In the early 1970s there was a major labor dispute at Madison's afternoon daily newspaper, The Capital Times. When it became clear the strike would last, the staff formed a strike newspaper called the Press Connection. A close friend of mine, Ron McCrea, was the editor of this new paper. I had occasionally reviewed classical music concerts for the town's weekly paper, Isthmus, but I eagerly accepted Ron's invitation to become the Press Connection's regular commentator on the classical music scene in Madison. It was then that I got serious about writing criticism.
We have two daily papers here, but as far as I can tell neither one has ever had a music critic who was a performing musician. This fact, which may be more or less an accident, has bolstered my credibility, I think.
In due course the strike was settled (broken, rather) and the Press Connection ceased publication. It was not long, however, until another opening appeared at Isthmus, and as the old bromide goes, I never looked back.
My work as a critic certainly wouldn't make a person rich -- indeed the pay was ridiculous to the point of being insulting, but doing it greatly enriched my life, which in turn led me to want to return comparable enrichment to my community. Over the years quite a number of articles appeared. I tried hard to be enthusiastic, informed and constructive. I hope it will not be seen as hubris that I think I was able to do that.
Published examples of my writings on music are archived at a companion web site called Madison Music Reviews. In addition, the site made it possible for me to publish reviews of concerts Isthmus would not cover, as well as commentary that doesn't fit the editorial requirements of local media.
Rewarding as being a critic was, I had a bad accident in my kitchen one evening a few days after Thanksgiving in 2001. I was chopping potatoes and despite usually being careful with my customarily razor-sharp knives, I felt a little pressure and a slight sting, not really pain, as I neatly and cleanly amputated the fleshy tip of my left little finger, WHACK! clean off! Quite a surprise, and did it ever look weird.
Part of my genetic heritage, I guess from my mother, is total calm and self-possession in emergencies. I clapped a clean dishtowel over the wound, applied pressure with my thumb, called 911, had my first (and I hope last) ride in an ambulance, and in exactly seven minutes was in the Emergenmcy Room of the hospital a few blocks away. In the first couple seconds of this event I said quite a few bad words, because it seemed so dumb to have done such a thing.
While waiting for the ambulance, though, I had time to reflect a little on what had just happened, and it was then clear to me this would be a life-changing event: what does this mean for my life as a player, as an active maker of music? I took it as a wake-up call to do whatever would be required, no matter how long it took, to return to regular practicing and to giving concerts -- house concerts for invited audiences rather than public concerts -- and that writing about music was a distraction that would have to go.
I terminated my contract with Isthmus two weeks later, a step I haven't regretted for a second. The situation with my hand remains difficult but I'm persevering on that front.