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May 17 2017

Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall

By the time Blair Tindall gets to the skills analysis that tells her she’s terrible at logic and analysis, I was so frustrated with this book that I said aloud, “You got that right.”

Other things she gets right in the book: the fly-on-the wall look at the life of a professional classical musician of the time, as well as her reporting on the history and business of classical music in America. But there are two huge flaws that make this book an incredibly annoying read. The first is her crappy attitude. Idk what combination of poor self-esteem and shallowness is at work here but I had a hard time empathizing with what should be a highly sympathetic portrait. I totally understand falling into a profession by accident, then finding oneself woefully unprepared for a life outside of it, and I very much admire her gumption in seeking balance and health so she could regain her enjoyment of playing the oboe. But she spends very little time talking about her gift in comparison with the vast amounts of time she spends bitching about the people around her and her own poor life choices. Her circumstances and experiences explain some of why she feels trapped, but I just spent so much time being baffled because she was admittedly not poor and had a loving family that she just never chose to rely on, aside from a Carnegie Hall debut recital that they happily finance. I was really glad when she started making good choices, but everything between the ages of 24 and 39 just felt like years and years of shooting herself in the foot, then looking at her reading audience with a bewildered “woe is me!” expression. Her explanations swing between a classic Idiot Story and “none of this is my fault!” Fucking boring.

Which leads to the other problem with the book: the muddled, and I hesitate to even use this word, “conclusions” she comes to at the end of it. There are things I can wholeheartedly support, like the value of a well-rounded education instead of the specialized, glorified trade school lessons that are the lot of most conservatory students. I absolutely agree that parents should have more of a supervisory role in their childrens’ educations, especially when private lessons can be open to abuse. And it is absurd for bureaucrats to pay themselves extravagant salaries while musicians earn a mere fraction of their incomes. But is Ms Tindall saying that musicians should be paid more, or not at all? Is she saying that the American music scene is not European enough, or too ready to ape Europe? Her arguments are so vague in every direction that I finished the book completely mystified as to what she was trying to get at. It was a lot like having a Facebook conversation with someone who’s bad at arguing but insists on doing it anyway.

Mozart In The Jungle was great for a gossipy look at the life of classical musicians in late 20th-century America (and it certainly made me listen to a bit more classical music, and raised my interest in watching the Amazon show, and reminded me how much I miss playing the cello) but as factual analysis and policy argument, it was bafflingly bad. I’m frankly surprised she has a writing career beyond sense impressions, where she excels, under the guidance of an editor who can give her direction in choosing subject matter.

About the author

Doreen Sheridan

Professional book critic, amateur housewife, full-time polymath. I like a good story.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/05/17/mozart-in-the-jungle-sex-drugs-and-classical-music-by-blair-tindall/

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