Jennie Brown and Howard Reich

Recorded June 7, 2021 Archived June 7, 2021 40:36 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: chi003555


Jennie Oh Brown (52) and her colleague, Howard Reich (67), discuss music criticism, the stories behind their careers, Chicago's classical music scene, and how the COVID-19 Pandemic has affected musicians' lives.

Subject Log / Time Code

JB talks about critiques and why she values them.
HR talks about his 43 career as a classical music critic, and how critiques are written not for the musicians themselves, but for the readers.
HR talks about being perceived according to whether his critiques are positive or negative. He refutes the myth that critics are out "to make or break someone's career." He describes his role to be more like that of a baseball announcer.
JB talks about getting hooked on stories as a child through her parents' extensive classical music collection.
HR talks about how he ended up writing about music as a career.
JB talks about the origin of her love for the flute.
JB talks about her love for her students and how she approaches helping them find their direction.
JB and HR discuss the music scene in Chicago.
They talk about the Pandemic and how it affected musicians.


  • Jennie Brown
  • Howard Reich

Recording Location

Virtual Recording

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type



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00:06 My name is Jenny O Brown. I'm 52 years old. Today's date is June 7th, 2021. I am in Chicago and my wonderful partner is Howard Reich. Who is a very dear friend and also a much-admired, professional colleague.

00:28 My name is Howard Reich. I am 67. I still can't believe that the date is June 7th 2020. What I did last for a long time.

00:43 JoJo musician, speaking with a critter. So let me ask you first. How do musicians view critics? What do you think about?

00:56 Yeah, it's an interesting question. I think when I was younger and my my fellow students and I would talk about music critics. It was with, you know, a a slightly healthy dose of fear.

01:15 Does he know thinking about the word critic? And, of course, musicians, in a sense, we kind of thrive on criticism because it's what allows us to kind of keep reaching for that next level. I think over the years though, as I've been in the professional world. Now, for several decades I have to say there's an aspect of criticism that I Almost Do you like mentoring and you know, sometimes people will make comments that I disagree with. For example, if I'm playing something that's contemporary. Someone might mistake something that's written in the score, like a pitch, Bend is being something, you know, that was a technical issue when it wasn't. So things like that. Obviously can't take too seriously, but with critics such as yourself and several other of the critics here in town like when do a coma and other wonderful people who write about music and certainly John Von Ryan your predecessor. Yeah. There's a lot to be learned.

02:15 From reading music criticism and not necessarily our own criticism, but also just reading it and general and hearing how people receive performances. I think one of the most fascinating things to me, is what I happen to be at a concert and then I'll read a review of it. The very next day. I remember there is a review of Emmanuel, pahud, concert. That just was really, it it was actually very funny because the reviewer was responding to his prove, his sort of bravura on stage, which, of course, audiences a door, but not all critics hadn't. So, it was kind of an amusing response to the concert that I saw, even though the concert itself was, of course, brilliant. So yeah. And in a sense, I feel like it's sort of two sides of this coin of learning and growing and

03:09 Both trying to serve the industry as best as we all can, and yeah.

03:15 So as I'm fascinated to hear you say that because my view of what critics do is very different than yours in my career of reviewing music from Fairview. And so I don't even presume to tell a musician. How did she do? What they do? They should get that from their colleagues from the composer.

04:15 I am an observer. I'm on a tidy lie to me. A Critic is what we call a disinterested Observer. So, whether the concert is great or terrible. I don't stand to gain you. The way I do. I always prefer to be great.

04:32 I'm writing for the readers of the Chicago Tribune released into the past 43 years since I retired in January and positive from what I write, how's it going to start to learn something or I'm thrilled and delighted. I just would like to say that. I'm I do not put myself in the position or lecturing or talking down to the musician because I'm not really sure. What do you say today?

