This semester I’ve been regularly contributing reviews of shows on campus to The College Voice, the College’s student-run newspaper. I’ve been a regular contributor to The Voice throughout my time at Conn ever since a friend from my hometown encouraged me to join during first-year Orientation, and I’ve written a wide variety of articles. I like writing reviews because it’s a way of giving back to the arts community at Conn by highlighting performances on campus. Reviewing is challenging as it’s one of the most opinionated forms of journalism; it’s up to the reviewer to decide whether to express a favorable or unfavorable view of a performance and justify why that’s the case.
This summer, while I worked as the public relations intern at Glimmerglass I regularly read reviews of the festival, and reading these helped me to realize that I really wanted to do more reviewing in my own community when I returned to Conn. Now I try to keep up with current reviews, especially in The New York Times, which students here have access to for free online. I believe that to write well one has to begin by reading good writing, and from reading reviews I’ve learned that I prefer writing performance reviews that display some outside expertise from the author while writing with the audience of their publication in mind. When writing for The Voice, these two concepts usually oppose each other because I have to write with the assumption that my readers lack awareness of the work or even genre being performed, but I also have to suggest that I’m familiar enough with the work that my reader will perceive me as credible.
I recently decided that I want to start my career in an arts-related field. Regularly writing reviews for The Voice helps orient me in this direction. Even if I follow a more creative path within the arts such as performance or composition, I’m still using my time well by participating in a centuries-old tradition of reviewer-artists. For example, Virgil Thomson had a career as both a great American composer and critic; he wrote for the New York Herald-Tribune from 1940-1954.
In terms of process I take copious notes during performances; after emerging from the theater department’s production of “Uncommon Women and Others” on Fall Weekend, I discovered that I had written 15 pages during the event. Taking notes helps me remember and focus on the performance. Usually I have a good idea of topics to write about by the end of a performance, although I often find that I have more to say than space allows.
Depending on the publication schedule, I typically have between four days and two weeks before my review is due to the arts editors at The Voice. Usually, I wait at least two days before starting to write my review. Although, I’m trying to manage my time better and start earlier so I can keep my writing in line with my original vision, which I feel tends to degrade the longer I wait.
Recently I reviewed a performance by A Far Cry, a Boston-based self-conducted string orchestra, with pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The program included a performance of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a work that, when performed at Conn, had its world premiere in Boston only the night before. Writing this review was exciting because I was one of the first people to write about a new work by a highly renowned composer. This was a highlight of my so-far short reviewing career and the sort of experience that I hope to continue having as a reviewer.