Nine years of blessings end for a music critic

July 28, 1996|By Phil Greenfield

"LISTEN TO your heart," I heard people saying.

And what my heart was telling me back in the mid-1980s was that I desperately wanted to spend some of my allotted time on this planet as a bona-fide music critic writing for a real, live newspaper.

So in October of 1987, I, gulp, submitted an unsolicited review of the Annapolis Symphony's season-opening concert to what was then a daily tabloid called the Anne Arundel County Sun.

Andrew Ratner, a compassionate editor with an interest in the arts and a whole lot of space to fill up, was gracious enough to print my lukewarm assessment of the local orchestra's handiwork and, whaddya know!, Pinocchio had become a real boy all over again.

Today, some nine years, five editors and many hundreds of reviews, features and columns later, I'm feeling pretty nostalgic about the whole thing, and for good reason.

On Aug. 12, you see, my wife, two children and I will begin an adventure that will take us to Great Britain for the 1996-1997 academic year.

The Fulbright Teachers Exchange Program is sending a young enthusiastic English fellow named Neil Wallace to take my place on the faculty at Annapolis High School while I move on to St. Ivo's School, Cambridgeshire, where, I hope, the students are brilliant and the administration has never heard of outcome-based strategies, criterion-referenced tests or even self-esteem. (Indeed, with any luck at all, they'll have banned the use of hyphens in educational terminology altogether.)

What this means, though, is that for the first time in nearly a decade, I won't be kibitzing in these pages. And, while one bTC would be honored to return in a year's time, the fact is that lowly free-lancers don't call their own journalistic shots. Friendly editors can move on. Column space, already as tight as John Gary's education purse strings, could shrink even more. So who knows?

All the more reason, then, to spend a few moments counting some of the many blessings that have come my way as a result of my association with The Sun in Anne Arundel.

It was these articles that got me invited to a critics' roundtable at the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where I heard some of the world's finest young pianists, met some of the renowned musicians of our time, and (honest!) managed to tick off Van Cliburn personally.

The Sun took me to Carnegie Hall for the first time, as I followed Ernie Green's Annapolis Chorale to New York for its first-ever appearance at the venerable auditorium on West 57th Street. What a great thrill!

In the name of the Baltimore Sun, I've sung Cole Porter with Stef Scaggiari at the piano, interviewed musicians I've admired all my life (Leon Fleisher comes to mind), and dispensed countless nuggets of advice on education and other matters that have been studiously ignored by those in charge.

These columns have truly become a family affair. Dad has run off to the theater and concert hall innumerable times over the years and, often, so has Mom and so have my two children, who have become culture hounds of the highest order. Their lives have been enriched beyond measure.

I'm immensely grateful to the editors who've controlled our segment of the paper for the past nine years: Andy Ratner, Chris Guy, Chris Kaltenbach, Dion Thompson, Joel McCord and, especially, Candy Thomson.

I owe them everything, for, basically, they turned me loose to seek out the best and encouraged me time after time to tell you about it. The news business has attracted more than its share of baby boomers and X'ers who couldn't distinguish "Madama Butterfly" from Iron Butterfly if you held a gun to their heads. None of them, thank God, has presided over Anne Arundel. Yet.

But the greatest joy has been in the doing: covering an arts scene that teems with both talent and the best of intentions. From the Annapolis Symphony, to the Pasadena Theatre Company, to Colonial Players, to the Chesapeake Music Hall, to the Mitchell Gallery, to the Other Little Theatre, to Annapolis Opera, to Children's Theatre of Annapolis, to the Moonlight Troupers, to the Summer Garden Theatre, to the Annapolis Chorale, to the Talent Machine, to the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum, to Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, to the Banneker-Douglass Museum, to the Naval Academy Glee Club, and at many points in between, there are marvelous, talented people who continually elevate our lives by their commitment to quality and to beauty.

Covering them, and having you read about it all, has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Thank you. Have a marvelous year, and may we meet at the theater, the concert hall and back in these pages one day soon.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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