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Saturday morning quotes 8.28: Fame

November 27, 2021

We have been asked by audience members (and our European colleagues) on several occasions, why are we not more famous? Our youtube channel has more than 8,000 subscribers, at least one of our videos has more than 2,700,000 views. We have 16 CD titles available with 280 separate tracks, to put it into streaming perspective. Our Spotify streaming alone amounts to an average of 10,000 streams per months, not to mention the myriad other streaming and download platforms. We have the distinction of having a track picked up by HBO for a European TV series, and they even paid us for it—eventually. But even though sales figures do not offer artists anywhere near a minimum survival wage, we could compare our figures favorably to many other niche performers, locally and internationally.

All of our recognition and distribution has been achieved entirely by word of mouth. With the exception of trading CDs for adverts in the UK Lute Society newsletter, we have never once paid for advertising. This is a conscious choice because, if you are a regular reader of our blog, you will discern that we are ardently opposed to the PR-driven madness one sees in the music world, not to mention the level of silly hucksterism on display in early music promoted by performers attempting to gain an audience by pretending their music is better than it sounds. In this sense, we adhere to the noble sense of decorum demonstrated by Elizabethan poets and musicians, thinking it vulgar and demeaning to engage in circus acts in order to sell our music.

There are other forces at play in the local milieu. The Cleveland area music scene has a rich history that was spawned by the wealth of 19th-century robber barons who made their millions on the backs of a largely European immigrant labor force. This is where class distinction comes into play. The famous Cleveland Orchestra was for many years a local cultural emblem, representing top quality music-making that defined to the world Cleveland’s cultural identity. The Cleveland Museum of Art holds a world-class collection of objects that illustrate the artistic achievements of ancient and diverse cultures. But the reality is that enormous wealth is only gained through exploitation of labor. And it is generally accepted today that most museums display objects that were likely stolen or nefariously gained through deception from the hands of their original owners.

Cleveland is simply no longer a cultural Mecca. The remnants of the wealth once on display in the area include mansions that have either been razed and replaced with convenience shops, or otherwise left to molder in what have since become low-income areas. The locale that was the home of John D. Rockefeller is now one of the poorest cities in the state, and the absurd level of corruption in local government has become an accepted fact. As former mayor Dennis Kucinich amply demonstrates in his book, The Division Of Light And Power, the endemic corruption in Cleveland’s local government was not only supported but even advanced by cooperation with the local press and broadcast news.

This sets the stage for a return to our original question: Why are we not more famous? The first answer as mentioned above, is that we simply do not pay to play. The local picture is more nuanced, and has to do with an interconnected and cliquish arts scene that can be found in any local area. For instance, the classical music scene in Cleveland is reported by players who have been involved with area music for nearly half a century, shaping public taste by featuring selected performers who properly fit the mold. Published access to featured pop music is equally controlled by critics who are either septuagenarians who refuse to relinquish their role, or connected young reviewers who are willing and able to work for nothing.

Without offering examples, we mention the story of a local young(ish) singer who recently released a short compilation of vocal exercises recorded in European churches. Her selling point is that she did not have permission to record what can only be described as wordless vocalise in these various sacred spaces, which she visited while on vacation. Employing a conventional soprano voice, complete with vibrato, the singer dabbles in singing intervals that are reminiscent of Gregorian chant, but she uses the reverberant space of the church in a manner that attempts to cover indifferent intonation.

We are compelled to point out that we have produced an album of actual Gregorian chant sung in an UN-conventional but pleasing natural voice by a singer who actually understands the texts and can warmly convey their meaning. And we had permission to record in the beautiful church that sits in an economically-challenged neighborhood in Cleveland.

If independent performers do not pay to play, or do not otherwise indulge in creative public relations campaigns that attempt to sell something other than music, they are not likely to be famous. But they have integrity.

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  1. Christopher Barker permalink

    Thank you for what you are.

  2. Thanks for your supportive comment, Chris. With so much collective madness in our world today, being who we are is the best we can do for now.

  3. Claire Andrus permalink

    Famous enough that your music found me. For that, I am grateful. When I first heard Donna’s voice on Dolores, I paused, that is what I wish my voice sounded like. And Ron’s lute has rescued me from my disdain of lute. I hope you stay just famous enough for your own satisfaction. For me, famous is neither the question nor the answer.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Claire. You may have discerned that we are rather indifferent to the conventional fame that most performing musicians seek, and we are very pleased to reach our audience one enlightened person at a time. Kind words from decent people is the nourishment that encourages us to continue our work.

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