As a classical music critic, I don't write much that seeks to get readership from controversy, but I am going to in this case because I think this is a worthy issue. In my review of the last Pittsburgh Symphony concert of the season, an article in which for the record I praised the Mendelssohn Choir, I wrote the following line:
This is one of the most fascinating symphonies to watch as much as to hear, with musicians constantly moving on and offstage. It ends with more than 110 musicians and 150 singers taking every bit of the stage.
My good friend and occasional Post-Gazette constributor Eric Haines, who is a tenor and a former Mendelssohn Choir member, appreciated my comments, but shot me this e-mail:
Hi, Andy -
I enjoyed reading your Mahler review, as I enjoy reading all your stuff. Except for one tiny (MAJOR) little thing: you said "110 musicians and 150 singers." Singing is music. So, singers make music. Therefore, singers ARE musicians. When you say 'musicians AND singers,' you exile us from the realm of art.
I love Eric's passion and I completely see where he is coming from having been a singer myself (and even briefly and on an amateur level a choral conductor). Actually, this is something I am well aware of, and used to be my thinking. There are plenty of times I have admonished someone over it. But lately, I have had a different take, which I expressed in my reply:
Thanks, but I cannot agree with you, good friend! I view that singers need to take back the name/term and show that it is synonymous with musician, not still needing the word! I could have said orchestra musicians I suppose to make you happy, but singers need to get over this one and be more confident with what they do. I think singers should have pride in being singers and not let others denigrate them to the point that they also need to be given that word "musician" to be included as one. Singers have been trying to get that PC connection for years and it has failed. The better tactic is to say: singer=musician. To add "musician" is redundant.
To further my point, you don't have to clarify musician when you say oboist or pianist. And, while the issue is clearly that singers have not been considered musically talented while oboists and pianists have faced nothing like that, is the path to get that recognition to give in to the prejudice or to assert that you don't need to clarify with the word singer, either?
Eric saw my point, but still stands by his, but we both decided it would be great to through this out to the public to see your thoughts on this. Please reply -- though you first have to register (it is painless and costs nothing!) by clicking on the left, under "Author."