HOOT! The Inquirer Takes the Extra Step. HOWL: City Paper Follows the Formula.

The New York Philharmonic has made a job offer to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal clarinetist, Ricardo Morales. In an October 19 article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin used the occasion to examine a number of issues that seem to come together in Morales.

First, Dobrin raises the question of whether Morales is “the thin edge of the wedge,” because the orchestra is threatening to cut salaries, musicians, and the length of the season—all valid reasons for top musicians to seek work elsewhere.

Second, for similar reasons, Dobrin questions whether the orchestra could retain Morales or replace him with another top clarinetist. But, Dobrin writes, “Lurking in the background is the hypocrisy that has long run through orchestral personnel decisions.”

That hypocrisy, according to Dobrin, is the supposed concealment of identity by audition screens. Dobrin points out that Morales’s wife and sister-in-law are both members of the orchestra, an unlikely event, or as Dobrin puts it, a “ludicrous proposition: that when auditions draw hundreds of aspirants, the most qualified musician just happens to be related to someone already in the organization.”

His two hats—reporting on the orchestra as well as writing critical reviews– allow him to identify issues with the organization and give readers context for those issues. It’s highly synthetic work at which Dobrin excels. The possibility of losing a principal clarinetist does not, on its face, seem like the base for a discussion of labor practices, but how Dobrin covers his beat makes that possible. Regardless of whether the Inquirer can justify the space it dedicates to classical music, Dobrin’s synthetic and mutually sympathetic reporting and criticism certainly make the case for justifying his space.

On the pop music tip and with the Halloween news peg, music writer John Vettese profiles a zombie band called Conversations with Enemies in the October 27 issue of City Paper; the band played two shows Halloween weekend. The peg obviously makes sense, but the story structure is arts-and-culture Mad Libs, with the tale of how the band got together, why they do what they do, how they’re a zombie band but they want people to think they’re good musicians, and so forth. This isn’t to dismiss the band or Vettese, who is very knowledgeable about the Philadelphia music scene. The bone I’m picking is that this piece is formulaic in a way that reflects the current (poor) state of cultural coverage in both of Philadelphia’s alt-weeklies.

This formula, usually derived from a single interview with the subject, is: here’s a band/actor/artist who you may have heard of but probably not; here’s the silly/serious/circumspect/serendipitous way that they got together/found his way to the stage/picked her genre and subject; here’s how they’re maturing/evolving/hoping for the future.

It’s too often replicated in both alt-weeklies. Unearthing interesting cultural players is surely part of the alt-weekly mission, but I am so tired of reading the same story. The band sounds fun, but the story is, well, boring. Sorry!

– Nick Gilewicz

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