Medleyana, Year Five

CitizenKane

The author, hard at work producing fresh #content

I have been thinking about editors lately, and how necessary they are. It is sadly clear that editing isn’t the priority that it used to be, and I’m not just talking about writing online; finding an obvious error in a newspaper, magazine, or even in a book, and knowing that it was preventable is one of the sadder and more frustrating experiences that all readers have had at one time or another. Everybody needs an editor: another pair of eyes will frequently notice typographical errors, missing or misused words, and ungainly repetition that I have overlooked (it’s so basic, but I still get annoyed when I find I’ve used the same word twice in a sentence or repeated it too closely in a paragraph). I happen to think I am a pretty good proofreader of my own stuff, but nobody’s perfect, and beyond the question of my writing ability, when I’m self-editing I only see what I think I’ve written, mentally filling in words I’ve left out or correcting spelling errors without even noticing them. An editor sees what I’ve actually written and can go from there.

Of course, what I’m describing is really proofreading and doesn’t even get into the more active roles many editors take in shaping their writers’ work. For a couple of years I wrote concert reviews for the Wichita Eagle. That was instructional, but newspaper editing has its own set of conventions: I learned quickly that I couldn’t write four paragraphs of critique and then turn it around with something positive in the last paragraph, because newspapers “cut from the bottom,” and that last paragraph was the first to go if space was needed, undercutting my rhetorical strategy and making it seem like I had nothing positive to say. I also found that phrases in parentheses or set off by em dashes were easy to cut, so I learned not to put anything too important in them. As far as grammar or word choice, though, I don’t recall many changes being made to my prose. My concert reviews were submitted via e-mail, where they would be posted first online and then usually appear in the print edition a day later (as you may expect, it was the print edition that sometimes made cuts for space).

Needless to say, Medleyana does not have an editor other than myself. With enough lead time, I can let an article rest and come back to it with fresh eyes, seeing clearly what is actually there, but realistically I don’t always have the time to let things settle before I hope to post them. Being online, I can always go back and correct mistakes if I find them later, but beyond errors of fact or simple typos, I try to resist the temptation: once you start rewriting, you may never stop. That said, my experience writing and reading lead me to have great respect for the editor’s art and skill.

There is another way in which the passage of time helps my writing process: in the realization that I’ve perpetrated a cliché. Clichés are often the byproduct of hurried writing or the initial stage of the process in which I’ll put something, anything down on the page to get started. You would think that a hackneyed phrase would immediately jump out at me, but if it fits into the rhythm of the passages around it, it can be camouflaged, only appearing obvious later, once I’ve pressed the “Publish” button. Sure, I take out clichés if I catch them during the proofreading/rewriting process, but it’s the ones I don’t catch that I really remember–and importantly remember to avoid in the future. (Lest I be accused of vagueposting, I already cringe when I see the sentence “What’s a girl to do?” in my review of Disenchantment, and that was only two weeks ago. Blecch.)

Weak endings, judgments that later seem too harsh or not harsh enough, and arguments or turns of phrase that come to me perfectly formed the day after I’ve published are examples of similar phenomena. The realization that I’ve written something trite or half-baked is a powerful incentive to do better, and a single published example I regret is stronger in that regard than a dozen unpublished aspirations. Still, as I said, I try to avoid editing old posts, because down that road lies madness. I’d rather look forward and try to apply what I’ve learned from my successes and failures to the next thing I write.

On that note, it’s now been five years since I started Medleyana; my focus has changed over time, with fewer personal essays and more reviews (especially my series Fates Worse Than Death, about which I’ll have more to say in an upcoming article). Some of what I have written seems excessive to me now, especially in the early blog entries, which were often about subjects I’d been thinking about for some time before writing; the search for fresh material often doesn’t leave as much time for exploring things in depth as I might like. However, I know from experience that if I don’t keep a schedule, I might never finish anything, because there’s always more “research” to be done, always some other nugget of information waiting to be uncovered. (And of course there are months where I don’t post anything at all.) It’s true that I don’t publish as often as I did when I started, but I plan to continue, and I’ve already re-upped my domain registration, so I guess I’m committed. I have some fun articles planned already, and October is usually a fruitful month for me with plenty of Halloween-related topics to write about, so please continue to check the site (or subscribe)!

To all my readers, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning or just discovered Medleyana, if you’ve shared links to my posts, commented on a post, followed me on Twitter, or just read something you enjoyed: thanks.

