which plays a bigger role in all of this than music purists might wish.”

Good for you Anne!  You’ve taken the first step toward recovery.

Despite what they tell you, today’s “music purists” have no idea what the word “quality” means.  They don’t even know what music is supposed to do.

Until modern times classical music was intended to influence the right side of our brains where feelings and emotions dwell.  During the twentieth century the self styled “purists” tried to change it to an intellectual exercise for the left brain.  Twelve tone, minimalist and atonal composers were celebrated by those who should have known better for providing a clever but sterile and cerebral approach to music. 

Any composers who clung to the idea of writing an appealing melody or otherwise trying to entertain the crowd were shunned as old fashioned sellouts.

A handful of people in the audience may actually have been pleased by this compositional gamesmanship but most people yawned their indifference or simply left the concert halls.  No one took their place.

Despite what the music “purists” might try to convince you, music’s quality can quite reasonably be measured by the social phenomenon which it creates.  Modern classical music’s phenomenon is best summarized as lack of interest.  By contrast, Mozart and Rossini and Verdi and Liszt and Wagner and many other serious composers were phenomenal celebrities in their day because they wrote for the emotions not the intellect.  That’s what music does.

Any pretence to the contrary is simply that:  pretence.

And pretence fares poorly in the market place.

Yes, Anne, to some extent it’s a question of marketing;” but only to some extent.  And no, marketing doesn’t just mean publicity.  It means realistically assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a product’s appeal, making changes where you can, and endeavoring to attract a public which might benefit.

You’re right Anne, classical music might need to undertake “marketing — which plays a bigger role in all of this than music purists might wish.”  You’ve taken the first step down the road to recovery.  I know this is uncomfortable for you but it reinforces my confidence that you’re the best.  I am proud of you.

Now you’re ready for the next lesson:  Good marketing will only make bad music fail faster but if you provide audiences with a music that makes an emotional connection it will flourish.

The musical “purists” you fret about are better described as puritans. They seek few joys themselves and live with the gnawing fear someone somewhere might be enjoying a pleasant tune.

Thank You For Waiting

June 20, 2010

You endured the tease and waited for the tenth lesson from the legacy of the YouTube Symphony.  Here it is:

(drum roll)

CUE BIG VOICED ANNCR:  The tenth lesson from the YouTube Symphony which is also the most important, counterintuitive and most often misapplied is….

(dramatic pause)

10)  What is said about a concert before and after it takes place is more important than the concert itself.


The rumor is more important than the fact?  Yes.

The advertising is more important than the product?  Yup.

The hype is more important than the substance?  Definitely.

That’s not to say the performance is inconsequential.  At some point the expectations of the audience and the experience the musicians actually deliver achieves a meeting point.  But never forget that every audience arrives with some kind of expectation.  In a very real sense the audience’s artistic experience began well before they got to the concert hall.

There are many ways to influence these expectations including advertising and marketing but promoters seldom see their activities in that light.  Despite what the wonderful arts marketer Danny Newman wrote in his definitive book “Subscribe Now!” the art really does start before the curtain rises.

Since most classical music concerts tend to stay in their asigned lanes, nine times out of ten an audience sees pretty much what it expects to see and hears pretty much what it expects to hear.

In the case of classical music, so much of what the public hears said about it the public media is pretentious claptrap that on the occasions when they actually hear the music it’s understandable if they mistake the music for the claptrap.

(The fact is of course that some of the music actually is pretentious claptrap but that’s another story.)