Friday, January 13, 2012

Jackie Evancho--beloved by fans, ignored by Grammies, sneered at by pop critics, reviled by classical critics

I can't recall when someone so genuinely nice and talented has been the target of so much negativity by the cultural establishment.

Here's the kid (bottom right BTW) who Billboard Magazine ranks as the #1 classical artist in America, the 10th best-selling recording artist across all genres, who had the second-best-selling CD of the year among classical crossover/"vocalist" artists, and whose PBS special "Dream with me" is apparently the most pledge-producing concert of any that PBS stations have ever used for their pledge drives. 

You'd think all that would at least get her some attention from the mainstream press.

Well, the New York Times deigned to take note of her existence belatedly. Toward the end of last year it sent a stringer who specializes in reviewing hip hop and rap to a live concert she gave in New York. You can imagine what he had to say.

Then the Washington Post one-upped the NYTimes: last week it had a classical music critic "review" her. As far as I could tell he based his musical analysis on the first time she ever appeared on TV, 16 months ago, singing for 90 seconds. From that he concluded that she was an abused, sexualized child who's being forced to sing music she shouldn't be singing in a horrible technique that's guaranteed to destroy her voice--which he grudgingly conceded had some strengths--and wrapped it up by likening her to Jon-Benet Ramsey!

He got a ton of very angry comments. He responded by doubling down on everything he'd said in a podcast on New York public classical station WQXR-FM, with several classical doyennes nodding their heads in agreement.

Nobody else this side of the Taliban thinks her clothing would be inappropriate for performing for the President of the United States and his family or the Emperor of Japan and his family--both of which she's done.

Nobody who isn't seriously warped in the head would think her choice of clothing or music--opera arias, show tunes and slow to midtempo pop numbers--puts her in league with all those miniskirted Beyonce wannabes out there. 

And anyone who accuses her parents of abusing her--which the WaPo "critic" stated as a proven fact--had better hope that they're too small to draw the Evanchos' attention, because that falls well within the boundaries of our country's defamation laws.

Moreover, the doom predicted for her voice is not shared by any of the otolaryngologists who examine her regularly, nor by the voice coaches who work with her, nor by concert schedulers who'd love to have her perform more often and more often during her concerts, but are frustrated by Jackie's parents' insistence that the health and longevity of her voice come first.

My point here isn't to defend her and her family, however. Anyone who Google/Wikis/YouTube's Jackie Evancho for less than an hour will know that these critiques aren't just rubbish, but appallingly ignorant rubbish--appalling because I'd expect far higher standards of journalism from such eminent media sources and from the critical establishment.

My point is to show how, when confronted with someone who doesn't fall within the neat categories critics use to slice and dice reality, they reject the someone rather than revise their categories--or admit, even to themselves, that those categories don't accommodate the rare interpretive musical genius who comes along perhaps once or twice a century. Interestingly, many fans of the genres these critics champion love Jackie's music. It's the critics who don't.

Thus to a parochial rap/hip hop critic she's a lousy rapper. To the classical snob she's a lousy operatic soprano. To many classical music teachers she's a parvenu from petit bourgeoise parents who has been the curse of them, now that they're being besieged by children and parents dying to have their kid trained to become the next Jackie.

And those teachers can't tell those kids and their parents the truth: "I don't know how to teach anyone how to sing like Jackie Evancho, because nobody knows how she does it, and even she can't explain how she does it; and even if anyone could explain it you'd have to be a musical genius yourself to follow in her path. I can teach you how to sing well, and safely, but you'll never even get in the same ballpark as Ms. Evancho."

So instead of saying that they say "Jackie Evancho is a bad opera singer who's destroying her voice rapidly, so I shouldn't and won't teach you how to sing like her." 

Never mind that just because someone sings the occasional aria doesn't make her or him an opera singer; opera singing is a technique that can be used with any kind of music, just as any kind of opera music can be sung non-operatically. Never mind that Jackie, her parents, and her label have never claimed she was an opera singer, do not now, and say she has no plans to sing in operas or to sing operatically in the future, making the opera snobs' criticism about as relevant as saying she's a lousy Tuvan throat singer. And never mind that one of the most prestigious voice doctors in America just declared her vocal cords "pristine." These bozos know what they know...or they feel compelled to believe they do.