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Wichita Symphony Orchestra: Music of Vaughan Williams and Beethoven

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Serenade to Music

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125

It’s fitting that during the first Wichita Symphony concert I reviewed for the Eagle last fall, a piece was delayed by a ringing cell phone, and at the last Classics concert of the season, the ending of another piece was interrupted by the same intrusion.  This time I felt the need to mention it in the published article; it’s not usually my practice to review the audience, unless their reaction provides insight into the performance.  In this case, however, it was too obvious to ignore, and a spoiled moment remains spoiled whether it’s the fault of the performers or something external.

I’m also not much interested in the ritual of public shaming that inevitably accompanies this sort of transgression: it could happen to anyone through a moment of forgetfulness, and the individual was (I hope) mortified enough by the experience to avoid it in the future.  I report it as a reminder for future concerts: come on, people.

I should add that I wouldn’t demand total silence during a performance, even if it were within my power.  The occasional burst of applause, the movement of bodies, even the coughing that sometimes comes unbidden during the softest passage: these are human sounds, and they have been with us since the first public concerts.  They are reminders that concertgoing is a communal experience.

Critic Alex Ross has written about the rule of silence, and the transformation of the rowdy public concerts of the eighteenth century into the solemn “Temple of Music” we have now. Of particular interest is his research into the “no applause” rule, under which the audience is expected to remain silent between movements and only show their appreciation at the end (a practice that has taken root only since the early twentieth century; many first-hand reports indicate that composers such as Mozart experienced, and even counted on, applause between–or within!–movements that could be truly described as “crowd-pleasing”). Ross writes:

As a listener, I don’t need total silence to help me to understand the music, even less to register its emotional impact. To the contrary, I find this ponderous silence forced, unsettling, and in places absolutely anti-musical, as after the big movements of concertos. It’s crazy for three thousand people to sit in Carnegie Hall contemplating Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto as if it were some Buddhist monument, rather than a rousing, passionate entertainment.

As it happens, the enthusiasm of Saturday’s audience was such that there was vigorous applause after not only the first, but also the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  That is a sound that no musician would mind hearing during a performance.

Wichita Symphony Orchestra with William Wolfram, Piano: Music of Wagner, Liszt, and Bruckner

Wichita Symphony Orchestra

Daniel Hege, Music Director and Conductor

William Wolfram, Piano

“Hail Wichita” (Wichita State University fight song)

Richard Wagner: “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre

Franz Liszt: Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major for Piano, S. 124

Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major, “Romantic”

Here’s what I wrote in my review for The Wichita Eagle.

Wichita Symphony Orchestra with American Brass Quintet

Wichita Symphony Orchestra with Maestro Daniel Hege:

Thunderhead Singers (Drum circle)

John Barry: Concert Suite from Dances With Wolves

Eric Ewazen: Shadowcatcher (concerto featuring American Brass Quintet; accompanied by projected images of Edward Curtis’ photographs of Native Americans)

Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World”

Here’s what I wrote for The Wichita Eagle.

Piano-Playing Pair Provides Powerful Performance: I review the Wichita Symphony

Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2; Poulenc: Concerto for Two Pianos; Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

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I’m happy to say that there were quite a few younger people at Saturday’s Wichita Symphony Orchestra concert, but there were enough empty seats that there is room for more. Perhaps they were persuaded by the WSO’s aggressive new ad campaign (I’m particularly taken by the suggestion that activities like jai alai will help audiences prepare for the heart-pounding excitement of a symphony concert); I saw several take advantage of the WSO’s $5 student rush tickets (one of the best-kept entertainment secrets in town).  Either way, I’m not inclined to blame them for the repeated interruptions from cell phones during the concert; in my experience, older concertgoers are equally likely to forget to turn them down.  I don’t believe the concert hall should be a mausoleum: Century II has already made the decision to allow food and drink in the hall during performances, probably in the interest of creating a more welcoming environment, and I’m sure it helps the bottom line.  Even so, one could sense the audience’s frustration when Maestro Daniel Hege waited for the ringtones to stop before beginning The Rite of Spring (the concert’s second half), and one still started chirping during the lightly scored woodwind introduction.  At best it’s an annoyance to other patrons; it worst it can interfere with the performance itself. It’s not a lack of education, or the influx of newcomers to the Symphony, it’s simple mindfulness: if the Warren Theatres can police cell phone use at the movies for the sake of a better experience, surely a live music venue can do the same.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote for The Wichita Eagle.