February 4, 2005
By Sean Piccoli
Some fans of "popera" baritone Josh Groban disagreed with my review of his performance last weekend at the Office Depot Center in Sunrise. I saluted Groban's singing skills but disliked some of his musical choices, arguing that his hybrid theory of music tends to cancel out the respective strengths of opera and pop. This cultural straddle strikes me as endemic to a new breed of PBS-friendly performers and fund-raising beacons such as Groban and Sarah Brightman.
These two responses, left via voice-mail, nicely captured the spirit of all the rebuttals and raised valid points:
"I don't think you gave [Groban] the correct credit," said one caller. "He has a beautiful voice. He does exactly what his voice is suited for ... Music doesn't only have to be directed toward young teens, as if no one else has a say. Nor does it have to be pure opera to be good. I'm interested in your musical training ... He's musically mature, he's extremely talented, people around me were moved, and I just wish you had done him justice."
Said another: "You could have been a little bit kinder. The people that go to that [concert], it's not that they don't love so-called classical ... or that they don't like modern. Music is the most wonderful thing; it can touch your heart in so many ways. Josh Groban touches a lot of people's hearts in a totally wonderful way. 13,000 people enjoyed that concert immensely. Your article sounds to me like you're putting him down a little bit."
My intent was not to slight Groban but to understand him in a context by which many, if not most, people know and applaud him: the universe of public television, which is attempting what sounds to me like an awkward stretch in bridging high, middle and low culture. Nor do I endorse the tyranny of the teen consumer; I've sat through too many Britney Spears recitals. Music for grownups -- see Rosie Flores -- is always welcome and desperately needed.
As for my musical training: one semester of music theory, some guitar lessons in my teens, a string of garage bands and a few ill-advised forays into karaoke. That's not exactly "training." It's more like tourism. But then, criticism arguably is a form of tourism, at least in my experience. It's opinion based on repeat visits -- extensive listening, viewing, reading and debate. I hope that doesn't disqualify me, any more than a travel writer would lack credibility on his beat for not ever having operated a cruise line.