By Jack Dvorak

Peter Jacobi
Music reviewer and IU professor emeritus Peter Jacobi talked about how he evaluates a performance. (Photo by Jack Dvorak)

Music and arts columnist Peter Jacobi made sure the 35 Bloomington Press Club members at the May 24 luncheon meeting paid attention to his remarks by playing Joseph Haydn’s “Great Surprise” symphony just after he was introduced.

For Jacobi, surprise is one of 13 “wants” he lists as essentials in experiencing music and other artistic endeavors.  And while it’s not possible usually to have all 13 wants fulfilled in a concert or performance, the more the better, Jacobi said.

Jacobi is a professor emeritus in IU’s School of Journalism, where he continues to teach one course each semester: magazine reporting in the fall and arts reporting in the spring. He attends hundreds of local performances each year while reviewing for the Herald-Times. He also writes columns for Editors Only magazine and others, and he is a writing and speaking consultant for various professional organizations. Before coming to IU in 1985, he was on the faculty of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and had also been news assignment editor for NBC and ABC affiliates in Chicago.

Because Bloomington audiences are so expert in many ways as well as so diverse, Jacobi said he tries to answer at least three main questions in each review: 1. What was the performance saying? 2. Was the effort worth it? And 3. Was it done well?

To do this, he said he tries to “illuminate, persuade (with verbal artistry), stimulate thinking, and get across the why and how and what has been transformed, — and is much more into description and narrative rather than argumentation in reviews.”

So in any art form, Jacobi said he looks for 13 wants:

  1. Learn: People need to gain intelligence and be teased so that learning turns into pleasure.
  2. Enjoy: Become enraptured and tickled by a performance.
  3. Journey: People need to become travelers, to discover, to explore, to enter into another realm.
  4. Be there: Become a participant with the performers or have a feeling of participation – and leave exhausted.
  5. Meet the artist: To gain a oneness with someone other than the self. “Good art leads me to the artist. It takes me to the head and heart of the composer.”
  6. See things anew: Sharpens viewpoints and perspectives that had not occurred to a person before. Takes one into a special world.
  7. Imagine: To float, to drift between an awakened state and an imaginary state.
  8. Surprised: To encounter the unexpected because it’s energizing to be enterprising … and to get a jolt.
  9. Understand: Puzzles are solved, new meanings are encountered, and questions are answered.
  10. Remember something: Maybe it’s an experience of the past or some other remembrance that is important to one’s life.
  11. Trust: Wants honesty in art forms and not untruths.
  12. Child-like perspective: Lack of inhibitions, blocking out customs, and restoring a youthful shine to language and art. Wants writers and artists to bring out the childhood excitement of new experiences.
  13. Belief, faith, feeling and assurance: Bring stillness in the midst of chaos and wants art to entice, draw in, overwhelm and stimulate.

Following his prepared remarks, Jacobi answered some Press Club members’ questions. Some of his responses:

  • He doesn’t go to student recitals because there are so many of them, and while most are excellent, in fairness he can’t cover one while not covering many others.
  • A couple of highlights from his 25 years of reviewing locally include the set and costume designs of music professor C. David Higgins for Puccini’s La Boheme and the Orion Quartet’s playing of some of Beethoven’s latest works.
  • Quality of music students, especially pianists and violinists, seems to be getting better all the time.
  • To come to grips with some modern or avant garde music, one should at least try to attend a concert of groups like the New Music Ensemble. “Be adventurous; we can’t like everything.”
  • While he likes jazz music, he doesn’t review it because he claims he doesn’t know enough about it – and he thinks many of the bands are “over-miked,” and at concerts applause after improvised solos interfere with the listening experience.
  • He knew violin virtuoso Joshua Bell was a special talent when he heard him for the first time many years ago, and now that Bell is internationally renowned, Jacobi said he’s still developing: “He’s great but not satisfied. He’s more into music now. You can see (violin legend and teacher) Josef Gingold’s influence that music is not just to be played but to be loved.”

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