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What's In a Name

An amusing back-to-school article in the Boston Globe yesterday described college professors changing the name of their courses and finding that it significantly boosted enrollment. ("German Literature of the High Middle Ages" became "Knights, Castles, and Dragons" and attracted three times as many students.)

This reminded me of a CD that came across the transom the other day with the deliberately provocative title "Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos." It looked like yet another pop CD sent to the wrong critic, but in fact, the repertory was straight classical piano: Bach's French Suite, Chopin's Ballade No. 4, Beethoven's e minor sonata, op. 90, and the like. The soloist, James Rhodes, has chosen to feature his turbulent past (childhood abuse, breakdowns, drugs) in his presentation, baring everything in interviews, on his website, and in conversations with his audience when he performs.

Rhodes, who is self-taught, does not appear to be an earth-shaking pianist, but he also appears to excite people who are drawn by the story and excited by the music. What's refreshing is that he indulges in this personal take without dumbing or watering down the music, in which he evidently believes with a kind of evangelical fervor. In other words: different package, same content, larger audience. "Knights, Castles, and Dragons" indeed.

This kind of thing is actually the territory of Amanda Ameer, who over at Life's a Pitch devotes a lot of thought to how classical music is packaged and presented and perceived. I'm certainly not recommending that artists race to put catchy titles on their CDs, though they not infrequently try. And I don't think a name alone is enough to win over an audience; Rhodes's CD title is part of an act he's cultivating, not an isolated gesture. But it's always interesting to realize that there is an audience that's eager to listen to and appreciate classical music once someone manages to make it clear that it offers an actual personal message rather than mere academic interest -- which is, of course, the reason that those of us who love it are listening in the first place.

Any thoughts on CD titles? Do they matter to you? Are they important?

By Anne Midgette  |  September 9, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  random musings  
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Next: Amazing Grace


CD titles are pretty irrelevant except when they give some sort of indication about a performer's intention in assembling a diverse program. Then they can be helpful.

The title of the CD specifically discussed in this post is intended to remind the propspective buyer why he or she is buying this CD specifically, so I guess it works.

The Nietzsche CD should really be titled "Why I Am So Great," after one of the chapter titles in "Ecce Homo." (Though the Internet seems to think this is actually "Why I Am So Wise"...not sufficiently catchy, Internet.)

Posted by: Lindemann777 | September 11, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

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