From apple country to the Big Apple

A week from this Sunday, I’ll be off to New York City for the NEA’s 4th annual Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera. It’s an 11-day workshop in classical music and opera at Columbia University.

I read about the conference at, and it got me thinking, whatever happened to regional music critics? Terry Teachout’s recent “Wall Street Journal” article on the fall of the credentialed critic and the rise of the dilettante blogger summarizes fears that regional newspapers have given up on covering the arts.

The article caught my eye since, at the time, my local paper had not yet replaced its full-time classical music critic. As frustrated consumer who likes music, I wanted to read about it. As a broadcast journalist who covers the arts, I wanted to write about it, too.

I got the chance when I started freelancing for City newspaper, Rochester’s alternative newsweekly.

To be frank, I thought it would be easy. I’d grown up with music in the air and scores literally lying around the house: my parents were both professional musicians. Since 1991, I’d served as a classical music announcer for WXXI. I’d filed a significant number of stories on the arts for various National Public Radio newsmagazines. As the host of broadcast concerts by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the organist for an Episcopal church, and a soprano in the Rochester Oratorio Society, I can say music resonates with me, and I relished the notion of finding sharp, lively ways to describe it.

But it hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be.

I cover opera, symphonic music, and the effects of the i-pod on the habits of classical music listeners. I write about new composers, old pipe organs, and the early music scene.

But when I compared a Brahms symphony to a sailing ship, I felt I was beginning to flounder, bogged down in the swampy limits of my own vocabulary.

That is why I’m looking forward to this conference. I’m a little bogged.

I was visiting my sister in Albion. She said she had trimmed the edges of her front walk and wanted me to see it. We stepped off the porch. The walk looked like the work of a dozen, crazed moles. Dirt, tufts of grass, and bits of moss lay on the concrete next to two-inch wide trenches.

I asked her how she did it, and she held up a spiked tool like a pointy pizza cutter on a pole, a tool normally used for breaking and tilling soil. The blades turned in the sunlight.

“I don’t think that’s the right tool,” I said.

Like my sister, I need the right tools and more tools: hand tools, power tools, and trimmers, plus blueprints, sketch pads, pencils, and maybe a camera. I need, for my readers’ sakes, a broader perspective, a wider vocabulary, and a shaper pen.

Above all, I hope to be infused with energy and enthusiasm about classical music reporting. Edward Rothstein of “The New York Times” may wonder who cares about classical music, but the answer is clear. Thousands of readers care in Upstate New York.

To read info this conference, check out:

And check in for updates from October 14 - 24.