The CDA Mailer gets a reboot

A few tweaks can't hurt

This is the first dispatch from our new publisher. How’s it look?

Believe it or not, this is the mailer’s first big overhaul in over four years. Tinyletter — our old host — kept suspending the CDA account for using too many links (seriously). It was time for a change.

Now we’re on Substack. Theoretically we can now offer you a “paid tier” of the CDA mailer, but it’s all free for now. Maybe we’ll revisit the idea when our bill comes due for all the verticals of Château Mouton Rothschild we’ve been drinking.

There’s a hefty mailer below, so scroll through & see what you like. Do let me know if something’s strange (stranger than usual) about this mailer. Still working out the kinks.

—Will


Tired: It’s Proms Season, time to rip classical music

For those unfamiliar, the Proms is a two-month stretch of classical or classical-adjacent orchestral shows centered in the Royal Albert Hall in London. The idea is cool — a huge amount of music, in one geographic area, over the course of eight hectic weeks. The Proms kicked off in mid-July; to honor the occasion, editorial staff at The Guardian tried taking a five-iron to The Proms’ sideview mirrors. To wit:

[C]lassical music has now developed two grim social functions.

For some businesses, it is the aural equivalent of homeless spikes, deployed to shift or subdue targeted undesirables; for the rich, events like the Proms provide status experiences that will convey bragging rights with fellow have-yachts.

Now you know me. I LOVE a spicy take. Give it to me scorching-hot with a last dab of Carolina reaper. But folks, this is just warmed-up leftovers. The classical music world is elitist, a magnet for conspicuous consumption, resistant to change, and too stuck in its ways to attract new fans, you say? No shit? Quite perceptive.

The Guardian’s nameless writers wanted to dump all over the proceedings and congrats for that. But if you don’t like the Proms and don’t want to help change them, then try literally any other program in your large city, or stay home and eat takeout and watch Netflix, and leave us all alone. There’s an abundance out here to choose from, and anyway, you’re not helping. On to the next one.


Wired: Experimental composers MURDER classical music!

Over at Irish broadcaster RTÉ, composer & guitarist Dave Flynn dusted off this old chestnut of music criticism, to provide a nice counterpoint to The Guardian’s shenanigans above: experimental music is sullying classical music’s good reputation. This graf says it all:

What if I were to tell you that the music your ears disagree so violently with is not contemporary classical music and is better described as experimental music? True, it is mostly performed by classically-trained musicians, but that doesn't mean it is the modern evolution of classical music - or that it should be played during classical concerts and broadcasts.

Now, I don’t need to tell you that a guy with a Weebly website who generously helped himself to a quote about his “genre-jumping genius” is one to be trusted implicitly in adjudicating new music. After all, his work “spreads [sic] across many genres,” so he must know from good music.

Diamond Dave inexplicably trots out John Cage, Johannes Kreidler, and Jennifer Walshe as an unholy trio urging on classical music’s destruction. Of Kreidler and Walshe he’s happy to specify that both are “attention-seeking,” because no one other than these two — in the history of music — has sought attention for their compositions. (Trust your pal Dave on this one.) As for Cage, Flynn assumes his work was shtick, just a put-on.

Papa D would also like you to spare a moment for tonal composers, who are surely the least-loved artists of our modern era.

Nowadays composers of tonal/modal classical music are an almost radical minority. Experimental music advocates infest music academia, funding peer panels and competition juries. They receive lucrative orchestral and opera commissions. Experimental music is no longer avant-garde and it exists in a kind of self-preserving mainstream. Yet the general public do not want to hear it in classical concerts. What other genre so alienates the audience it is intended for?

There you have it. Finally, the grand cabal of Experimental Music Advocates has been unmasked! That’s where all the money, the jobs, and all the good commissions have been going. It was high time we knew the truth. (Sidenote: love his use of “infest” here.)

He goes on to blame a lack of diversity in programming on experimental composers, but I must stop here because I’m 99% sure this whole op-ed was just an elaborate work. Bravo, Brave Flynn! See, anonymous Guardian writers? That’s how you write a spicy, click-y shitpost.


Smoke break: Meryl Streep reading poetry, Yo-Yo Ma accompanying


The uphill battle for first-gen classical musicians

From “Friction: On Being a First Generation Classical Musician.”


A critique of arts crusaders-come-lately

Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette really got into her bag for a piece about a DMV-area orchestra on the brink of closure. Midgette revealed that the National Philharmonic was ready to shutter its operations due to lack of funds. How can this possibly happen, you ask, in this day and age, in this country of extraordinary wealth and largesse? Midgette’s point is that it happens easily, because too few people — diehards, patrons, and casual fans — actually care when it matters. They only start getting hacked off when it’s too late. The Protectors of the Eternal Flame of the Arts are slow to act, and so the cycle continues.

You know what kind of news doesn’t interest people? News about orchestras doing well. Or, indeed, reviews of orchestras performing the music that embodies their mission. Thousands of people have already read about the National Philharmonic’s plight on our website. How many have read reviews of the National Philharmonic’s concerts in the past few years? A few hundred. Cumulatively.

Indeed, if one-tenth of the energy people expend on reacting to news such as this was expended on actually going to concerts and donating, orchestras might not be having these problems.

That last sentence hits like a brick: we cause the same problems we later collectively lose our minds over, and we insert ourselves at a time when there is little — if anything — to be done. To put it simply: why not put your money, time & attention in the place where your gaping maw is? And if some institutions fail in spite of that, which they will, at least you did your part.

I don’t want to blow out all the great points Midgette makes in her Post piece. You should go read it yourself. And spoiler-not-a-spoiler alert: the National Philharmonic lives on, so keep your dogs leashed, and go buy tickets.


Let ‘T’ be a terrible test question and ‘P’ the hapless person who must formulate a response


Classical links

👀 André 3000 spotted playing Mayan double flute in public

🚮 J.L. Marlor: how do you avoid professional jealousy in music?

👓 I’m gonna need to see credentials for this “classical music expert”

👏 Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton on ending endless dieting & body positivity

💀 Piracy’s dead. Free music streaming (??) is the next bogeyman

🎧 RIP to the 1/8” headphone jack: a history going back to 1895!

Dark thoughts

  • I subbed Cherie Hu’s Water and Music newsletter, and you should too. There’s really no other weekly letter like it. Hu covers all aspects of the business of music online in micro detail. I wish I had the patience to write that way.

  • Man I love this thing Jeremy Denk wrote about teachers. A lot rings true, especially our worship of teacher-gurus. Denk is a great writer. I couldn’t get into his new album (c.1300-c.2000) as easily though. The playing is lovely, and it’s an ambitious idea on paper (the entire run of Western classical music??). It’s just ….. long, maaan. I’m still in on his next project, whatever it is.

  • Premier League is back. I’m ready for a re-tooled United team, and I put the over/under at four weeks before Ole gets fired.

  • This was a thinkpiece-heavy mailer. Next time I’ll come loaded up with more to listen to, and to watch.

  • RIP Anner Bijlsma. And Toni Morrison! And David Berman. Good lord.