Classical music is certainly represented – but before I have my say about this new service, I’ll digress and share two brief conversations I had with CBC staffers at the press conference.
I asked, “Can you name a composition by the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer?”
“Not off the top of my head,” he replied.
How’s about Claude Vivier? No, he couldn’t name anything by Vivier, either. However he took the opportunity to explain that everything from classical to hip-hop was available on the new CBC Music service.
Then I spotted Kirstine Stewart, Executive Vice-President of English Services, and asked her the same questions. Like Boyce, she had no answers – but she proudly pointed out that she studied music in high school all the way through grade 13.
These people hold senior positions at the CBC – and they apparently know little about two of Canada’s most prominent classical composers.
It’s been my observation that people tend to care about the things they know about, and know about the things they care about. This idea leads straight back to CBC Music – where both knowing and caring appear to be in short supply, as far as classical music is concerned.
The ten “stations” on CBC Music devoted to classical music give the impression of a comprehensive and earnest initiative on the part of the CBC. To be sure, there’s plenty on offer: listeners may select from such categories as “Baroque,” “Orchestral” and “Operatic.” Curiously, there’s a station wholly devoted to Glenn Gould – and, ironically, another devoted to recordings released by CBC Records, the award-winning label that the Corporation killed off a few years ago.
However, the constantly changing musical selections on CBC Music seem to be randomly generated. (If they’re not, they might as well be.) No consistent provision has been made to keep multi-movement works intact. And there’s no commentary on the music as it’s streaming: no spoken introduction, no scrolling text or button to click for some information on the music. Movement titles are not always given, and sometimes composers are not named. While there are a few extra bells and whistles on the site, there’s nothing approaching the educational or curatorial efforts that once made the CBC such a fine presenter of classical music.
Furthermore, the streaming feature has an annoying way of dropping the listener into the middle of whatever piece is selected. There’s no way to go back to the beginning! In the “Baroque” category, I was thrust into the midst of some portion of Handel’s oratorio Solomon. Similarly, over in the “Orchestral” section, I heard a bleeding chunk of Vincent D’Indy’s Symphony on French Mountain Airs. Do the people at the CBC really not know that classical listeners want to hear pieces in their entirety?
And it would be nice to find some kind of pull-down menu on the site that displayed the artists and repertoire available – but no such menu exists. (There’s a search function, but unless you know what you’re looking for, and are lucky enough to find it, it’s not of much use.)
The classical content on CBC Music seems to be a half-baked way of addressing the mess the Corporation made when it slashed Radio 2’s classical programming three years ago. And evidently somebody’s facile solution to this problem is to dump a ton of classical recordings on a website and rotate them on autopilot. This new service looks to be a window-dressing designed to give the impression that the CBC cares about classical-music listeners, rather than an honest attempt to really do something useful for them.
But don’t take my word for it. You’ll find CBC Music here.
© Colin Eatock 2012