Monday, June 7, 2010

Be Fair and Kind in Your Criticism…‎

Be Fair and Kind in Your Criticism…‎

This past weekend, upon invitation by Koorosh (Kory) Yazdani, I attended the June 5th, ‎‎2010 gathering of “Daftarhaye Shanbeh” to speak about his debut music album, “Mahi”, i.e. “The ‎Fish”. As I understand, “Daftarhaye Shanbeh” is an LA-based Persian Camerata of mostly ‎literary professionals, amateurs and enthusiasts. The meetings take place on the first Saturday of ‎each month, hence the name, during which both members and guests are allocated some time to ‎discuss, debate, analyze, criticize or simply opinionate on, preferably original works of art, ‎particularly poetry and short stories. It's a rather famous series, about which I had long heard, but ‎to which I had never been. Naturally, I was nervous.‎

I had made up my mind to offer a fair evaluation of the work — honest, yet positive and ‎constructive. I no more see any point in dark, negative and almost sadistic criticism, which I've come to view ‎as the hallmark of some frustrated talents turned into "music critics". I now think that good or ‎weak music can both be found in any style, genre, culture or epoch, Classical or not, and that ‎even a student composition could not be possibly without its own merits. Furthermore, I have no ‎more inclination for spewing some unfounded generalities, which has sadly remained a common-‎place symptom of much contemporary writing in Persian. I also hold that ‎“‎No single person owns the music.‎”‎ I suspect that these attitudes, some new ‎and all so valuable to me, are the results of my years at UCLA's Department of Music, and the ‎company of great friends.‎

The night before, I had decided to focus on certain particulars. Given the planned time of 10-‎‎15 minutes, I had concentrated on two tracks, which I still deem more successful than the other ‎six, and which would allow me to draw some concrete and useful conclusions. I had intentionally ‎focused on a seemingly simple piece in 6/8 (track 5) called Asheghaneh, and a contrasting, ‎more serious number in 4/4 (track 8) named Mahi, or The Fish. This time, contrary to my habit of ‎speaking from brief notes, I arrived with a fully typed 5-page essay in my hands. (After some ‎modifications, it might be published soon in Persian Book Review.) I had been told that there ‎would be other speakers, as well, so I maintained a flexible attitude. In practice, however, I ‎ended up speaking twice as long, and I presented some of my thoughts in a quasi-improvisatory ‎manner, which felt more appropriate to the atmosphere.‎

I had never imagined that anything but the politics of the Middle East could stir up so much ‎heat! So ferocious were some comments on the album, and so patient was the composer, that I ‎suggested “Kory” was a name well-suited for a brand of punching bags! These were countered ‎by those, who focused on the positive aspects of the work, and offered the composer their ‎encouraging support and enlightened opinions. Happily, my preparation helped me to stay course, ‎and overall, my audience seemed to have liked what I had to say. Mostly, I hope that they ‎benefitted from my remarks on timbre or “musical color”, and the treatment of symmetries in ‎music, which is actually a poorly understood secret of all great music.‎

While this Note is not about the album, I might briefly mention that Mahi is actually a ‎sweet, little collection of 8 songs in Persian, with some understandable shortcomings, and lots of ‎beauty and courage to compensate for them. It’s entirely the outcome of one’s passion for music, ‎someone who doesn’t even introduce himself as a professional musician, as he’s making a living ‎on his Masters' Degree in mathematics. So, I ask myself, “Why so much anger in the voices of the ‎critics?” It’s alright for anyone to find a work of art to our dislike, even for reasons unbeknownst ‎to us. But I am convinced that our dislike of something in no way gives us a blank check to taint ‎the world with some ruthless remarks. Besides, no one is more vulnerable than an artist at the ‎moment of presenting his or her work to an audience. So why not be gentle in our criticism of ‎especially living artists, unless you are determined to end their art, and their lives along with it!? I ‎just wished that I had come to this conclusion a few years earlier. My own past is marred with ‎some shamefully vicious comments, which I made even to the faces of some trusting artists. Only ‎if there were any way to take those thoughtless remarks back…‎

