When people criticize the music they hear on Classical IPR, their complaints generally fall into one of two categories.
The first is that the music we play is too “dumbed down.” It’s cheap, it’s pandering, it’s not real classical music. I’m sometimes asked if we “have” to play certain music because we have to appease the masses.
The second is that the music we play is too elitist. It’s ugly, it’s exclusionary, it’s someone trying to prove a point. One listener wrote to me that they felt we tried to “outsmart” them with a particular musical selection.
Both of these concerns have to do with creating and maintaining a space that is special, where the listener feels like an insider. If the music appeals to too many people, then that space gets too crowded. If the music is too difficult, then the listener feels like they’re outside the space altogether.
It’s a challenge to play music every day that people like but that doesn’t become monotonous. We also try to introduce people to music that they might not know but that they might like.
And, despite the oft-repeated notion that “music is the universal language,” music means very different things to different people. I’m sometimes told that IPR should never play a particular piece on the air again because nobody could possibly find it beautiful.
There’s an interesting assumption some people have that their personal taste level is universal — if I find it ugly, everyone must find it ugly too. Alas, this is not the case with music any more than it is with food — people claim that chocolate and mint are a delicious pairing, but I am convinced these people have broken taste buds.
One piece of music (not of chocolate) that comes to mind as an example is “Mad Rush,” a work for solo piano by Philip Glass. The piece is about 15 minutes long and is almost hypnotic in its use of repeated figures. (It’s part of the style called minimalism, for those of you who recall your Music Appreciation class).
During my tenure as the host of our weekly Music by Request program on Classical IPR, different people would request “Mad Rush” on a regular basis. It was probably requested every three or four weeks.
Invariably, when the piece was on the air, I would get calls and emails from listeners who were anything from puzzled to downright furious. Callers thought that the person who requested the piece was playing a prank, or that I had chosen the piece myself in an attempt to irritate people.
It’s a great example of different tastes colliding. People genuinely wanted to hear “Mad Rush” on the radio and share it with other listeners. Some of those other listeners didn’t appreciate the selection.
It’s a good reminder that, no matter how sure we are of our own tastes and preferences, there’s no guarantee that everyone around us feels the same way, whether it’s minimalism or Andes mints.