Saturday, January 31, 2009

New technology in the music industry, but is it better?

As an online retailer of recorded music through my website, A Web of Fine Music (, I have witnessed a lot of changes in the music industry over the years, and they are likely to continue into the future. When one format supercedes another, the argument always comes up: "Is it better than before?" Well, let's look at the situation this week.

For years now, I have heard the cry from vinyl afficionados that vinyl records still sound superior to CDs, and while that may be true, I feel you would really need a high-end turntable and sound system to really hear a significant difference. Most people have long abandoned their old turntables and are even on their second or third CD player since those came out about 1981. I still own a lot of vinyl, although I have culled the collection many times, selling off as much as I can over the years while still keeping the rare or old favourite LPs I remember from my youth.

I can't tell much of a difference on my middle-of-the-road stereo system in my office, and frankly I like the smaller shelf space CDs take up compared to the old LPs of long ago. I do have a number of heavy wooden record shelving units acquired from the radio station that still employs me, CKTB Radio in St. Catharines, and they will never be empty. But they don't get visited as often as they once did, either. Still, last year I purchased from my website designer, Lex Parker, a lovely old Pioneer turntable and Sansui pre-amp/tuner, which I promise myself this year (okay, hopefully this year) will be properly set up in the newly-organized basement so I can get some more use out of it than I have since I bought it. I also have the software to transfer my old LPs to my computer to burn onto CD, which is a new concept for me, I must admit. It is simple enough, although somewhat time consuming. In time I hope to offer the service to my music customers, but only for still out-of-print LPs not available on CD. I have never agreed to the concept of burning CDs in order to make an "extra" copy for someone else rather than support the artist involved and actually buy the thing, which is clearly the right thing to do.

The one thing I do miss with many CDs that are reissues of old LP-era material is the great cover art and copious liner notes we were often treated to. I have several CDs of old LPs with the original liner notes reproduced so small it is almost impossible to read without the aid of a magnifying glass. Often the original cover art is discarded in favour of some generic computer-generated replacement that bears little resemblance to the original, and that's a shame. One of the pleasures of buying albums years ago was scanning the creative cover art from those days. And yes, I must admit having bought my fair share of albums not because of the artist or music inside, but simply because I loved the cover art! Okay, so it was often a lovely, winsome girl, but that was my perogative, right? It was put there to sell the album, for heaven sakes, and who am I to question their decision?

Anyway, old lp albums will never die, and there will always be the dedicated souls who will always collect it. Twice yearly in St. Catharines there is a used record show and sale at the Market Square downtown, usually in the spring and fall, and although I have not been in a few years, it still brings a thrill to me to spend a little bit of time reacquainting myself with a music format many had written off as archaic about twenty years ago, yet is still with us today. My thanks to Bill Gibbs and his gang of vinyl afficionados at Atomix Records in downtown St. Catharines for keeping the flame alive for all the die-hards out there.

I won't get into tapes here: cassettes and even (God-forbid) 8-track tapes had their time in the sun, and while cassettes are still with us today, their impact is negligible in this day and age. I don't remember the last time I was asked for something on cassette, and never have I been asked for 8-tracks. That is as it should be, I think. They are outdated formats that have outlived their usefulness except for those with cassette players still in their cars.

Now, if I can only stem the tide of weekly phone calls from people wanting to sell their old LP collections. If I had a warehouse I could happily fill it with the number of offers I get to "unload" their old collections, but as it stands, there is neither the space nor the will to devote much time to it. What most people forget is the fact there is simply so much vinyl available second hand now, unless it is extremely rare and/or in pristine condition, it is nearly worthless in today's marketplace. In the last few years when I included my LPs in yard sales, rarely could I get more than a quarter a piece for it. The sentimental value of a particular album is almost always more than the actual value of it, and people need to keep that in mind; enjoy it while you can, but let go when the time comes. The best thing to do with your old collections is to whittle it down to the bare essentials you cannot do without, and simply donate the rest to the Salvation Army or Goodwill or similar organization, so they can at least sell the stuff and put the money to good use. As for me, I have no more room for the stuff, and don't want to start down that road again!

Next week, we'll look at the other end of the spectrum and see what becomes of CDs in this digital music age.