05:09 I totally see what you're saying. And of course, I can see in the job description. That's exactly right. But, you know, the reality is

05:21 Sometimes as a performer, you put something out there and you think that is going to be received a certain way. And to be honest, a lot of times when people give you feedback and just sort of your your network as friends and colleagues. It tends to be kind of sugar-coated and it tends to be kind of, you know, peppered with their love for you and their caring for you. And so, to be honest, as someone who is always really valued criticism to me, it's kind of like, okay, so, you know this this particular, you know, for example, I played George crumbs voice, the whale one time. It's a piece of, I literally play probably like 50 times. And in fact, I recorded it as you probably know and it's a piece that I feel like I know inside out and George Crum himself has heard the recording and he this is not in any way to be boastful, but he said that he described it literal.

06:21 He is perfect and that. And what he was saying is perfect. Is that what she wrote in the score? He felt like I understood and at the time when he wrote it, he thought that people were going to think it was completely crazy and not going to be able to understand it. And so to him he was happy that essentially what was written on the page was communicated accurately. And so in a sense you almost kind of build like this. I mean, I think I'm just going to be perfectly vulnerable in and blood, you almost kind of build this arrogance. Like, okay. I've done this so many times. I've work of the composer. I know how it goes and and then, you know, I did it in performance.

07:05 And I got this sort of like kind of and I was so heartbroken, but it really force me to go back yet again and see where I had really neglected to pay attention to things that were supposed to be wild, you know, after playing it like 30 or 40 or 50 signs. I had just sort of gotten comfortable with it. And that was not the right thing. So in that sense, you know, I'm not saying necessarily that the critic themselves are teaching the performers but that's sort of like super incredibly blunt feedback to me is actually really highly valuable and so it doesn't matter to me whether review is positive or negative, because of course, the negative review is going to sting a little bit. But chances are that there's something in that negative review that you can then speak and, you know, even bolster, whatever interpretation even more, or completely to the contrary just

08:05 Forget that and then just keep going your own way, but it's really one of the rare opportunities where you get that just super blend super objective. Here's what I think. I don't care if you're going to cry after kind of comment and personally I value that when I was a student.

08:26 Yeah, my teachers would probably roll their eyes and and you know, laugh at me for saying this, but I always valued the critical comments, much more than the compliments. Like that's where I felt like the Nuggets of what I'm going to learn where I could pull those. And, you know, I was grateful for the compliments and I was grateful for any encouragement, but I personally just really felt like if I could get like, just the blunt comments, those were the ones that we're going to take me to the practice room and help me understand what my next level is. So I guess, you know, I may not be normal in that way. But that yeah, that tends to be my perspective. I know some people that never read reviews. And it's almost kind of disconcerting for them to read reviews writers, like, you do. But, you know, I think it just depends on the perspective of the musician.

09:24 So, I think you may be in the minority.

09:27 Musicians be somebody.

09:46 Pride with either of those points of view because the be a Critic is not a very thick skin, which is jazz and classical music. Primarily on the part of the body. If you're writing about these areas in general, more people will be reading your review. How did the actual events?

10:46 Internet readers around the world, so

10:53 That puts the the the critic because as a virtue of writing about

11:13 You're giving exposure to that, perform a positive early and triples the audience.

11:42 Oh interesting. Just writing about something, just putting a spotlight on something positivity, you write something until I give them no subject of nuts about critics. There's so much mythology. What is a critics love to make or break careers?

12:40 I mean, I know the last thing I want to do is make less so now because there's so many exciting moment for me as a person.

13:38 Performing Daniel Brown.

13:43 I'm watching. I'm watching this movie as an outsider as an observer, if I call, you know, but I will describe what's there and try to give people a sense of it and hope in the long run. I've done more good than bad.

14:05 Well, I think you've done way more good than bad and I've always enjoyed reading your writing. And actually I wonder if we could take a little bit of a cube from what we were just talking about and shift gear slightly cuz Howard. One of the things that I feel like you and I share in common is we both sort of have this love of, like, telling people stories and hearing people's stories and I am wondering because he started out as a musician. What it was that shifted you into that Arena? Cuz I feel like that's just an enormous part of your professional career, even though, of course, I'm probably most connected to you within your, your musical life. I think even, you know, the way that you're you're talking about

14:52 Sharing these these people in these stories in their art with the world. I think obviously the most perfect example of that right now is your work with Norman Malone and your recent book with Elie, Wiesel and of course your earlier film about your mother and you know, I just have so admired that whole aspect of your professional life and it's something that I really love you and enjoy to. Although obviously I'm doing it more through my flute than anything else that I know for me when I was really little, my parents bought me like this, these giant stacks of records and they were all stories. So they loved classical music. For this huge collection of Music. They had this entire collection, the complete, the Beethoven, with the Berlin film and all these massive massive collection. And that was where my love of music Started, was with those.

