Monday, July 12, 2010

Wake Up Call from a Reader

Recently, I have received an email from a reader (yes, I do have a few!), and here is the complete message:

"I used to enjoy your reviews for their honesty and frankness - a paying patron who was happy to express his pleasure and dissatisfaction freely because he paid for his tickets.

Sadly since you started writing for Time-Out your reviews have become much blander, feature almost no criticism and certainly none of the scathing rebukes and honesty that made your blog something to read. I didn’t always agree with opinion, but I respected your honesty.

It’s sad that either you are now afraid to write what you truly feel, or that Time-Out won’t publish what you want to say and feed your review through a niceness machine so it doesn’t upset the advertisers. I had really hoped you would/could continue to write in the style that made me want to read your blog. You may have more readers now, but by not voicing your real thoughts your reviews have become irrelevant and anonymous amongst the plethora of other 'wasn’t it wonderful idiots' "

My initial reaction was, "Wow! Somebody actually does read my blog!". But then, it didn't take long before I started contemplating my dilemma.

The observation of the reader is valid and insightful, and I am very grateful the reader took the time to express his/her disappointment. In response to the email, I can only try to communicate my situation and hopefully clarify a few things.

  1. For Time-Out, I am only tasked to review classical music in concert format. If it is a staged opera, then it falls into the “stage” silo, thus I (from the “music” silo) can’t touch it. What this means is that if the cultural events are suddenly all composed of classical music in concert format or if I become too busy to attend other types of performances, then my blog is filled up with just “Time-Out” reviews.
  2. In fairness to Time-Out, they rarely edit (whitewash or water-down) my reviews. They do change the titles of my reviews though. (e.g. from HKPO: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue to Rhapsody in Blue Live in Hong Kong OR from The Emerson Pulled More Than Just a Few Strings to Emerson String Quartet Live in Hong Kong). There is something about “Live in Hong Kong” that is very “Time-Out”.
  3. Writing for my blog and writing for an online magazine are quite different in a lot of ways. In my blog, I write what I want to express and the blog itself finds its own audience. As for the online magazine, I write with a pre-determined target audience in mind which affects the style and length (less than 300 words to be exact). Ideally, I should have kept them separate, but the reality is that I just do not have the time to write two different versions in two different styles and lengths for two different audiences. In Time-Out, I miss the opportunity to talk about the music in detail or talk about my previous experiences with the music or performers, or just simply expounding why I felt a certain way.
  4. Coincidentally, not only were most of the concerts I have been to recently all very good, they were also all classical music concerts. I believe that I do not have any issue with writing what I felt, but perhaps only in how my feelings were communicated. Having said that and having the benefit to look back now with a 20/20 vision, I do have ONE regret and that was my review of HKPO’s Carmina Burana. It was a moment of uncertainty, then I was influenced by my environment more than I should have allowed. My review of Carmina Burana should have been worse.

When I started the blog, I knew that being a critic; I should also be open to criticism. I have deliberately ensured that people can leave comments anonymously without any need to register.

Moving forward and amidst a cloud of uncertainty, I am certain of the following:

  1. I am grateful to the reader who has sent me the email and subsequently replied to my email.
  2. I will try my best not to let the Carmina Burana incident happen again.
  3. I will try to augment my Time-Out review by enriching the content in my blog.

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