Why I Support Classical Radio…

…because there are always new composers to discover, because a gorgeous performance of Brahms or Dvorak takes me back to the first time I heard it, because the intimate conversation of a string quartet elevates my spirit, because the elegant beauty of a violin or the thunder of a brass section can make me weak in the knees.

I don’t support it so I can hear for the third time in two days

O come let us abhor him
O come let us deplore him
O come let us ignore him…

(that being about the point where I slam my hand into the on-off button and pop a CD into the tray).

If I wanted to hear hackneyed old carols about aww aww the Mother And Child (a spectacle I would run a mile out of my way to avoid on any day of my life — the only thing more revolting than a human infant is a mother baby-talking to it) I would go and stand in the middle of Wal-Mart. Or the shopping mall. Or tune in a pop station. Or go to some goddam awful school pageant.

Give me this one corner of the world, please. Give me Sibelius and Mendelssohn and Beethoven and Lully and Verdi and Wagner and Haydn, give me Stravinsky and Strauss and Berlioz. Spare me the Little Town Of Bethlehem where It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, which is starting to sound to me like the title of a 1950’s horror movie.

It Came Over The Airwaves. From the depths of some festering saccharine cesspit of phony emotion.

Eleven more days.


33 thoughts on “Why I Support Classical Radio…

  1. It is uncanny how similar our view of the world is. You far outstriip my knowledge, understanding, insight and expression, though, so I just have to accept my limitations. Not all the bounty of this life is meant for me.

    Tell me, then, were the heart-wrenching I felt when I held my newly-born sixth grandchild asleep In my arms two weeks ago, granting hope despite my doubts and in the face of naysayers, the relief that my daughter survived a difficult birth and her overwhelming joy and fulfilment after many years and painful preparation all phoney?

    Did my senses not really take me back through the centuries to share with ordinary folk like me the sounds of ancient carols, so to transcend the hardships, the grimness of exploitation and the beeping of tills?

    Are the symbols of rebirth and renewal of the human spirit through the mystery of the word a sad self-deception?

    Is there no escape from the degeneration of my soul to the bland physicality which you so aptly and beautifully describe?

    • I just don’t get it, Richard. When you talk about the birth of a child constituting joy and fulfilment I just don’t hear anything I can understand; it’s like someone saying “Water is so DRY” or “Turn out the light so I can read this small print.” If your daughter survived a difficult birth — what was the point of getting pregnant and inviting that peril? That permanent demolition of a perfectly good body, which will doubtless never be quite the same? What is there about a child that is so desirable that anyone would put themselves through that or want someone they loved to go through that? Yes, that is what it takes for the species to continue — so maybe our continuing isn’t worth that amount of suffering and degradation, just for starters; and then, the infant is nothing but a noisy, smelly, greedy, selfish ball of protoplasm who will extract most of what is good from those around it, leaving them with nothing for themselves, before it’s able to be a real human being and give anything back, not to mention being a trial to people who have nothing to do with it and just have to put up with its behavior in public.

      I can’t imagine people inflicting this on themselves (given that technology now makes reproduction optional, at least in much of the world), unless they’ve been brainwashed to think it is somehow good when I can’t imagine any other natural reaction to the process than loathing.

      The idea of *worshiping* the Divine in this form becomes more of a screaming absurdity to me every year, especially when I am in a grocery store trying to remember what I came for and wanting to choke one of the little squalling wretches, or when the radio plays, as it just did when I got up, “O Come All Ye Faithful” for the FOURTH time in two days and a bit.

      Edit: – as to the whole celebration of renewal thing — I am, in fact, deeply moved by the return of the sun, whether at every dawn or at the solstice, something that every living thing feels in all the cells of its body.

      I don’t really see the need to distort that feeling into a flawed metaphor (the birth of an infant, which unlike the sun, rather than giving, does nothing but take) which tends to set a dangerous precedent (everybody have more children!)

      • I do not insist that anyone should have a baby and many times have found it necessary to rehearse the the drawbacks and disadvantages. It is in many ways Nature’s trick. Those who cannot reproduce, or refuse to, deserve our full respect for their positions.

