Hate mail and plastic rats for reviewers
VICKI ANDERSON THE PRESS MUSIC EDITOR
OPINION: After I reviewed Hayley Westenra's Christmas Magic CD in 2009, I received in the mail a shoebox containing a plastic rat with a plastic knife in its back.
Stuck in the rotund fake rodent's jaw was a note saying ''You can't be mean to Our Hayley like that, she's a nice girl''.
I may have interviewed Our Hayley numerous times but I don't feel I know her well enough to comment on whether she's as nice as the rat thought she was or not.
However, it is not her personality, her looks or her kindness to kittens or work with orphans which is being judged in a review. Only her music and performance is under scrutiny.
Music is, of course, a subjective thing. Nobody is right or wrong in their views but everybody has the right to have those views.
One thing is common whenever a reviewer publicly expresses their displeasure or disappointment of a musician's album or live performance.
Fans of the artist get on the phone and deluge either myself, the editor or the long-suffering telephonists at The Press with cries of: ''bad review'', ''sack the writer'', and ''I'll never buy your paper again''.
The truth is, it is not that the review is bad, as such, it just doesn't neatly agree with that particular person's point of view.
Five thousand people can go to a concert and have five thousand different experiences. It's the beauty of the human condition.
The critic's job is to offer their view of their experience. You don't have to agree with it. But you do have to respect his or her entitlement to have that opinion.
The other comment that rears its head is: ''Why don't you send someone who likes the band/artist to review the show''.
Imagine the bland, inane reading this would make? A world where everybody liked everything?
People then offer the argument that Hayley Westenra's ''albums sell well''. I cannot offer an explanation for that other than to say Crazy Frog sold a lot of albums, David Guetta sells well now - and people once bought Acker Bilk albums too.
People also buy lots of wasabi even though I hate it.
It's not her ability to sell albums that David Sell was reviewing, but the time she was performing at the Sound Barn known as the CBS Canterbury Arena on Sunday. Thoughtfully worded criticism is a gift to a musician.
However, personal attacks, which at least one prominent New Zealand reviewer revels in quite revoltingly, are in no way constructive and basely, to my mind, play the man, not the ball. This may result in many page hits on a website, but it's not impartial reviewing.
David Sell's review of Hayley's Paradiso concert was constructive, thoughtful and not in any way a personal attack on Hayley.
Having been in his position many times I do think he was brave to write what he truly thought.
While critics critique only the music or artwork, critics of critics gleefully make personal attacks along the lines of ''those who can't do, review'' and question everything from their qualifications to their gender.
As a critic I have been slapped, berated in the street - most notably in the foyer of the Christchurch Town Hall in front of a couple of thousand people, I've been forcibly removed from concerts by burly bouncers, blacklisted from venues and had water (at least I hope it was water) tipped over my head by one band.
And let's not forget the plastic rat - the forum for that Christmas CD review saw strangers labelling me as a drunk hag and worse.
Rat senders please note - I believe David Sell was being rather reserved when he referred to Hayley's voice as ''bland'' but then again I would rather lick the inside of a toilet bowl than attend one of her concerts.
An elderly woman phoned me today to remind me that Hayley is the ''sweetheart'' of the British armed forces and demanded a retraction of a review which hasn't even been published in the paper yet. Try as I might I cannot imagine soldiers in foxholes in Afghanistan aching to listen to her albums.
Perhaps they're using her music as a weapon?
However, sometimes critics, like other humans, get it wrong.
I publicly criticised Hayley when she was flown in from Britain for the Memorial Concert in Hagley Park after the February quake. But I was wrong. Her performance on that day was one of the most moving and heartfelt offered. She sang beautifully.
She deserved to be here.
Just as much as David Sell does.
- © Fairfax NZ News