How nice. The Akron area's long-standing reputation as a committed supporter of the finest in classical programming deserves nothing less for keeping the concert halls active through good economic times and bad. Well, only partly nice. There is one critical missing part these days that has the folks at Tuesday Musical, the Akron Symphony and E.J. Thomas Hall scampering about for a solution. Since the departure of Elaine Guregian as the Beacon Journal's classical music critic, she hasn't been replaced. No reviews nor advance feature stories on the Guarneri, which might as well have performed in Kansas that night. The same is true of the Akron Symphony's concert the past weekend.
In both instances, it may have been the first time either group was snubbed by the local "metropolitan" newspaper. Based on what their representatives have been told by the paper's editors so far, it's not likely to change. They went away with nothing more than a rite of passage into the economics of today's newspapers, at least as the editors and their Canadian owner might describe it. That means the BJ will continue to pretend to be a full-service newspaper while ignoring an important segment of the city's cultural spectrum. It means that the paper can find ways to devote five pages to sports news (and - trust me - I'm a big sports fan) daily and not come up with the equivalent of a couple of pages a month to concert fare. Unless, of course, one of the entertainment venues happens to shut down, as was the recent case of the published hysterics over the sudden demise of Carousel Dinner Theatre. Good Lord, there goes another potential advertiser!
Regarding Carousel, Dan Dahl, executive director of Thomas Hall , has moved to lure the Carousel series subscribers who will not get refunds for their subscriptions to Carousel shows. He is offering a free ticket to one of Thomas Hall's three remaining Broadway shows that come to town through April. "This will cost us money," sighs Dahl, who faces the same economic demands as everyone else in the business and is searching for ways introduce his stage to newcomers.
The outlook is grim. "It's unconscionable," says Barbara Feld, Tuesday Musical's veteran executive director. "It's terrible for a paper not to have a reviewer. There wasn't a word about the Guarneri. It just diminishes the cultural legitimacy of the community." She says she is embarrassed to tell a performing artist that if they come to Akron "there won't be anything in the paper." It creates a prairie town atmosphere all around. That would appear to be of no consquence to its absentee owner, David Black, in his faraway office in Victoria, British Columbia.
There isn't much joy in other organizations, either. Both Jessie Raynor, executive director of the Akron Area Arts Alliance, and Margot Snider, exectutive director of the Akron Symphony, share Feld's pessimism that the Beacon Journal will respond to their concerns. "We were told," Raynor says, "that Elaine will not be replaced." Snider laments that the symphony "obviously is being hurt" and predicts the situation will only get worse.
I asked Bruce Winges, the BJ's editor via e-mail about these concerns. His reply was not reassuring. He said:
"We do not have anyone on our staff with Elaine's expertise, and we are not in a position to hire. We will, however, continue to cover the arts community (we recently did a look at the state of funding for the arts in Akron and there is the closing of the dinner theater."
Is he in a bind between the owner's Scrooge-like attitude and the cultural needs of the Akron area. Doubtless. No one who has spent much time reading about the current travail of newspapers can ignore the economic pressure on the industry. But is it only economic pressure, or is it also the lack of will and imagination by local editors and the big guy who owns the place that are cheating a special group of readers? For one thing, has there been any consideration of alternatives that would help? If there is absolute resistence to adding a music critic to the staff, there are other ways to solve the problem. There are competent freelancers in the music schools at the University of Akron and Kent State who might be willing for a few bucks and a free ticket to write an advance story about a concert and then a review. So I don't step aside when editors wring their handkershiefs and say that I ought to understand their predicament.
Today's deadlock is especially brutal in a town with no television station and a couple of bargain-basement radio stations incapable of taking take up the slack. The one exception is the heroic effort by WKSU to inform its listeners of the best that the area music organizations have to offer. As I have asked in the past, "When can a newspaper stop calling itself a newspaper?"