Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall

mozart in the jungleI watched the pilot episode of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon. I figured I’d read the memoir of the same title, which the show is (loosely) based on, before continuing with the series.

The portions of the book that deal with the history of classical music in the United States and how that plays into its business and education sides were well-cited and thought-provoking. It definitely opens up dialogue. What is the musician’s relationship to the audience? Are we including the audience in the artistic experience, or using them as a way to stroke our own egos? What is the music teacher’s responsibility to the younger generation? Are we supporting unrealistic, lofty dreams of “going to Juilliard” and encouraging students to go into an unsustainable field? Is this field as unsustainable as it seems? Or is it that the old way of doing things needs to change?

“I overlooked the fact that we were rehearsing for free (we were paid only for concerts), we perpetuated the classic scenario of artists subsidizing a performing arts group, the only way such a group can come close to paying its own way without substantial funding.” (page 71)

“Conductors and executives are regarded as a class of workers whose superior skills entitle them to demand astronomical salaries from nonprofit organizations that are already in debt. As the oxymoronic concept of such classical music “stars” grows, the musicians themselves begin to appear peripheral to the organizations, or even the music interpretation.” (page 299)

There’s no denying that there are problems in the classical music world that need to be addressed. I appreciated the perspective she brought to some of these issues.


A gossipy tone overshadows the entire book. Tindall is such an unreliable narrator, it’s hard to know how much is true and how much is embellished. Most musicians practice long hours, work hard, and make honest, meaningful connections with each other. Are there are individuals who make unscrupulous choices? Of course. But “trading sex and drugs” as a way to “network” is not necessary, and is not the norm.

Tindall goes for shock value in this memoir, and even seems to take delight in it. It felt voyeuristic and skeevy, and the fact that she names names made it even worse. It was like being caught in the middle of a personal vendetta. It was really, really hard to pull through the majority of the book; its positive aspects were simply too few and far between. For the most part, I was disappointed to find Mozart in the Jungle to be a tacky, tabloid-like read that casts a sweeping, unfair light on an entire profession.

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