Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All I want for Christmas is for them to take down that damn New England Conservatory sign

The offending vulgarity is at upper left - it's much worse head-on.

I know it's a small thing - but then life is made of small things, and what better small thing to make a fuss over than a pointless blot on an architectural gem? For reasons known only to the gods - and possibly Ernie Boch - New England Conservatory decided this year to advertise itself on Jordan Hall's glorious interior fa├žade (designed by local architect Edmund Wheelwright, who also did the Longfellow Bridge, the Harvard Lampoon, and the MFA). Vulgar in conception, the sign is likewise crass in execution: big block letters reading "NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY" loom behind the artists at every concert, just in case we happen to forget, as we're transported by the music, just where we are and who we should be donating our dollars to. Of course, the sign might be fun if it were, say, in neon, with a kicking can-can leg, but it's not. And as long as it's up there, trust me, New England Conservatory will never be getting a dime from me!

But how to deep-six the damn thing? The local scuttlebutt is that it's the brainchild of new NEC Prez Tony Woodcock. You could write Tony and let him know how you feel about his brass-plated ad at the NEC President's Office, 290 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115. Those poised to donate might note that their money will only be available on the condition that the hall be returned to its former glorious condition (below). Trust me, from some circle of heaven, Edmund Wheelwright will thank you.


  1. The funny thing is I came here from Universal Hub to see the sign you describe as, "Vulgar in conception... likewise crass in execution," and I couldn't determine what you were talking about from the photograph.

    I think you need to turn down the hyperbole a bit. You may have an argument based on tradition and keeping historic elements pristine and as they were initially created, but there is nothing vulgar or garish about the typographical treatment of the venue name I see in your picture.

  2. Where? Where's the sign? I worked as temp there years ago.

  3. Hmmm . . . and I think you need to go to Jordan Hall. I couldn't find a photograph of a recent performance head-on, but trust me, the sign is floating directly behind the artist's heads, so its impact is far more amplified than any photograph of its placement on the wall would indicate. As for its being vulgar - it is, but I don't really want to emphasize its crass design because ANY advertisement in that space, even a subtler one, would be a bad idea. Would you want a tasteful ad on the State of Liberty? Or on some architectural masterpiece like Trinity Church? We should be venerating the interior of Jordan Hall, not exploiting it (yes, with its wonderful, eccentric curves and "squished," slanted seating, it's that good). Of course I know the pop crowd is used to having signs for Bud Lite looming beyond Springsteen and the like - but then Springsteen isn't playing a late Beethoven quartet, is he - and in general, the connection between rock star and fan is mediated through the commercial continuum. What makes classical music different is that the connection between performer and audience, by contrast, is direct and physically intimate. Any advertisement is an intrusion on that relationship - and yes, the NEC should know that.