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Classical Snack, Opus 2406

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still life painting of someone playing the piano in a vibrant living room

Comparisons Are Odorous

I just read that a critic dubbed Taylor Swift a poetic genius in the same league as William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. I’m not familiar enough with Taylor Swift’s songs to judge their overall quality, but I have heard a handful of them. I imagine it’s heady to be compared to The Bard and The Belle of Amherst. Not surprisingly, this well-intended comparison brought out haters. That stinks. I hope Ms. Swift can shake it off.

I studied music in college with someone I thought was a genius. I recall seeing him improvise a fugue on a subject someone handed him in class. Not only did he play a fugue based on that subject, but he also added color commentary along the way pointing out each entry of the subject and its corresponding answer in the exposition, episodes and modulations in the development, and his use of pedal tones and stretto in the recapitulation.

It was a thrilling thing to witness, but afterwards we all compared ourselves to our professor and became discouraged. That comparison stunk. We were not in his league musically, and no amount of work or practice would ever get us there. It was like me watching Josh Allen on the football field today and comparing my athletic prowess to his. No amount of work or practice would ever get me there either.

Shakespeare writes in Much Ado About Nothing, “Comparisons are odorous.” It’s a play on the phrase, “Comparisons are odious.” In other words, Shakespeare is saying that comparisons stink. Indeed, there are times when comparisons don’t stink, like when selecting melons at the market, but there are times when comparisons do stink, like when we compare ourselves to others and then feel bad about ourselves.

I try not to compare myself to others anymore. No good ever comes from it. Either I feel superior or inferior, neither of which is particularly useful. If Taylor Swift finds out that someone compared her to Shakespeare and Dickinson, I hope she shakes off any negativity that comes with it and enjoys the compliment. In fact, I’m sure that’s what she’d do. Why? Because the few songs of hers that I’ve heard are curiously insightful about human nature. I think she’d process the comparison in such a way as to make it not stink.

As a WNED Classical host, I often find myself comparing performers, but lately, I’ve been trying not to do that. Performers are not melons at the market. The best of them bare their souls to us when they perform. Who am I to judge? Frankly, I can barely compare melons. How could I ever compare souls?

Marty Wimmer

Marty Wimmer is your Midday Host on WNED Classical. He’s been with WNED since 1995. Recently retired from a long career as a public school music teacher, Marty is thrilled that he still gets to talk about music every day. He lives in Buffalo and is grateful for the many good friends he has in our local classical music community. You can reach Marty at

Marty Wimmer