I'm not claiming that everyone should love listening to Jackie Evancho. Some never will. What I am claiming is that the music critic establishment is failing--grossly failing--to live up to what should be its mandate: to match listeners with music. 

Instead they're trying to game the system by trashing the work and family of an artist who works in a hybrid area, neither purely classical nor purely pop. They don't understand singers who don't fit in their neat little cubbyholes. They don't understand children when the children are geniuses. They don't understand their job, which should be serving their readers. And they don't understand how you don't get to defame people's characters with no other reason than their prejudices and Lindsay Lohan.

So here's an extremely nice, polite. well-behaved, studiously diplomatic 11 year old girl who is unintentionally bringing out the worst in a significant chunk of the arts world's establishment. 

Speaking as a sociologist, I find it fascinating. She's a regular Rorschach blot, given all the putrefying nonsense a lot of self-appointed experts are saying about her (when they bother to notice the she exists at all), 90% of which is false, and obviously so.

The only critique I've heard that sticks even a little is that her backup arrangements tend to be overblown--gilding the lily--sometimes burying her exquisite voice in a wall of sound filled with clashing cymbals, swooning strings, harp arpeggios, horns horning in etc. Hopefully that will diminish as she grows older and gets more artistic control over her products. But even with the WOS productions a majority of music lovers will find her CDs and especially her DVDs well worth having.


Anonymous said...

Spectacular post Ehkzu! You have such a gift for being so poignant about Jackie Evancho. Someday maybe the critics will learn to do their homework for once.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ehkzu. Perhaps you should submit this to the New York Times.

joe duerr said...

Very well researched and stated, needless to say I agree with your assessment. It is refreshing have someone exprees the truth so well.
Thank you...

fturban1 said...

I love the article. I agree 100% with the statements made by the author.

Thinker said...

Very true! Most Jackie's performances (especially the Sarasota concert) are simply phenomenal! I love operas, classical music, easy rock, etc. but I have never been as impressed as by the Sarasota concert. There is this modesty, dignity and perfection of performance that are simultaneously so seldom even in adult performers. I can't wait to see another one of her life concerts or get another one of her CDs or DVDs. Selfishly, I would like her to sing publicly all the time and produce one DC/DVD after another. But of course I am concerned that the commercial pressures from the producing companies that profit from her might dictate a little too much her life. The best safeguard against all this are her parents and they have my respect and full confidence - Jackie's behaviour, dress and make-up (or the absence or very limited use of) are a proof that they are doing a great job! Thank you Jackie and the Evancho's...

UncleMike said...

Bravo. Well written and right on target. I have loved opera and classical piano, guitar, violin, and uilleann pipes all my life. Jackie's music and her lovely voice just fit right in with these perfect instruments and complete my musical enjoyment.

Rolf said...

What a wonderful post! I to have been confused by what I see as 'snobbish' behavior of the music world. I have seen this also with Taylor Swift - I guess they just don't like those they can't put in their 'well defined boxes' as you say. Thank you for a well though and well written article.

tony549 said...

Great post! I wholeheartedly agree. The mainstream media is by and large Liberal. Jackie Evancho and her family wear their Christian faith on their sleeves, so to speak. The Liberals hate this in my opinion; look how Tim Tebow was treated by the media. I think that some of the media treatment of Jackie may be attributed to this. I'm by no means religious and I classify myself as agnostic. However Jackie's singing almost convinces me that there could be a God.

Unknown said...

When will they ever learn?

Jackie Evancho is not an opera singer.

Or, so says SHE!!!!!

see her interview at:

How many times much she say it before the media and opera snobs finally gets it?

rongo said...


I am a big Jackie fan, but, with all due respect: no self-respecting REAL Christians would ever support their daughter's fangirlism of pure trash like Lady Gaga.

It reminds me of what Gandhi said when asked about Christianity, he said something like:

"I like your Christ, but I don't like your Christians. Your Christians aren't very much like Christ"

Lets not let the psuedo-moralists and Sunday-Morning Christians commandeer Jackie Evancho and project their moral fraudulence onto her and her image.

PopsMartin said...

Absolutely outstanding post. I have been feeling the frustration as though she were my own child. I have read the articles by the critics and so called experts and they only serve to outrage me.