15:52 Records. And he don't van cliburn's, Braun II recording with the CSO and and also the Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto as well. And you know, what's funny that? I'm not a Pianist but those were two of the things that really sparked my interest in music. And anyways, so these these records of stories. I feel like have gotten me forever hooked on listening to people's stories. So I was wondering how it if you would share with us. What got you hooked on on that and what made you incorporate that into this musical.lys that you have? So I just covered in music. That's why I thought I was going to be a journalist at that point.

17:05 I've got to study music. So three weeks before school started, I decided I will audition for the School of Music. So I never went by the way. I was on my senior year, I realized

18:05 Dare to take a day off of school. I'm writing about music between Mobile Music and telling stories. If you take one of those away from me and I were 23 years old today, that would be much harder Road.

19:05 I would have had the right now, if I find another another way of doing the flute. How, and why did you decide to make this your life?

19:24 You know, I honestly I think about this all the time to be honest, and I'm not totally sure. I have a super inspired answer other than

19:34 Playing the flute. It just feels good. And it's just fun. I love the sound of it. When I'm when I listen to ensembles. I might hear just always gravitates towards the fluids. Even if it's a small Ensemble are large Ensemble, as it's just something that I've always, it was one of these things where I started late as well. Yeah. It's it's funny. I tried to start as a sixth grader, your side like a twelve-year-old and my band director said I was too old and that she wouldn't, let me join the know. I mean, that's really the best way to start an instrument is with a really skilled teacher and so I jumped in is like I think a fourteen-year-old, her thirteen-year-old, I guess in 8th grade. And by the time I hit Junior your I left school that summer and went to Interlocken and then the rest is history. So that climb to being like too old to play two headed to being headed to Interlaken was only like a

20:34 For years and I just really loved it. And it's funny because I was very happy to be locked up at 6 or 8 hours. And I remember there were very long stretches of time that, you know, I'd be practicing for for 6, hours every day. And it just, it was just really fun and really great. So I just really kind of enjoy it, is the bottom line. I know, there are so many musicians out there and I think there are lots of different reasons why people enjoy it been from. He was just kind of a hard thing. I just thought it was fun. I would say what you just described is how I feel about writing between I go to concerts. But when it comes down to it, this is the arena.

21:34 It's like the opposite communal. Just beyond the transcribing and there has been letting go get the words. I write on the page. I am 100% in control and nowhere. Is that more the case?

22:31 The other is going to take it, read it and now they put it online and there's almost no, no barrier between you and the hundred percent.

22:50 Equally.

22:59 That's that's actually a question that I struggle with all the time. It's actually the question that I like receiving. The least is what do you do? Cuz I honestly don't really know how to describe myself in one word. So I always say I'm a musician cuz I think that pretty much encompasses at best but it's hard when you have these sort of, you know, Despair and activities. And they all mean so much to you and how to start a roll them into a word.

23:26 When you do, you do a lot of teaching that seems to be important to you, so,

23:38 I really love my students and I just find them really interesting and fascinating and I think that it's just a tremendous privilege to walk along beside them. No matter what phase of Life there in whether their Junior High kids or high school kids or college kids. I mean, they're not kids, adults, the vast majority of it is I work with are college-age students, but I really actually love Junior High kids. I find them absolutely delightful. I don't often teach junior high, but when I do, I think it's really fun and that I'm a really big believer, and this goes for my children as well as my students in. Just allowing someone to kind of find their own ambition rather than you know, here's what you need to do. You need to do this and you did this and you got to get these done and you know when this and do that and I just think it's amazing to watch how people's own census.

