THE MUSIC BOX

Compared with the work of professionals, such a music column as this is, in many respects, more fun for the reviewer, and less for the reader. More fun for the writer because of his freedom in the choice of subject, and less for the reader because of the reviewer's obvious lack of the long listening experience and mature judgment that mark the work of most of his New York colleagues. In addition, the Crimson critic has the consolation of being almost functionless in a practical sense. No matter how many stones he may throw, not a ripple will disturb the bustle and equanimity of the musical world of Boston and environs. He cannot destroy a budding artist nor stir up a nation-wide controversy at the drop of a single deadly phrase. Yet this seeming impotence should, by allowing more freedom than usual for expressing opinions and throwing weight around, make college reviewing more "provocative" (as they say in the book reviews), even if it does occasionally swing a little wide of the mark in factual matters.

This leads to the question of music criticism in general. Few would deny that critics are a natural and necessary evil as long as people listen to music as a serious aesthetic experience, but what line should criticism take? It should be constructive, but not in a soupy, overtolerant way, nor yet in a casual "Well, what does it matter anyhow?" sort of way. The former type is represented in New York by such as Downes of the "Times" who is one of the best meaningless-phrase-makers in the business, and the latter by such as Simon of the "New Yorker" who writes not-to-much of nothing, and writes it very well. There must be taste and standards in music as well as in other fields of art if music is to be thought of as anything more than a decoration of an odd moment. To be fair in setting such standards at the present time is perhaps more difficult for the critic than ever before because of the plethora of prevalent styles and techniques and the growing rift between what is pleasant to listen to and what is skilfully written. Nevertheless, standards are a practical necessity if you want to get as much as possible out of any one type of music and tolerance can reach a point where it is hard to distinguish from indifference. The critic should feel free to pan what he personally dislikes and praise the rest, and the fact of his having the job should be a guarantee that he tries to understand and appreciate the solid values in every period, form, and style, and not to plug for the kind of music most suited to his temperament.

This column will operate on the assumption that it is better to whip up enthusiasm for what is coming than to deliver a post-mortem on what is past. During the course of time, several toes may be stepped on and some popular heroes outrageously traduced, so it is hoped that all who feel moved to reply by letter will do so. The good letters will be printed in part, and often the letters constitute the most readable part of a column, as Vergil Thomson's Herald Tribune column has amply demonstrated this fall.