Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

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Adrian Allan
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Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Adrian Allan » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:06 pm

I used to subscribe to the monthly publication called "Classical Guitar Magazine", which I believe has recently moved its base to America from the UK.

I stopped subscribing because I came to the conclusion that some of the critics who could barely play, were passing judgement on the established great performers.

I once watched one of the critics in the magazine, Chris Kilvington, play in a duet recital. It was clear that he was somewhat below grade 5 (intermediate level), and the entire concert was marred by mistakes, losses of rhythm, and other technical failures on a grand scale.

But this guy used to pass judgement on Julian Bream, John Williams, Manuel Barrueco, and many others, whose CDs arrived on his reviews desk.

I'm not sure of the current situation regarding Classical Guitar Magazine, but surely what I have described is fundamentally wrong.

I mean, you wouldn't get a nurse pass judgement on a consultant of repute and standing - so what rights do certain guitar critics have to pass judgement?
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by RichardUno » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:10 pm

There's an old saying: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, become critics.

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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Lovemyguitar » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:18 pm

The magazine of which you speak is cr*p now that it has moved to the US (and it wasn't all that great before). I stopped subscribing because they seemed incapable of getting the magazine to my door (and now that they publish only 4 times a year, it works out to over $10 Canadian for each pathetic issue).
RichardUno wrote:There's an old saying: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, become critics.
That is genuinely unfair to teachers, who contribute enormously to the good of the world. I hate that saying. As for critics, they are fair game, since they contribute nothing of value!

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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Mick the Ramirez Man » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:27 pm

That's never stopped Rolling Stone ... :wink:

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Steve O
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Steve O » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:33 pm

Seems to me that the criteria for a reviewer should be that they listen to the music and comment in an intelligent and informed manner, not that they play the instrument better than the performer.

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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by riffmeister » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:40 pm

Steve O wrote:Seems to me that the criteria for a reviewer should be that they listen to the music and comment in an intelligent and informed manner, not that they play the instrument better than the performer.
Yep.

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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Paul Berge » Thu Dec 03, 2015 11:03 pm

Are critics generally masters of the trade they critique? Roger Ebert doesn't have any films credited to his name, yet was regarded as one of the top critics. Should music critics be held to a different standard?

If a critic has a good ear and an understanding of the music they are reviewing, I don't see why their own playing ability should be a major factor. Would you be equally critical of a composer who wrote pieces beyond their own technical playing abilities?

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Adrian Allan
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Adrian Allan » Thu Dec 03, 2015 11:11 pm

Ok, I get what you are saying.

But I would have thought that some degree of technical proficiency adds credibility to the reviewer's output.

In the case of Classical Guitar magazine we literally had the main reviewer, a grade 5 player, passing judgement on Manuel Barrueco.

It just annoyed the hell out of me.
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Adrian Allan
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Adrian Allan » Thu Dec 03, 2015 11:13 pm

They don't have to be a better player than Barrueco, but one would expect them to be able to at least manage the basics, eg. Keep time in a simple/ intermediate duet.
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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Fri Dec 04, 2015 12:07 am

guitarlad wrote:They don't have to be a better player than Barrueco, but one would expect them to be able to at least manage the basics, eg. Keep time in a simple/ intermediate duet.
I think there's a bunch of perspectives missing here.

Firstly, its not cool to speak ill of the departed, so I'll only say that you're being a wee bit unkind about Kilvington's performance; at the very least one needs a few experiences of something to know what the average is, and what's not due to a one-off factor eg illness.

I wrote reviews for CG from 1995 to 2009 and spoke several times by phone to Chris Kilvington, and met him in person a couple of times. I found him to be a very decent chap with no airs or illusions, happy and able to be helpful. He died suddenly in 1999 during the week before the Dillington summer school. Which takes place 40 minutes up the road from here. The ensembles had to go ahead anyway - I played his part. Very difficult gig...

The important perspective is that the emergence of Classical Guitar Magazine in 1982 was the fruit of Maurice Summerfield the businessman (and decent jazz guitarist), Colin Cooper, editor, the journalist and published author (and amateur pianist, violinist and very very amateur guitarist), and Chris Kilvington, reviews editor, a teacher, player, and composer. Between them they gained the trust of all the significant figures in the world of playing and composing (and making), right round the world. The fact that none of them could play to a high standard is not relevant. Chris may or may not have been able to hold a beat, but certainly Colin, in that situation would have no chance, and Colin's reputation as reviewer and commentator on the very highest echelons of this world was not, to my knowledge, ever questioned by anybody. Certainly, not by any of the very big names whose opinion really counts. I can't guarantee there are no stories from (then) young players who weren't as good as they thought they were, if you follow.
You'd certainly have to travel a long way before you find a more modest, unassuming fellow.
Colin worked with Chris as reviews editor right through that time far as I'm aware. He obviously had confidence and trust in his insight and writing. A reviewer is accountable both to the reader, and to the editor and the journal as a whole. While nobody and no organisation is ever perfect, between them they did as good a job as anybody can expect, under the circumstances.

