How I review

A few weeks ago I wrote about why I review concerts. Since then I've been working on a follow-up post explaining how I go about reviewing.

It's been a useful opportunity for me to reflect on my own methodology, and to understand how it differs from conventional methods.

I'm sharing this to be transparent in the way I work (both for publicists and for readers). If you have any thoughts or questions arising, do please leave them in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Focus attention on my reaction the performance

Reaction in this case means thoughts and feelings provoked by the listening experience. Comments regarding technical delivery/realisation are used to suggest reasons why I reacted to the music in the way that I did. 

Maintain awareness, in particular for changes in intensity both on the platform and in the auditorium

This goes beyond reporting or reflecting what's going on on stage or in the auditorium. It's about seeking out what is created when both performer and audience connects in a performance. An instinctive thing. It can come and go in a performance. It's worth documenting. 

Notice when my attention shifts – where to/why?

This process has its roots in meditative practice. By keeping a track of when my attention shifts during a performance, I can use my subsequent reflections on why that attention has shifted as part of the narrative for the review. 

Capture words in the moment that describe my impression of individual performances

I'll sometimes scribble words during a performance. From time to time I'll pen a sentence or two. The process will help me later on when I'm looking for important recollections from the performance.

A review is a record of events, and an impression of the performance

I don't regard anything of what I write on this blog as the gospel account of a performance. These are personal impressions of an experience I'm always invested in.

The reason I'm present in the auditorium is invariably down to an invitation from a publicist, artist or composer. I will always be mindful to show appreciation and respect in whatever I say.

However, the transaction which brought me to the auditorium is inevitably at odds with my personal commitment to be objective when writing about classical music. Sometimes honesty may bring me into conflict with the spirit of the original invitation.

Live performance and live recordings are by definition risky affairs – not everything can be 'perfect' all of the time and it's right to reflect that.

Rest-assured if you've invited me to a concert I will stay to the end. If that turns out not to be possible, I will be transparent about it in what I write. 

Reviews do not seek to only praise; they aren't personal attacks on the performer; if something doesn’t work I’ll reflect on why

No likes a sycophant. No one likes an arsehole. 

Reviewing is the outward illustration of the reason I love the concert-going experience: an opportunity to actively engage with a piece of music.

Reporting on that experience is as much about the art as it is about my growth as a listener. 

If possible, a review is takes in the context of wider events

Music doesn't exist in a bubble (though some prefer to think of it that way). A lot of it is inspired by the world around us. Writing about a performance, and its impact on me personally, in relation to external events seems like a no-brainer.

Prior knowledge is not a pre-requisite for listening

For many years now I've been motivated by the thrill of discovery.

What that means in practice is often avoiding listening to a work in order to familiarise myself with it before the performance.

By doing this I'm keeping my senses fresh to the performance experience.

More importantly, I avoid the resulting copy I write coming across like I'm projecting myself as some kind of authority. 

Reviews aspire to be inclusive, encouraging readers to reflect on their own reaction to the performance

This is an extension of the previous point, I suspect.

My reviews are written with the intent of demystifying the listening experience, empowering others to trust their own emotional reactions to the performance they witness. That does not mean that their reactions have to be consonant with my own. 

Reviews seek to encourage others to explore personalised listening strategies to deepen understanding and appreciation of the genre

My listening at concerts has changed dramatically in recent years.

That's one of the reasons that art music continues to yield incredibly important experiences for me. It's helped me understand that the audience member plays a part in the performance.

This insight has unlocked a deeper appreciation of the musical experience, one beyond entertainment.

Writing about these experiences, I hope to encourage others to discover their own path to active listening. 

The Thoroughly Good Blog is an independent blog celebrating classical music and the arts. Please consider supporting its development in 2018 by giving a donation using this PayPal.Me link. Tar.

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