May 22, 2014

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It’s been the same with music, although middlebrowness in music is trickier to define. For one thing, there is the distinction between classical music and pop music. (More properly: between concert music and pop music. “€œClassical”€ is the name of a mere episode in musical history, between Baroque and Romantic. That’s pedantry, though, and the true middlebrow is not a pedant.)

Your middlebrow music lover doesn”€™t eschew either classical music or pop, but he only goes so far with either. Play me a little night music, by all means”€”emphasis on “€œlittle”€ there, please”€”but Bach partitasLate Shostakovich? Sorry; I”€™d go to the concert with you, but that’s the night I PedEgg my corns. Same with pop: The preset buttons on my car radio get me News, Classical, or Golden Oldies. That’s it.   

Opera makes things double tricky. A big swath of humanity regards fondness for opera as highbrow in itself. The merest acquaintance with truly dedicated opera buffs will set you right on that. To them, brow-height-wise, the bel canto style that owns my affections”€”which is to say, early 19th-century Italian opera”€”ranks somewhere down there with roller derby and monster truck shows. 

As can be seen from all this, the main charge against middlebrowness is that it’s shallow. We middlebrows don”€™t plunge too deep into things.  Perhaps we”€™re afraid of what we might find there; or perhaps we”€™re just lazy. I”€™ll go with lazy: I”€™m not aware of being scared of anything, other than of course women and the po-lice. So I”€™m lazy. So sue me.

Shallowness can anyway be redeemed by breadth. Life is short. You get around four thousand weeks. That’s not many: you can count to four thousand in an hour or so, and there they go”€”gone. We all have to make a fundamental choice regarding our enthusiasms: shallow and wide, or narrow and deep. You can wade for clams or dive for pearls. I believe my pearl-diving days are over. From here on out, it’s clams all the way.    



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