Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music

The decadence of the rock music culture is notorious. Critics compare it with Dionysian dissipation1 and Babylonian corruption,2 and none lamented the shift “from Bach to Rock”3 more than the late philosopher Allen Bloom. In The Closing of the American Mind, he spoke warmly of the role that Bach and Beethoven could play in the “cultivation of the soul” in men “whose noblest activities are accompanied by a music that expresses them.”4 In contrast, said Bloom, “Rock music encourages passions and provides models that have no relation to any life the young people who go to universities can possibly lead.”5

A stark contrast suggests itself: Society has come to anticipate ruinous behavior from rock stars (as in “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll”) but to “expect that classical musicians live cultured, erudite, and fulfilling professional lives.”6 Unfortunately, this is not always the case. So argues professional oboist Blair Tindall in her book, Mozart in the Jungle.7 Tindall is an accomplished musician, having played in the New York Philharmonic, performed a one-woman concert at Carnegie Hall, served the Broadway orchestras of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and Man of La Mancha, and soloed on the soundtrack for the feature film Malcolm X. She has also been a dope-smoking, serial-adulteress, by her own admission and painstaking itemization.

Her environment was also rife with homosexual sin. At the summit, Leonard Bernstein, conductor of the New York Philharmonic and composer of West Side Story, went openly gay once his wife died in 1978. And throughout the various companies, lesser figures were dropping like flies as they engaged in dangerous sex. Tindall stopped counting when the hundredth man she knew personally had died of AIDS. So rampant was the disease in the musical community that it claimed 75 lives in the New York City Opera company alone.

For Tindall, sex was means to employment in a contact-driven industry. On tour in California with a group playing Andrew Lloyd Webber music, she got a job offer in the wake of sex with the touring conductor. She wondered, then, “Why . . . did I bother with an answering machine? Between Sam and my former oboist boyfriends, I got hired for most of my gigs in bed.”8

Some were “church gigs,”9 and some involved the performance of such exalted, Christian music as J. S. Bach’s Magnificat and St. John Passion. How can musicians participate in these performances while living dissolute lives, which often include drug use as well? (Indeed, Tindall observed that “[s]ubstance abuse was almost a badge of honor” among her colleagues10.)

She has written a depressing book, but it demonstrates well that the cultural elites cannot be trusted to serve as moral and spiritual models and that, whatever one’s social status, a life without the light of Christ is open to all sorts of personal wreckage.

Thanks be to God that followers of Christ can be found in orchestras and ensembles throughout the world. May their tribe increase, and may the Church under gird them with encouragement and prayer, for their mission as salt and light among their professional colleagues is daunting.


1 E. Michael Jones, Dionysos Rising: The Birth of Cultural Revolution out of the Spirit of Music (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994). Also see Allan Bloom on Nietzsche in his book The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 73.
2 See, for example, Gary Herman, Rock ‘n’ Roll Babylon (New York: Putnam, 1982); Harriet Mellow, Notting Hill Babylon: A Rock ‘n’ Roll History (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2001); Pamela Des Barres, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon (New York: St. Martin’s, 1996).
3 William D. Romanowski, Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 198.
4 Bloom, 72.
5 Ibid., 80.
6 Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2005), 213.
7 Named both for a concert tour to South America and for the thicket of backstage immorality she witnessed—and savored.
8 Ibid., 194.
9 Where the setting inspired no holiness on their part. At one, she recalls that she and another musician spent their break “making out on the chaplain’s darkened office floor.” Ibid., 73
10 Ibid., 107.

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