The Corner

The Conductor’s Podium as Political Platform

One reason I became a conservative, many years ago, is that the Left in my hometown — Ann Arbor, Mich. — insisted on politicizing everything. There was never any respite from politics. There was no “safe zone.” Politics was infused into everything — and it was one kind of politics, of course: Left.

This sort of “creeped me out,” to use a modern expression.

So, on Friday night, I go to Carnegie Hall for a Christmas concert. The King’s Singers are performing with the New York Pops Orchestra; Marilyn Horne is a special guest. This should be an evening away from politics — just a little fodder for my next New Criterion music piece, you know?

Shortly into the concert, the conductor turns to the audience and speaks about “the holidays.” This year, he says, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are overlapping with Christmas. (According to what I can find, Kwanzaa begins on December 26, but never mind.) Then we have New Year’s Day. And “on January 20, there will be a new beginning for our country.” The crowd, of course, erupts into cheers. Then he says, “I see I’m not the only one who’s ready.”

They can’t help themselves, can they? They can’t help preening, saying, in effect, “See how virtuous I am? My politics are correct. I am a fully paid-up member of the herd — nothing independent-minded about me.” I have seen this in Carnegie Hall before (as elsewhere): The conductor, or someone else, makes a partisan political statement, releasing a little stink bomb that smells up the entire evening, no matter how good the music is.

At least it’s that way for some of us.

Politics aside, where are manners? Where is consideration for a minority of audience members? Where is a sense of public space, and what is appropriate and not? The guy was uncouth, as much as anything. And the sad thing is: There’s no one to call him on it.

And, no, I don’t count. One of his own — someone from the New York Times or The New Yorker or the local arts establishment — has to call him on it. Otherwise, it doesn’t count.

I suppose that conservatives, somewhere, act like that conductor, injecting politics where it doesn’t belong, transgressing against public decorum (and simply displaying bad manners). I have not witnessed it, though.

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