Friendly faces in an audience are always a bliss. My good friend, Ms. Nazanin Eliahoo, herself an ‎excellent violinist with a heavenly voice, ended up making some of the most constructive ‎suggestions of the evening to the composer. The famed scholar, Ms. Shirin-Dokht Daghighian, a ‎great friend of mine, offered some remarkable points as a non-musician. After months, I met ‎again with Mr. Arsalan Ziazie, a true Renaissance Man and a symbol of open-mindedness and ‎scholarship; and as usual, I much learned and enjoyed from his courageous and informed ‎remarks. I finally found a chance to meet Elham, an old FaceBook friend, while another friend, ‎Azadeh, happily surprised me, when she showed up with her husband. This was also an ‎opportunity to meet for the first time a few of the best known faces of Persian art today, whose ‎names I withhold for their own privacy. The meeting was moderated as impressively as it was ‎hosted generously. I am glad that I didn’t miss it, even though I had not been feeling well the ‎whole day.‎

I wish Koorosh much success in life and music, and I look forward to his future ‎compositions. Moreover, I wish all critics of art more specific knowledge, broader perspectives, ‎colorful tastes, fair minds, and kind hearts.‎

Payman Akhlaghi,‎
June 7th, 2010‎
Los Angeles


Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

As for the Album, I encourage everyonee to listen to it and delve into its beautiful sounds. The poetry is well chosen, and it's imbued with a sweet air. More I might right on this when my review is published. Payman

Anonymous said...

Kory does not have a doctrate, he has a masters degree. So much for the Persians' obsession with titles:)

Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

NOTE by Payman Akhlaghi:
On June 12, 2010, I received a group email, informing me of a blog-post (in Persian) regarding this event, in which the author had mentioned me by name, among other things. Hereby, I post my Reply to that email for future reference:

Dear [Moderator];

Thank you for CC'ing me. I studied the forwarded link, upon receipt of your email.

To clarify a few points:

1) I have never taught at UCLA, nor in any other institution of higher education, anywhere in the world. I've only been giving private lessons in piano performance, and occasionally, in composition and related techniques, to music enthusiasts of all ages. I have not yet published commercially any of my compositions, or papers. I only play, or rather struggle with piano, to some acceptable degree.

(I do hold, however, a B.A. and an M.A. in composition, both from UCLA. My Ph.D. degree , also in composition, is awaiting the completion, defense and submission of my dissertation; i.e. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate, or to put it rather humorously, an ABD, "all but dissertation." May I add the obvious, that during my years at UCLA, I have been most fortunate and humbled to be criticized by the best.)

2) The respected author of the blog post, Mr. [...], has mentioned me by name for having interrupted his speech. He is absolutely right; indeed, I did so quite knowingly. I never meant to offend this gentleman; however, I have no regrets for the interjection that I made: By that point, the subject of the "vivisection" had literally turned blue, and I felt compelled to interrupt the ongoing procedure, if for a few seconds, to allow the victim to "resuscitate."

3) The author of the blog post has complained that [the moderator] did not correct me for my interruption. That's not true. Indeed, [the moderator] immediately warned me, from the other side of the room, stating in clear terms, "We don't have conversations in these meetings!"

4) Mr. [....] then writes that later on, he in turn interrupted my speech -- that should make us even -- to protest several intolerable errors in my words. I would be glad to hear any fact-based, objective and well-documented comments on any specific errors in my opinions or presentation. I sincerely consider this an important part of the learning process. I continually learn even from 7-year old children; then, why not from this clearly erudite gentleman?

5) I received your email several days after posting some reflections on my own weblog. Overall, it was a most wonderful experience for me to be present at your revered Camerata. (You may read my account at the following address: Please note that I had not named anyone specifically but my close friends. To put it succinctly, my main concern remains as follows: It's completely alright to dislike a work of art, in this case, a music album -- but why the anger? What justifies making some ferocious attacks on the art, and the living artist behind it? Nothing.)

In fear of exhausting your patience, I refrain from writing any further on this matter.

Once more, thank you for your invitation, professionalism, and warm hospitality.

All the best wishes,

Payman Akhlaghi
[June 13th, 2010]

Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for your accurate note. It was corrected in the body of the text.

Anonymous said...
Kory does not have a doctrate, he has a masters degree. So much for the Persians' obsession with titles:)

June 8, 2010 6:27 PM