        Ultimately, though, one can question the point of anything, including humanity itself or any defined part of it. Those are the roots of prejudice, dear Sled, cruelty and genocide. I do not, of course, attach any such negativity to you – quite the opposite. I merely suggest that your views might encourage some who are less sensitive and humane than yourself.

        I have been present at three births. The outstanding memory is that the full character and personality of the future adult made itself known in the first few moments after arrival. That does not mean that I wholly reject the effect nurture over nature.

        You are right in one sense. In its struggle for survival, the baby is in command and requires in no uncertain terms the undivided attention and efforts of the adults round it, who instinctively want to make it stop. That is not a comfortable position for those adults. It is also a lesson to them about their own selfishness and bad behaviour. Tragically, some do not understand what it’s all about and react violently.

        Perhaps my fifth grandchild had it right. At the age of six she was chosen to play Mary in the school nativity play. When her father arrived home she ran to greet him and announced:

        “Daddy, I think I’m pregnant.”

        • Cute and funny. And yet, to me, it is also an ominous story, suggesting that a young girl has learned that being pregnant is something to be amused about. The propaganda starts early. I have clients like the woman of ninety, with three children about my age, who tell me that if they had understood that not having children was an option, they would have had none.

          I’m not sure how you make the leap to prejudice and genocide. I loathe the children of all ethnicities equally. I don’t really wish suffering on them except when they are inflicting it on me, but I loathe them, nonetheless.

          • My mother’s mother had eleven children, spaced at intervals of three years until her husband retired from the Royal Navy. When my mother was pregnant with me she told her, “Children ruin you mentally, physically anf financially,” then offered her a stiff gin. Consider what my mother might have lost.

            When my wife and I had our first child, we entered into a sort of fog [is that a metaphor or simile?] and didn’t emerge until approaching old age, when all our children had grown up and were inclined to reject us.

            Be assured, children do not loathe you (no-one could), and, while children, will never reject you, despite all you say about them.

          • Well everyone likes to toss out “what if your mother never had you” argument, but clearly the world needs for some mothers not to have had the children they had — there are too many. This gets a bit far from the whole Christmas thing, I realize, but I think the Christmas myth is used to boost the pronatalist argument a lot. “What if Mary hadn’t had Jesus”, or “what if she had an abortion/used birth control,” oh well, you know the sort of thing.

            As for children not loathing or rejecting people, I really never see anything from very small children that suggests anything particularly loving. I have a early memory of a 7-year-old cousin bashing his mother repeatedly with a cereal box because she was crying at a poignant memory, shouting “Stop that!”

            Anyway, the very first thing I would want from a child would be to be rejected; I can’t get far enough away from them. Their favorite thing is mostly to badger people to distraction, because it’s the only power they have and by God they will use it.

      • All metaphors are flawed, Sled, otherwise they wouldn’t be metaphors.

        In five billion years’ time the Sun will take the Earth and everything in it.

        That all this symbolism is extended to ourselves is something to cause us rejoice in the unity of spirit. These symbols are not mutually exclusive, but they are beyond bland physicality.

        • I love a good metaphor possibly more than you can know, but anything that attempts to ennoble children sticks my craw.

          We are so flawed that if the Sun eats us, I can’t really argue with the conclusion.

  2. In early 2008, the company I work for installed a new radio system, to replace the previously playing commercial station they had played for years as part of a deal. From that point, it was a playlist that played instead, of highly boring and unpopular songs, which someone at the company believed were more suitable for our customers. At first, there were like 20 songs, playing again and again, but after many complaints, they improved it. It was now a 24-hour playlist. Everyday, you hear the very same songs, at the same time, in the same order. Out of which only 2 or 3 I kind of like a bit. I know all the lyrics of some of the worst songs of history. In 2009, they added in a few Micheal Jackson songs, the only drawback to an otherwise good riddance. The playlist haven’t changed since then.

