Broadening versus investigating

This is one of my favorite musical interviews ever — Rachel Barton Pine’s conversation with Oakland East Bay and Sacramento conductor Michael Morgan. Engaging, interesting, insightful, funny … One of the best.

However. 🙂

One of the things that Morgan mentions here is something that I fear can often be misunderstood or misapplied in a damaging way. Partway through the conversation, he remarks that orchestras must:

1) reflect the tastes of their community, and yet
2) be constantly trying to broaden these tastes.

I think “broaden” is the wrong word. It’s too easy for beltway insiders of any kind to interpret the word “broaden” as “force them to like what I like.” I’ve had too many experiences with Comic Book Guys in all arenas that demand that other people “broaden their minds” by agreeing with them. And given the amount of snobbery in the classical music world, I think this tendency is more likely to occur than not, and hence active measures need to be taken to make sure this particular reaction doesn’t engage.

I would prefer the word “investigate.” I think this reflects better the idea that the orchestra may not know where the investigation will ultimately lead. Part of being in an orchestra, as musician or conductor, as Morgan says, is having “no idea what’s going to happen.” Or having no idea where the investigation of a community’s tastes will lead. It may lead them to rhetorical-your favorite contemporary super-obscure hipster composer … or it may not. Let it happen how it will happen. Ride the wave, but don’t waste your time trying to steer.

This is part of what Morgan calls “permission to hate” a piece, but again, given the amount of snobbery in the current classical music culture, I think that the distinction between broadening and investigating needs to be explicitly described.