With the World Series still raging on and consuming the attention of the majority of folks in at least two American cities, if not the rest of the country, it might not be the most auspicious time to confess that sports has never particularly held my interest. But over a decade ago I briefly got hooked on baseball as a result of feeling the need to learn something substantive about the game in order to compose appropriate music to accompany the marriage ceremony of two sports-obsessed friends, on whose wedding program I was cheekily listed as scorekeeper. And thanks to the combination of my friends’ informed guidance (which involved taking me to games in a couple of different cities—I loved being at Boston’s Fenway Park) and my own obsessive attention to detail for whatever project in which I happen to be engaged, I believe I gained some knowledge of baseball and its history, as well as an enduring respect for its rules and traditions.
From time to time over the years I have talked—and even written on these pages—about how much we in the music community could learn from the sports field, both in terms of effectively getting the word out about what the field is about and developing long term audience appreciation and loyalty. Taking a look at the tabloid headlines in New York City today—the Yankees lost last night—inspired some additional thoughts. For starters, despite today being Election Day, last night’s game got the entire front page of both the New York Post and the Daily News. Apparently the World Series is more important news in this town than our mayoral election! And, since sports news always gets the back page of these two local papers (imagine if such status were accorded to music or to the arts in general), the game captured that page of both papers as well. (Wasn’t there also a big football game last night?)
The front and back of today’s Daily News read as follows:
$181M FOR THIS?
Teixeira flops in another big spot as Yanks fail to finish Phils
Yanks head home after failing to close out series in Philly
And here’s the Post:
BRING IT ON HOME
Yanks Can Win It All in Bronx
A.J.’s anguish: I LET CITY DOWN
Phil’s rock Burnett to force Game 6
For starters, to someone who is somewhat outside this realm of information, there are a lot of missing details. Are A.J. and Burnett the same guy? Who lost the game anyway, A.J. or Teixeira, whose salary is the headline’s main issue? The assumption is that readers already know this information, and if they don’t they’ll look it up so as not to seem out of touch, which is a world of difference from the way editors think music information needs to be oversimplified to reach a general audience. And then there’s the obvious bias. Objectively speaking, from a hard news point of view, a reporter shouldn’t take sides on whether New York or Philadelphia’s team should win. But I doubt anyone advocating for the Phillies to win the series in a New York City-based publication would keep their job for very long. Yet our music critics don’t always admire and sometimes even ignore the musical equivalent of local teams. And if a critic were to only praise the musical local teams that critic would instantly be perceived as an industry mouthpiece by the rest of the critical community as well as sectors of the music industry at large.
Perhaps what’s most striking (pun intended), however, is the overt outrage based on the local bias of sports writers. Both papers are clearly mad that the local team lost, and the News kicks it up a notch by decrying the salary of the person on “our side” they claim was responsible for messing it up. Imagine a similar scenario if music were to be covered this way. What if there were a truly bad performance by an orchestra, and the salary of the conductor or concert master, or the commissioning fee of the composer if they were covering a new work they didn’t think was up to snuff, became the headline on Page 1 the next morning? Would it be such a terrible thing? It might actually help make the whole apparatus of music-making seem somehow less arcane. Indeed, as Philipp Blume asserted in a comment posted to my thread starter last week, perhaps we make music into too much of a sacred cow, to the point that it has somehow become less relevant to all of our lives than it should be. Indeed those sports fans are as enamored of baseball as we are of music, maybe many are more so, which makes them all the more impassioned about it and focused on the outcomes they desire. So why shouldn’t we be as vocally passionate?