24:38 Elf comes from the journey because they have to think about what do they value? What are, what are things that they cannot live without? What are things that they feel like really identify who they are? Do they think of themselves as really talented? Or do they think I'm some of themselves as really intellectual and what things from their own upbringing has led them to this place and those conversations are just remarkable and they're really, I just can't express it other than it's just an incredible privilege. And so often I find this especially with college students, especially ones that have come up through really rigorous training. They have this sense of this is where you have to go, and this is what you have to do. And when you just kind of take a little bit of a step back and think about wait, hold on. What are my values? What do I see? Is my future? Then all the sudden that direction.

25:38 Try to take some very interesting turns and now that I've had some students there now, you know, approaching their thirties, even some of their, in their thirties and to see what they've done with those opportunities in those careers and the other partners that they have gravitated towards. I mean, it's just really fascinating and really fun and it's just a real. I don't know. It's just a really joyful process to meet the students and and to walk alongside them is the way I usually think about it is almost impossible now to have a full-time job as a Critic for a big newspaper publication to pursue that career to make.

26:32 You know, it is obviously extraordinary really difficult and I think that the

26:41 The jobs like the Chicago Symphony type jobs are obviously incredibly competitive and, you know, our wonderful colleagues and is in the CSO are just world-class awesome and it's, every time I hear them play. It's just exciting to hear them. I mean, Jennifer gun is just one of the most spectacular musicians. Ever. And to think that she brings that to the piccolo. And she brings just this incredible lyricism to the piccolo. And, of course, Stephanie and Emma Christian, you know, they're all just world-class players and it certainly, those jobs are very hard to come by, but there are two things that I always tell.

27:24 Scene is entering into college, cuz that's when this question becomes like, really, really focused one. Is that music is a lot like Athletics and you really have to do it at a certain age for a flutists to come into this. When they're my age is, it would be very, very difficult. Like you really do have sort of this finite window of when you need to start that very serious. And there are a lot of careers that you don't have that finite window. And so, if you feel like I have to do music or I'm going to die, which, you know, that's how I felt when I was that age, when I decided to leave my house, go and go to Interlaken, then why not go for it, you know, you have this this little opportunity in life to do something passionate and maybe a little bit crazy. And then when you're done, and when you're tired, and if you haven't gone, where you want to go, do your MBA or go to med school, or do whatever, cuz you can do those things later in life. So I think

28:24 You have to embrace the inherent risk of going into a career in music. Number one, number two.

28:34 I challenge anyone to go through a single day. This is outside the pet normal life and not hear music, right? It's impossible. And every note that you here has like a thousand people behind it. Whether it's a sound engineer, or the performer, or the composer, or the people who trained those people, or the grandmother, that sang to them when they were little and sparked his interest. And that to me, is the music industry. It's not just the performers. And when you think about it like that and you approach your entry into the field like that, like it's this wide-open, massive, truly, Global feel

29:17 If you start to think in those kind of broad terms, I think it's very possible for people to be entrepreneurial and to make careers. It may not be aware that you envisioned when you're 18 or 19 or 20, but I know a lot of people with Incredible thriving careers, including those performers like we were talking about earlier and including people like Dan Nichols, who was the sound engineer for my last two albums and he started out as an OS and if I record everything with him for the rest of my life, I'll be perfectly happy cuz I think he's so wonderful and so music can really take you in so many directions. And of course it can take you outside of music and into other fields where it it continues to enrich your life and it country continues to bring you Joy and even really a substantial amount of your energy. The maybe it's not the one hundred percent professional Focus. So yeah.

30:17 I believe it's at all. Possible for you to go for it. Then definitely go for it. And that works for both of us. I think you're such a part of the Chicago music scene. Tell me what you think.