    But some of the store managers got tired of it long ago, and and now breaking the rule and playing some other music, more commonly just some commercial station, although a few rely on a USB key to play whatever they like, even if in one particular case the manager could be fired without a prior notice because he picked music I liked, which means the company would see it as inappropriate for our customers.

    Yesterday, the store I worked at had a particular radio station on, the last one I would allow in any premise I have control over. Previously a station meant for women of silver age, with cute marketing bullshit such as “the music of my heart and the heart of my life”, they have rebranded themselves a few years ago to now cover the mothers who’s children have recently left the house. But one thing remain, for the entire month of December, they are “the official Christmas station”. For the entire month, they play nothing but Christmas songs. And since they talk in between songs, they also talk about stuff which are Christmas related. Because you know, Christmas magic (that is, learning that Fisher Price now sells a baby car seat which has an integrated tablet) is way more important than Nelson Mandela or the current debate about what we should do of that bridge which is about to collapse but which we cannot get rid of because it is the most used bridge in Canada, and the third one in North America.

    After an hour, I was beginning to become insane, and my colleagues didn’t know how to convince me to stop singing. After two hours, I suggested that I should remain in the backstore, where the radio could not be heard, while they stayed there working. During the third hours, they began playing the same songs again but interpreted by different signers. Because you know, that song is much different when sang by a different person.

    Petit Papa Noël, quand tu descendras du ciel, avec des jouets par milliers, n’oublie pas THAT I WANT TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just so you know what I’m talking about:

    • The video just adds the special sauce to the interpretation. I would have to be tied up and carried out of there.

      Back before my gym went to hell and became a health club for the shut-in, the owners, who were always pretty cheap in a good way (waste no money on nonessentials kind of cheap) bowed to the idea that they should have a few TV monitors with one tuned in to a music video loop. They must have been using the same suppliers as your employer because they had a loop that was certainly not longer than an hour of classic rock songs. I can take this in the gym, though it is not my thing, but that same loop ran for so many months that for the rest of my life I will expect to hear “Six Feet Under” after that Pink Floyd “Leave Our Kids Alone” thing.

      I had to just shut off the classical radio last night. Ding Dong Merrily On High, I felt like a bus conductor.

  3. Sled, you like all those composers, and I do too. But, had a mother not given birth to them, we wouldn’t revel in their music.
    Ok, don’t get started on that though. It as just a way of starting my comment.
    And the reborn child – as you also observe – is probably just a metaphor of the rebirth of the Sun. Few Christians today realize that still in the 5th century CE – that is 4 hundreds years after the birth of Christ! – Church members were asked by pope Leo the Great to do everyone the favour (or just to him) to stop worshipping the sun.

    • Well, Giovanni, that was my point — that the reborn (or just born) child is meant to represent the sun, but what a sad difference between a squalling, stinking human infant and the orb of day!

      Yes, every great and worthwhile human being was born of a mother, and that is the paradox that I can’t see how to resolve In order to have these few people of whom the human race can actually be proud, how many women had to be mutilated, have their dignity stripped away and the shank of their lives robbed from them? Was it worth it? I wouldn’t be willing to say so.

  4. You are SOO right! I just got back from my second unplanned trip to the US (I only say that to explain my silences of late). Anyway, I was in the Cleveland airport waiting for departure at 7 am. There was no place in the terminal where you could escape the most irritating versions of dorky Christmas carols on full volume. Even in the loo! This was after full immersion in any public location as well as radio. I haven’t heard a single carol since I got back.

    Also, have you ever deconstructed the lyrics of the average carol? Even allowing for the fact that some of them are translated from other languages doesn’t explain the complete illogic of some of the words.

    • O yes. I was going to rant about that some but ran out of breath. “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove/The glory of his righteousness and wonders of his love.” WTF? Prove? Wonders? Truth? Grace? The Christian world has been at its own throat for two thousand years for one thing, not to mention other people’s.

      • The Christian world, according to your understanding of it, I gather, consists of Christians. They, like you, me and everyone else, come in all shapes and sizes, some short, some tall, some fat, some thin, some kind, some cruel, some good, some bad, some just, some unjust, some who write well, some who compose drivel, some who fight, some who reconcile, some who believe one thing, some who believe another, or nothing, some simple, some sophisticated, some honest, some dishonest, some who kill, some who value all human life.

