Outrages we can stop being outraged about
As reported in a piece that might better have been headlined "Synced Lips Sink Ship of State," Washington Post music critic Chris Richards can't deal with the idea that during Monday's inauguration, pop diva Beyoncé might have — wait for it — lip-synced her rendition of the national anthem ! To you and me, such a scandale might place somewhere between "I'm shocked, shocked!" and "who gives a flying...." But then, we're not professional critics with column inches to fill and reputations to uphold. And nothing burnishes one's critical reputation better than outsized outrage.
Look, in an absolutely perfect world, Beyoncé might have lost the electronic safety net and given it her best shot, as did James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson when their turns came. But for whatever reason, she didn't. Given the vagaries of weather, vocal health, lousy acoustics and fallible equipment, not to mention fallible human beings, the overall event may have run more smoothly for this decision, whoever made it.
But does Richards have to then go and compare this tiny artistic indiscretion with the cases of Mike Daisey, James Frey and even Manti Te'o, he of the made-up dead girlfriend, and act as if our ability to discern truth from fiction has just been irreparably harmed by Beyoncé's hocus-pocus? I think I was about eight years old when I figured out that Chubby Checker, the Four Seasons and the other acts I saw on American Bandstand weren't really singing their hits. Somehow, my tender sensibilities survived the blow, my faith in artistic wholesomeness (and in Dick Clark) did not shatter, and I did not grow up to be an embittered crank. At least I don't think I did.
And yes, I lament the loss of real unamplified singing and real orchestras in music theater. Those were the days! But I've also gotten over the fact that for about half-a-century, our popular music has been predominately amplified music, and that our popular music theater inevitably reflects this. Things changed, maybe not the way you or I would have had them change, but also not totally for the worse. If some new classical works and new classical venues should now call for amplification, it doesn't mean that our unamplified classical culture will immediately come crashing down. It anything, it means that classical music will have accommodated the present in a way it hasn't lately, to its detriment.
By the way, most of the time you hear Walter Carroll and me do the classical music on WFCR, we're really here, in person and in living color. But sometimes, for various reasons, we're not. We're doing the radio equivalent of lip-syncing. Shocked? Appalled? Unconcerned? I'd be interested in knowing your reaction to this revelation. If you can muster up enough outrage, maybe it'll get me a guest spot with Oprah.