Concert Reports

One of the things that was still in my violin case when I opened it the other day was my practice chart from high school orchestra – you know, I record how much I’ve practiced, my mom initials it, and I turn it in each week. It also contains my grades on tests and concert reports.

The concert reports were our orchestra director’s way of forcing us all – or at least those of us concerned with getting a good grade in the class, which was definitely a concern of mine – to attend live music performances at least twice a semester. I probably had it easier than some others because my mother was always willing to drive me to hear the Olympia Symphony or a local string quartet or whatever. (Later, when I had a car, one of the things I was allowed to be out late for on school nights was music.)

I always struggled to come up with something to say, though, other than things along the lines of “it was very nice. I liked the second movement the best.” I remember attending a concert once that involved the Olympia Flute Choir, of which Mom was a member, playing in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Olympia. This building is faced with some kind of stone or stone-substitute on the inside, and in acoustic terms is basically a ginormous echo chamber. I definitely had something to say after this concert: “it was very loud.”

I was thinking about all this because it occurred to me after Wednesday’s song recital that now, eighteen years after the Great Flute Choir Headache of ’95, one of my primary occupations after my real job is writing concert reports. (Our orchestra director was a bit pompous, and I have to resist the urge to capitalize it: Concert Reports.) Looking back, I wish our orchestra director had provided a little more guidance as to what might go into a Concert Report or what a person might listen for. Maybe he thought we knew, or didn’t actually consider it all that important as long as we heard the performance – I’m not sure. I do remember my First Ever Critical Opinion, though. I had a CD that contained among other things Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (we had played parts of it in orchestra, and I liked it). I heard a different recording of it later on and my immediate reaction to this later one was “the first movement is too fast.” Unfortunately, it was not a live performance, so I couldn’t write a Concert Report about it. Missed opportunity, that.

(It occurs to me that the children of famous music critics and directors might be given some sort of party to mark such a developmental milestone as a First Critical Opinion. I did not get a party. I got an amused look from my mother and a suggestion that if I didn’t like it, I should go back and listen to the first recording instead.)

8 thoughts on “Concert Reports

  1. I sometimes wonder whether the urge to write now is at least partly because I did so little of it at school. Post O level I studied maths plus a bit of physics and economics and a smidgeon of general studies. Mathematicians don’t write much! Maybe it’s the near total avoidance of academic writing that made it easier for me to learn methods and forms that were designed to be easy to understand (as I did during my spell at Big Consulting Company) rather than steps in a bizarre initiation ritual.


    1. My post-high school education was pretty much all writing-focused. The teachers I had tended to stress clarity and precision more than anything else. Based on my experience, I’d say the worst academic writing tends to come from disciplines like cultural studies and some theory-heavy forms of literary criticism. Historians are not immune, though – I have read some books that were a real trial to get through.

      I find that a lot of students have this idea that any academic writing has to be super-formal with long, tangled sentences and lots of extra words. Apparently they get praised for doing this in some high schools. Trying to get some kids to just say what they intend to say, and no less, and no more, is really hard. (I taught freshman comp for a year before my first postdoc – that was an experience and a half!)


      1. History is an interesting discipline from a writing point of view. There’s no shortage of convoluted, inflated language but equally there are, and always seem to have been, historians who write with great clarity even while engaging with difficult theoretical constructs. James Davidson is good that way for example. (of course there are also always pompous asses like Robin Lane-Fox too!)
        Business writing tends to be just plain awful which is annoying because business isn’t complicated and it isn’t hard to learn how to write well for a business audience. My personal experience suggests that a convoluted writing style usually reflects not having anything useful to say.


        1. I can testify to the connection between convoluted style and lack of substance. Or at least convoluted style and fuzzy thinking. I have seen this in students and colleagues and occasionally in myself too – when the prose gets gnarly, it’s often a sign that the writer (worst case scenario) has little to say or (best case scenario) has something to say, but hasn’t quite worked out what that is yet.


        2. I would be happy if Business and Accounting programs had a Technical Writing requirement for graduation. Failing that, I would be happy if our Fearless Subleaders at the Borg Cube would hire me to edit their emails. I would even settle for explaining to them why you can’t say “a meeting with Person X, Person Y and I”, and I could even do so without ever once using the word “dative”. But they quake in fear.

          Woohoo theory-heavy literary criticism! Even (or sometimes) better when it’s in translation!


          1. The lack of writing skills in those subject areas is pretty scary. We used to recruit largely dean’s list MBAs from a handful of top schools. Their writing skills were, for the most part, appalling. We pretty much had to teach them from scratch. All the top consulting companies have writing courses for that reason.


            1. Now I’m tempted to up the amount of writing for my fall courses – but I’m not sure it would make much of a difference! (In all seriousness: if there was a formula for teaching basic writing skills to large-ish groups of students in a way that would stick . . .whoever discovered it would make a mint. When I was teaching freshman comp we each had one or two sections of 12, which worked well, and there was definitely improvement in the students’ work – but most universities just can’t afford to do that kind of intensive teaching.)


              1. I don’t know how well it would work with large groups of undergrads but McKinsey, Booz and AT Kearney all use Barbara Mintoe’s “The Pyramid Principal”. And, yes, she made a mint out of it.


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