        At least it is not part of their creed to perform human sacrifice, unlike sun-worshippers.

          • Since you have a yen for bulveristic prejudice, I had better remind you of this:

            An oriental gentlemen walks into a City Bank with 10,000 JPY. The cashier duly hands him 60 GBP and the Japanese gentleman takes it away and spends it.

            The next day the same gentleman takes in a further 10,000 JPY and the same cashier hands him 59.49 GBP

            J.G.: But yesterday you pay me 60 GBP
            Cash.: Fluctuations!
            J.G.: And fluck to you Europeans.

          • Linked article, Richard. Christians have been just as fond as their Roman forebears (whose administrative structure the Church appeas to have lifted wholesale) of public killing, with the added twist that certain forms of atrocious execution were supposed to ennoble the souls of those involved and possibly save that of the victim. Besides the autos-da-fe, there were the possibly millions executed for witchcraft over several centuries. They were mostly women like me, older, widowed or unmarried, living alone, with a line in folk medicine (one text read “if a woman cure, she is a witch and must die”). A lot of them were accused of “causing miscarriages,” meaning they helped women keep from having the seventh or eighth child that would probably kill them. Look up also “Albigensian Crusade.” The Catholic Church was probably the all time leader of this kind of thing but in the States the Puritans did a pretty good job, though they preferred hanging to public burning, possibly because it saved on fuel.

            Most of Europe’s history is a dark mess of doctrinally fueled wars. Ideologies such as Fascism and Communism replaced Christian sectarianism as time went on but by that time the body count was pretty spectacular.

          • There is no harm in raising the issues of the past, or the distant past, as long as it is done with even-handed reference to the other forces of the times and to those who spoke out and paid with their lives. One hopes for the human conscience to evolve with everything else.

            The error lies in applying your same criticisms to the present day, when different considerations apply, such as child abuse.

          • Well, I didn’t say that people were burning witches nowadays (though there are times I think my oh so Catholic next door neighbors would like to) but it still does not cover the history of Christianity with glory, and I hope you don’t expect me to accept the demurral “oh but that was then and those other guys over there did it anyway and we all better now.” Granted, very few religions have NOT committed abuses in the name of whatever God they revere.

  5. I shouldn’t think logic was at the forefront of the minds of the mediaeval wandering minstrels who composed some of those carols, Thomas.

    But you’re quite right. I prefer the pure reason in something like this:

  6. I think being in a loo with dorky Christmas carols playing would rival Sartre’s scenario in “No Exit” as a template for eternal damnation.

    The worst are the ecumenical “Christmas Songs” that presumably celebrate winter and holiday activities, you know, “Winter Wonderland,” all cooked up by sub-fusc writers in Tin Pan Alley. Hearing these turned into string quarterts (yes) is an obscenity that I cannot deplore enough.

    I have run across one cover of “Let It Snow” that I liked this season, however:

    • Ah, that was my hornplayer father’s favorite phrase from “The Messiah!” Just that phrase.

      You can even get enough of Messiah after four or five repetitions of the popular sections, but at least it beats hearing Thomas Hampson’s voice waster on an overpumped version of “Joy To The World.”

      Once in a while I can go “In the Bleak Midwinter” or “A Rose E’er Blooming,” perhaps because they’re not done as much.

  7. Sled, Richard, I liked your discussion so much. I know it was a serious exchange but I found it terribly entertaining. Please pardon me. I am bad, bad, I know too well. After all, I am but a descendant of those who burned all those people you mention (well, from my father’s side, my Waldensians ancestors were more burned than burning, but in any case).

    • Ah Roma! You step in at just the right moment to see fair play. I was about to strike the match.

      This reminds me of the epitaph a heartbroken widower left on his late wife’s elaborate and expensive tombstone …

      The light of my life has gone out.

      Some time later, he had sufficiently come to terms with his grief to marry again and a well-wisher added a few words …

      So now I have struck another match.

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