Arnold Rosner (b. 1945) is a prolific American composer whose music has been performed in the United States and Israel. His works exceed 100 in number and steer clear, generally, of both the post-serial avant-garde movement of the 1960’s and the minimalist movement which followed it. His treatment of harmony and counterpoint, along with the occasional recourse to an ethnic, Middle Eastern flavor, places his music in the esthetic milieu of Paul Hindemith, Ernest Bloch, and Alan Hovhaness.

Rosner is currently on the faculty of Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, where he teaches both standard and ethnic music. Having composed since the age of nine, he received advanced degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo while studying with Leo Smit, Allen Sapp, Henri Pousseur and Lejaren Hiller, from all of whom, in his own words, “I learned practically nothing.”

Sunday, July 31, 2005
In the Words of Groucho Marx, or…Is there any hope left for this culture?

I would like to start by thanking my good friend Elodie Lauten for introducing me to Sequenza, and her columns here.

It is not clear to me what the rules of blogging should be. I intend to impose one restriction on myself,- and that is that I will say nothing negative about any other composer. I am in a strange place,- writing music close to the spirits of Hindemith, Nielsen or Barber, with some additional ethnic and even mathematical influences thrown in (not to mention spiritual), yet enjoying friendships with colleagues who are in the atonal, post-atonal or minimalist camps. I mean no argument with them; I just seek some room for myself.

Of course, if one does not talk about other music, what fun is it? What are we doing here other than complaining about the neglect we all feel? I will try in the future to find other things to say, but for the moment I will indeed present two perspectives on that very neglect which, however, I hope will be interesting.

The first story doesn’t involve contemporary music at all. The Games Network on cable these days presents nothing but game and quiz shows, mostly, or entirely, re-runs of programming dating back as far as 50 years. (I refer to What’s My Line episodes.) They present much more recent episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. One late night I was watching this program. The contestants were all celebrities, and all their winnings were going to charity, so a much more lighthearted spirit prevailed than usual. The various individuals in a circular arrangement awaiting participation blurted all manner of helpful sounds and comments for the contestant, who, of course, had the usual three “lifelines” available, as well.

One contestant, whose name and credentials I have mercifully forgotten, got all the way to $125,000 without any help at all. Questions of history, pop culture, science, sports, and whatever, were easy prey. Then, for one-quarter of a million dollars, the question was: Which classical composer wrote the Wedding March usually associated with the words: Here Comes the Bride?: a. Mozart, b. Handel, c. Wagner, d. Strauss? The contestant, the circle of other celebrity contestants, the studio audience, Regis Philbin himself, all went entirely silent and blank. This is hardly obscure repertoire. How many individuals in that room had indeed marched down the aisle to that tune themselves?

Before going on with the story,- of course Mendelssohn could have been a choice. However, a real opera-buff’s question is to locate wedding music by all four of the composers given. I don’t know the answer to that, but there is stuff in Figaro, and Handel and Strauss both have a plethora of operas the libretti of which are obscure to me.

Seeing no help coming from the other alleged celebrities, the contestant availed himself of lifeline number 1, and asked to poll the audience. This device supposedly yields 92% success. But this audience was divided,- Handel getting the most votes, but the sample scattered nearly randomly and equally four ways. So he availed himself of lifeline number 2, and had the computer remove two choices, the result of which was that Wagner and Strauss remained. So much for the audience poll. Now he went to lifeline number 3, and phoned a friend, a supposed classical music buff. When he read the question to him he pronounced Wagner with a W, and the friend corrected him: “In the first place, its “Vagner”, but his music is too heavy,- he wouldn’t have written that”. And of course he was fairly sure it was Strauss. (I didn’t know Richard Strauss was especially prized for lightness, either.) Anyway, the contestant went with that, got it wrong,- never made the quarter million, and indeed lost most of the 1/8 million with which he could have walked away. Now, when in Millionaire history did a contestant use all three lifelines on one question and still get it wrong?

Is there any hope left for this culture?

The second story is more personal. I am approaching a “big-number” birthday and have arranged for a commemorative recital of my operatic and vocal work at Merkin Hall on that date. I hope Sequenza will list this in some detail when it gets close, but for now let’s just pinpoint the date as Nov. 8th. In such cases, when one is on the map in medium-sized letters, it is a party - almost like attending one’s own funeral,- but one hopes to bring in some people who are not already friends, perhaps even some with clout with record companies, foundations or opera houses. Accordingly, I contacted WQXR concerning advertising there. The going rate for play of a 1-minute “spot” is $400, and there is no discount for multiple airings. My college has excellent broadcast colleagues and facilities so it was easy to record what was needed with a fine announcing voice mixed perfectly with carefully selected music.

I spoke to the advertising man at WQXR, whom I will not name, but whose style was that of a crusty, cynical but well-meaning uncle. I asked if there was any chance of arranging the play of some short piece of mine before or right after the airing of the ad. “Very dubious”, said he. I further asked if he knew if my CDs were in WQXR’s library, pointing out that the record companies and I had frequently sent them or delivered them, but people I knew had reported I was not to be found there. The crusty uncle promised to call me back, and when he did he reported: “Your music is definitely not in the library”. I DID NOT say: “What do they do, use the CDs as Frisbees?” What I did say was that indeed several had been sent or delivered. He said: “Well,- send a CD or two to this one….. and see what happens”. I said: “Should I mention that I have an event coming up and spending $2000 for advertising on the station?” and he said….are you ready for this?... “Oh no, don’t mention that. That would KILL it”. I went on,- “they never took my music before, why should they take it now” Answer... “Well, they keep very little new contemporary music these days”?

Well, here’s the question. Groucho Marx once said: “I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member”, and my paraphrase is: “How can I advertise on a station that will not have me in their catalogue?”

Of course, the practical answer is that a lot of people listen to WQXR every day and among them may be just the audience I want to address, so I am going to bite the bullet and do it - and even bring in one CD with what I think is the most accessible tune, but:

Is there any hope left for this culture?