My particular favorite hater is the "expert" who came out after AGT to explain why Jackie lost. It seems to me that there is a lot of jealousy among the have beens, wanna bees, could never make its, and the epic life failure crowd. When a man who brags that he is the Professor Emeritus of a distinguished university declares that Ms. Evancho is a farce and a figment and undeserving of any success, that tells me that he is having a very hard time dealing with the fact that he spent the first half of his life studying ABOUT something that he is personally incapable of doing. He has spent the second half of his life as an educator convincing our young adults that he knows all there is to know about HIS art. He is upset because with all of his academic expertise, no one knows his name until he publishes an overtly biased article based on his personal failures.

Meanwhile, this rare genius comes on the scene and brakes all of the rules becoming an overnight sensation known the world over.
Jackie Evancho has so effortlessly redefined the words genius and prodigy that those words will never be used the same. If they ever are, it will be as such, "You may be a genius and a prodigy Mr. Beethoven, but you ain't no Jackie Evancho!"

Unknown said...

Quarterduck said

Very well said Ehkzu!
I'm a research biologist and have published about 100 reviewed primary research articles, and reviewed several hundred more, both as a reviewer and a journal editor. What amazes me is the poor to nonexistent scholarship and the deep ignorance most of the critics show of what can readily be learned about Jackie and her career on the Internet. While art is more subjective and less objective than the physical sciences, I know incompetent reviews when I read them. The wretchedly low level of knowledge and objectivity speaks very poorly for the art/music critics who have so far deigned to comment on Jackie's abilities and performances.
As one of the many who was forcibly struck by Jackie's marvelous abilities when I first heard her...I cannot understand why so many people simply cannot see the genius she displays. They see her, hear her, know that they cannot point out another child anywhere on Earth of comparable age with comparable abilities: yet they feel bound to denigrate her in any way they can think of, while failing to provide their unfortunate readers with useful and balanced reviews. I would be ashamed to "trash" any aspiring youngster regardless of their ability or lack thereof the way many critics do Jackie. Have they no ethical or journalistic standards? No compassion for a sweet kid?
Whatever becomes of Jackie and her career in the future, I feel privileged to be able enjoy her astonishing and moving gift and follow her via concerts, YouTube, the Internet now. Bravo Jackie!

cruXsader said...

Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together - Mel Brooks

Anonymous said...

Ehkzu: You are truly a critic extraordinaire, a pleasure and insight to read!

Totally agree re/Jackie, I first hear her I was totally taken aback, wondering if my attraction to the voice of a little girl was untoward (my teen son says I'm "weird"); but the more I listened, the more I heard a true muse, a "storyteller" as you so brilliantly put it, a poet who sings her sonnets with her god-given talents. The true test for me was attending her Davies Hall concert in San Francisco, the acoustics were horrible, her pacing back and forth across the stage while singing a distraction, the orchestra annoying, her girlish gestures disrupting...and yet, WHAT AN INCREDIBLE VOICE!! Her singing transcends, envelops, like a siren. Never have I chosen or paid to see opera live, the three tenors were OK on TV but nothing special. Nothing in my life have I experienced as sublime as being in the audience when Jackie hits a note. I will see her every chance I get.

Frankly, I don't get it, your brilliant explanation notwithstanding. You just gotta be there.

JSteps1950 said...

@tony549. Jackkie herself said that her talent comes from God - or from the fact that she was born into a musical family that lves amd supprts her. Your anti-liberal bias is curious, since it is conservative values which refuse to move outside the box; conservatives are the people who consistently reject new ideas and ways of viewing things. The problem with the negative critics is their conservatism. Liberals welcome new art forms. Amd your perception of liberals as anti-Jackie because you say they are anti-Christian is just conservative hogwash. It's what your biased mind wants to believe rather than the truth.

Ehkzu said...

JSteps1950, what on Earth are you talking about? Surely not this review, because I never said any of the things you attribute to me. Are you sure you didn't post your comment to my review by mistake? That you were really thinking of someone else?

Anonymous said...

As a dad of a 9 year old who found her cd in the public library and fell in love with it, I am thrilled that my daughter is digging a kid like Jackie Evancho rather than the low lifes masquerading as musicians these days.