In fact the very last thing you will get, or would actually want, would be a review written by somebody able to actually compete on a par with whatever they are reviewing. The scope for professional jealousy and competition is obvious. While there may be some specialist insights they could furnish, they are unlikely to be able to write a review that would be use to 'most folks'. That's the strength of people like Chris and Colin - they were 'most folks' and could both understand sufficiently what they were hearing, and relate it in always readable, and often beautiful, English.
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by pogmoor » Fri Dec 04, 2015 12:22 am

guitarlad wrote:I mean, you wouldn't get a nurse pass judgement on a consultant of repute and standing - so what rights do certain guitar critics have to pass judgement?
Sadly Chris Kilvington is no longer around to defend himself as he died prematurely in 1999. I never met him nor heard him play, but I am aware that he was very active in the guitar world as a composer, arranger and teacher and that he did perform in a duo with Lorraine Eastwood. I believe he had an academic position teaching guitar at Anglia University and that he ran the Cambridge Guitar Orchestra for a number of years. I think it is a product of ignorance that you regard him as having been unfit to review the work of other guitar performers.

I have to admit, as a subscriber to Classical Guitar magazine that it hasn't always been the most exciting of publications but when it was published in the UK I always found its reviews section the best part.

I see Stephen Kenyon has also replied while I have been writing this and given a more informed perspective than I am able to.
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Cao Nguyen » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:20 am

"Most folks" have vastly different perceptions from someone who has some experiences on a matter. Funny enough, I usually observe the opposite on Youtube and some forums, where comments from more experienced people get offensive responses and harassment from normal folks, and it's not only about guitar playing. Once I watched a performance by a famous guitarist, who is not a world-class player but famous enough in my country and was a reputable teacher. I had heard of but never seen him playing before. Someone commented about the guitarist's sub-par performance with weak tremolo and showed his sorry and disappointment in a respectful and civilized manner. Yet he got replies such as "who are you to say, do you know who he is?", "shut the **** up, can you play like him?". Well...

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Steve O
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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Steve O » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:28 am

I was at a guitar concert once - I think it was at one of the "International Guitar Nights". The performer asked how many in the audience played guitar. Quite a few in the audience raised their hands.

The performer then said "Right - for those of you who don't play guitar, I'm going to play a song. For the rest of you I'm going to play mistakes."

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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Pat Dodson » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:52 am

Every week millions, with two left feet, no rhythm below the waist and who are 13 notes short of an octave, voice and vote opinions on football teams, on TV ballroom dancers and on TV singers. Yet sadly a regular occurrence is an ad hominem attack on someone whose opinion is disliked.

It certainly helps a critic if they are knowledgeable about the topic. But as my grandmother used to say: you don't need to be a chicken to appreciate a good egg.

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Re: Guitar critics who can't really play the guitar at all.

Post by Adrian Allan » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:20 am

Yes, I am aware that he died suddenly. Maybe it's wrong to speak ill of the departed, but we are going back over a decade now.

In addition, I do know that many UK players held the same view that many reviewers were ill equipped to judge. This led to some people viewing the magazine with a degree of derision and scepticism.

There were exceptions, such as Stephen Kenyon, who is a very good player, and a few others, such as Ray Burley.

Maybe I have got this all wrong, but it just struck me and others as being ironic that both the reviews editor, and the general editor, Colin Cooper, were passing judgement on players with multiple times their skill level.

Even Jack Duarte once said on that very magazine words to the effect of "who on earth are you to judge? What exactly are your credentials as a teacher, or performer, or player, or composer?"

He even wrote a daft little poem ending in "his muse wouldn't budge, so he set up as a judge of better perfomers/ players / composers than thee".

It was very bitchy...but he had a point

Edit; Stephen makes a very good point above about amateurs sometmes being good critics. I accept what he is saying. However, I still maintain that the views that I held were quite widespread. Perhaps if at least one of the pair of editors had gained a level of excellence in playing or composing, then the magazine would have been viewed with greater respect.

I personally did not like Colin Cooper's reviews at all. They were bland, had no real insight into the subject matter, and often talked about the pieces instead of the performance. One massive red flag for me was the fact that he never reviewed sheet music, ever, only CDs and concerts. I guessed it was because he lacked the necessary skills to do so.
Last edited by Adrian Allan on Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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