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Welcome to the Jungle

img  Tobias

If you haven't heard about it, you've definitely missed the talk of town this summer. Blair Tindall's "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music" has hit the Classical scene hard. As if there weren't already enough problems facing Orchestras and concert halls, this book seems to confirm everyone's worst expectations about the world behind the curtains.

What is the fuss all about? "Jungle" covers Tindall's career as an oboist and her failed efforts to become part of one of America's Symphonies. That's not an uncommon story, but what is uncommon is her way of trying to get there. She tells stories of financing her life by selling pot, sleeping with fellow musicians to obtain a seat in an Orchestra and of fighting a growing fear of burning out. However, she explicitely avoids making this a mere autobiography - her criticism is directed against the system itself, which, according to Blair, is providing too little jobs (which on top pay too little) and keeping musicians dull by not allowing them the time to indulge in reading or learning.

As you might have guessed, the sex has sold the story once again. Even though the book uses an array of pseudonyms, hints have been made as to whom these allude to (and subsequently been denied). This has led many to call the claims "exagerated", others claiming "they knew this all along" and has left many in shock and awe. The Houston Chronicle has even called the report "the slightly sad tale of a person who pursued a life's dream but didn't fulfill it and now blames the system."

In the end, the reactions to this book tells us more than its content. Did anyone seriously believe Classical musicians weren't having any sex? Charlotte Church recently told a story about a nun who claimed to have had visions about her having to stay true to her angelic image - but does that mean everyone has to miss out? And if you believe that young people will behave any "better" or "different" if they listen to Beethoven or Bach, it's time for a reality check. There are more businesses than just Classical Music that are run by (some) incompetent managers and offer too few employment opportunities which in turn are not enough paid. And the burn-out phenomenon is not an "artistic exclusive".

Which is not to say the criticism raised in Tindall's book is beside the point. Merely, it is not going to change anything. The best comment come from Mark Swed, editor at the Los Angeles Times. There are, he noted, enough musicians and conductors engaging in personal activities aimed against the drying-out of the scene as well as in favour of reinvigorating it. By studying journalism and writing a book to foster her career, Blair may have hinted at the problem. But she has avoided taking personal responsability by actually changing something: "Mozart in the Jungle" is part of the problem, not a solution."

And now, decide for yourself.

Homepage: Blair Tindall
Homepage: Interview with Blair Tindall
Source: Blair Tindall at the Houston Chronicle
Source: Blair Tindall at

Photo by David Howell

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