Opinion letter to the editor

In response to the last BSO... review

The not-so-fine line between honesty and dismissiveness

I came across the review of the BSO concert in the Feb. 22 issue of The Tech, expecting the normal standard of Tech reviews. I wanted to read how the BSO had interpreted that weekend of music. How was the new piece? Did it work well with the much earlier, romantic Scottish symphony?

Upon reading the headline, however, I realized that the reviewer was not interested in the subject. In nearly every Tech issue there is a review of some BSO or MITSO or MITWE or other classical music concert. I’m sympathetic to it being the reviewer’s first time experiencing classical music, but it seems unnecessary to phrase the title in such a way as to question why anyone would ever enjoy such a thing.

I then read the article. I am still a bit unsure if this is an article that was accidentally swapped out from the satire issue. I really hope it is.

Assuming this is a serious article, on the other hand, I question the reviewer's need to attack classical music in the first two paragraphs. I get it’s a vaguely niche thing, but no more than any other performance art, or even other interests. Saying a tiny fraction of MIT students are interested in classical music is — I think — more of a reflection of the author’s personal experience and friends than any actual statistic. Was this also a sample size of three?

Take, for example, MITSO concerts, which are primarily attended by students and manage to fill half of Kresge. This is not even including the students who are in the classical music groups. Just strictly using Western classical music, MITSO, MITWE, and the Chamber Music society have on the order of a hundred students between them. On a campus of thousands of students, this may be a small fraction technically, but no smaller than many other interests which are just as valid.

But hey, I get it, it’s not everyone's cup of tea. There are many things which I know other people are really interested in and go to events for, that I have absolutely no interest in. For example, I would estimate that roughly the same magnitude of people are in a cappella groups on campus (~100) as in the classical music groups I mentioned above. I have been to a cappella concerts to support friends, but I don’t particularly enjoy them. But I’m respectful that other people really enjoy it! Isn’t it a great thing in this world that people can like different things? The same goes for dance groups at MIT. They’re really popular with some people, and not-so-interesting for other people, and that’s wonderful. I won’t go out of my way to go to a dance group’s show, but I’m fully supportive of other people doing so.

I also understand the sentiment of “especially at MIT” if we follow stereotypes of nerdy tech students who have no creativity. But I would argue that the same logic would hold for all the other performing arts groups, like theater, dance, a capella. Yet, these are all thriving here at MIT. Following stereotypes like this is not great, because then it can be applied to other things than a technical/artsy divide.

For example: stereotypically, one might claim that, especially at MIT, religious people are few and far between, because MIT is an institution of science. I can recognize that this is a false dichotomy, just like technical vs. creative. It just so happens that I am not particularly religious. I’ve been forced to go to church, and I see that it’s full of older people, and find little interest in it myself. People also like to claim that religious interest in young people is on the sharp decline. However, I don’t run around telling people “I wonder when Christianity will disappear from the face of the earth and be replaced with pure, hard science.”

Essentially, I sympathize that classical music is not for everyone, and it takes time to truly enjoy. This is true for many interests and hobbies, including those sometimes thought of as more mundane, like knitting, bird-watching, or stamp collecting. I applaud the reviewer for making an attempt to try something new. Her descriptions of Andris Nelsons are spot on, even capturing his unique quirks — like leaning on the back of his podium, or having an ethnic Latvian name (I still wouldn't call that a “sophisticated appellation” just because it’s non-American).

I also have tried new things only to be mildly bored by them, and while I do appreciate the reviewer’s honesty, I just wish there had been less of a dismissive tone. I don’t think it was necessary to question along the lines of “why would anyone enjoy this” and also comparing the quality of the music to the “eons”-long applause afterwards.

— Zach Obsniuk ’20