January 31st, 2009.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Niagara Symphony set to start the New Year musically

So here we are, into the final weekend of January, 2009 already! Where does the time go? At least the days are getting longer, so there is light at the end of that proverbial tunnel we are in known as winter in Canada. And like a sleeping bear awakening from a hibernation nap, the Niagara Symphony readies itself for the first concert of the new year on Sunday afternoon at the Marilyn I. Walker Centre for the Performing Arts at Brock University.

This will be the first Masters concert of the new year, and promises to be a good one, too. Titled Postcards From The Sky, the title of the concert is also the title of the first work on the program, written by Marjan Mozetich, whose music the Symphony played last season as well. This piece is on a disc from CBC Records featuring all Mozetich compositions titled Affairs of the Heart, and is available through my website, A Web of Fine Music, found at Also on the program is the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 by Beethoven, with featured soloist Stephan Sylvestre. I always enjoy hearing the Beethoven piano concertos, and in fact a brand new recording of all five is now available on three discs from EMI Classics featuring the young piano virtuoso Evgeny Kissin along with Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. It is readily available through A Web of Fine Music as well. Rounding out the programme will be the Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 55 by Camille Saint-Saens, and that promises to be an interesting conclusion to the afternoon's performance.

Once again a guest conductor will take the podium, as is the case with most every concert this season with the departure last summer of Music Director Daniel Swift. For this concert, Rosemary Thomson returns to conduct the Niagara Symphony. Years ago, Rosemary recorded a CD titled Continuum, which is a collection of contemporary works by various Canadian composers, performed by a chamber ensemble conducted by Thomson. I just happen to have a few copies of the recording on hand for the concert, and I will have them available at the table in the lobby before, at intermission and after the Sunday afternoon concert.

Tickets are still available for the peformance, by calling the Brock box office at (905) 688-5550, ext. 3257. And if you go, be sure to stop and say hello in the lobby!

Just before wrapping up the entry for today, I want to offer a thank you to Karena Walter and Tiffany Mayer of the St. Catharines Standard, who wrote about me and my business, A Web of Fine Music, in their Search Engine feature, part of the Diversions section of this Saturday's Standard. I heard from Karena a couple of weeks ago, as an enquiry came in to them asking about the whereabouts of Downtown Fine Music, which used to be located on St. Paul Street before it closed in 2003. I was happy to supply the required information, and even more glad to see the entry in today's paper. Thanks Karena and Tiffany, and by the way, the Search Engine feature just happens to be my favourite part of the Saturday Standard and the first part I read every Saturday!

January 24th, 2009.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

CBC Radio 2 drops classical music - good or bad?

I have deliberately not written about the big changes to CBC Radio 2 last September, as I wanted to give it some time to develop and see if I could grow accustomed to the new format. Now, after a few months listening off and on throughout the day, I have a few thoughts to share...

Many of my clients for A Web of Fine Music ( have commented to me on the changes and the loss of another quality outlet for classical music in Canada. Most appear resigned to the change; yet few if any are happy with it. To be sure, the loss of more classical music on the radio is unfortunate, and from our national broadcaster makes it seem all the worse. As a retailer of classical music, I find it more difficult to do business, as there are fewer and fewer outlets for clients to become exposed to new releases they might want to buy. The loss of Sound Advice on Saturday afternoon was a particularly unfortunate move for that very reason.

As a listener, I gave it my best open-mind approach and tried to like what I was hearing. But the more I listened, the more it all started to sound the same to me, and after awhile I would become bored and tune out, either literally or figuratively. I know it is good to expose us to new and less-familiar artists both from our country and elsewhere in the world, but not a constant diet of same, which is what much of what I have heard sounds like. Rather than plant a few seeds at a time, over time, we have a dump truck unloading an entire load each and every day.

The loss of Jurgen Gothe's eclectic Disc Drive on weekday afternoons was a great loss insofar as he had become for me, and likely many others, a constant companion for three hours each afternoon five days a week. Nothing else would compare over that time period. Curiously, if you look at the playlists for the show before it went off the air, much of the content could not be considered core classical material; there were a lot of other musical genres explored, and frankly I liked that variety and the approach Jurgen took to the music. The afternoon show that replaced it just appears so bland and colourless by comparison. I try to catch Jurgen's Sunday afternoon show Farrago at 5 pm, but I am not into the routine yet of tuning in at that time, so I often miss it if I am not in the car at that hour and think about it when I look at the clock.