30:53 Cuz I have to tell you there is just an incredible amount of talent in Chicago. You can think of any possible project that tickles your fancy and you will find the team to do it and they'll be people who are generous and kind and Brilliant and experience. I mean, it is just such an amazing body of artists and body of entrepreneurs and body of just incredibly for thinking Innovative people. Who also, I think really value community and really value, encouraging and supporting one another, the people that I'm closest with they are very quick, to lend a hand to people and if you get some new graduate graduating from college that just want some ideas about whatever you can call any one of these people, and they will have coffee with you even though they themselves are so crazy that they

31:53 Constantly talking about not sleeping and too much coffee and all that, but they will still make time for people who are trying to enter into the sea and it is really kind of remarkable. I had a conversation has recently was several people who I think you could call leaders in the art field easily and they were all commenting about Chicago. Just has a very, very special sense of community, even though it is really big, but somehow it doesn't sometimes, it just doesn't feel very big. So to me that's the engine behind Chicago, Art is Einstein struck by the the stylistic breath of what's your musically experimental jazz blues gospel.

32:53 Dalton technical level of all of that music but I feel I am not worried because when they play complete Command technically what they do, raise as one travels around the world,

33:47 I rarely spicy, that's what musicians are the same or better than what we see here is what it's like. It's not like we were having the hardest time, just describing. What it is that your taxi was going to capture? And the the the best thing that we could do is to really articulate that, we're trying to capture it all the multitude of styles, the multitude of traditions, the cultural backgrounds, that they all come from and Michael kept reverting back to the word musics plural. Because it's, it's more than just what we think of his music is sound experimentalism and it is improvisation its creative music. It's yours.

34:47 How many different forms and contemporary classical and its composers and performers and people who are composers and performers and that to me is Chicago. It's people that are really stretching the boundaries and creating their own art, and creating their own art forms. In the same time, bringing other traditional forms to these incredible levels of

35:12 Achievement is not the right word. But but just art and finesse and nuanced and it's just very very exciting.

35:20 So what do you want to wish? We have to acknowledge the something? We've been kind of dancing. Do you think that's return to perform? And I think it really scared people to death as they just closed. We've never seen anything like that on such a scale. I think people were physically affected by all the attention, all the sudden, you know, they were manifestations of that tension in the body, which is really hard, not to mention just sitting for so long and all of those things, and of course people's livelihoods were very threatened. So, I think without question just the apprehension around it and of course, at the same time we're seeing

36:19 People close to us, who are affected by its, whether they themselves have gotten it or a family members or people just sort of in the community that have gotten it, and some who've gotten sick and passed away and all of those things are so traumatizing. And then on top of that dealing with the social justice issues, and the political issues that have been at the Forefront, which largely have not been issues that artists are feeling very edify. And so there are so many forms of trauma that were connected to this. Of time at the same time. Again, going back to this incredible, Chicago Community. It was his opportunity to put it and just blossom into this new form a new skills, new ways of expressing. And I think that what we're going to see come fall is that there's just going to be an explosion of Art and it's going.

37:19 A different kind of art. I think it's going to be incredible and inspiring and I think the future is bright and I think it's very, very exciting. I don't think the World At Large recognized how this program it uniquely affected musicians or Rebel. Patches and tire way of life you raced in one week and have no social media.

38:02 What do you do at home? I could possibly could not bring themselves to practice their instruments said that she barely practice scales and all of musician considered.

38:40 Absolutely, but on the flip side of that, there was such incredible encouragement. They were all these groups that were emerging like people saying, you don't, let's get together and help each other practice and students that were suffering where people were reaching out to them. And saying, you don't just come and take a few lessons with me. And so that part of our music industry was really incredible to me. And it was sort of this opportunity when everything was taken away that there was still this generosity that these musicians kept still giving. And, you know, here is here's my recording of me like recorded five times playing a flute choir and things like that. I mean it just was there was an aspect of that that I found incredibly encouraging and it just felt like such a bright light and yeah,, it's very inspiring. I think what it comes down to is that musicians give more to us the world than the world gets the musician, no matter what happened.

39:40 Nothing seems capable of stopping the music. Nothing can stop you when you were talking about like just the difficulty of the field for me. I don't actually think a whole lot about if I'm succeeding or not succeeding I think about if I'm ready to come and I haven't been ready to quit yet. So I'll just kind of keep going and I feel like that sort of perseverance is something that is inherent to so many musicians. I will be typing on it.

40:23 Well, thank you so much.