It's not all bad. Although I rarely have a chance to hear Tom Allen in the morning due to my work schedule, when I do I still find him to be an engaging morning companion with wit and wisdom to share, and the music appears to have a little more variety to it. I do enjoy the mid-day show Tempo, which is predominantly classical, but I have to remember to turn it on now, as I don't always have the radio either at home or in the car tuned to CBC 2 on a regular basis, as I once did. That, frankly, will be the real hurdle for CBC to overcome with this change: presenting one type of music at one time of the day and another type at another time of the day rarely pleases everyone and you run the risk of alienating many of them.

Two ladies relatively new to CBC Radio 2 airwaves are proving to be most engaging and I must admit to becoming a fan of both even if I don't always like all the music they play: Katie Malloch and Molly Johnson both convey an intimate sound to their shows that manages to draw me in every time, and that is the way it should be. Both voices are sexy in their own way, but the personality from each wins you over. But those are the only two hosts I try to catch with any regularity any more.

So, what's the verdict on the changes? I hope it is not CBC management's plan to sit back and say this is it; more work needs to be done on fine-tuning the product and make it more palatable to more listeners, new and old. I will give it a year before I seriously look at the changes and the ramifications of same; but for now, there is some good and not so good on the CBC airwaves at the moment. So in a way, not much has really changed at all!

January 17th, 2009.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Regional Music of Western New York now on CD

So, here we are, after the holiday rush, and time to get caught up on things that have been piling up on my desk while I tended to business processing orders over the Christmas season for A Web of Fine Music ( The season may be slower now, but there are always things to discover in the world of music, as is the case this week.

I recently came across a copy of the community newspaper from Amherst, New York, brought into work by a colleague of mine who lives down in that area of New York state. I have always loved looking at newspapers from any far-flung place people have been to, as you never know what you're going to find. In the lifestyles section of the Amherst Bee recently was an article on a newly-released CD of 19th-century regional music from New York state. Quoting from the article, the artist Dave Ruch, who lives in Amherst, says "People talk a lot about eating locally these days, about consuming food from within 100 miles of where you live. Well, this is music from within 100 miles of where you live".

When you stop and think about it, he's right. Back in the 19th century, before people were more mobile and able to travel more, and television and radio were still a gleam in some inventor's eye, what did we do for entertainment? Parlour games, to be sure, and letter writing would have been popular. But to entertain family and friends at gatherings and such, music would often be very local in nature, and this "heirloom music", as Ruch calls it, is made up of old folk songs, dance tunes and such people grew up with years ago, and would have been handed down for generations.

I have to think other areas, rich in their own regional history, would have similar songs of a local nature we likely have not heard for generations. I can only imagine the music that would have come out of the Niagara Region with the native population in the Fort Erie area, for example, or the early Irish settlers in St. Catharines who help to build the early Welland Canal system. Will we ever hear any of that music? Likely not, but you never know. Perhaps some enterprising musician from this area might find the time and desire to research our local musical heritage and see what can be unearthed. Off the top of my head, I can think of two classical or light-classical works with local connections: former Niagara Symphony conductor Milton Barnes wrote a piece called Maid of the Mist years ago, and I know people have not heard that in a long time save for a performance with the Niagara Symphony a couple of seasons back; and the American composer William Henry Fry, a 19th century champion of local music in his own right, wrote a Niagara Symphony, which only received its World Premiere performance and recording a few years ago on a collection of his works on the Naxos label. I featured the disc on the Mike's Picks page of my website ( over the holiday season, as it has the only recording of the Santa Claus Symphony on it as well.

But, getting back to Dave Ruch, his disc is titled "The Oldest Was Born First", and is available now through his website, Or write to me at and I will see if I can track it down for you. I have not heard the disc yet, but it sounds quite interesting, and my hat is off to Dave for bringing this little-known music to light after all these years.

January 10th, 2009.