Monday, September 12, 2005
The point has been made lately a number of times, by Lawrence Dillon here and by Kyle Gann (with whom I had some email correspondence about it) on his blog, among others, that, in one way or another people were forced to write certain kinds of music by their teachers, in the bad old days of the 60s, or 70s, or whenver, or now. I may just be lucky, but that doesn't correspond to my memory, anyway, of my student experience, which included New England Conservatory, Brandeis, Tanglewood in 1973, The Dartington Summer School, and private study with Virgil Thomson and Peter Maxwell Davies, so not exactly, as Kyle said, Tennessee Tech or U of Arkansas, but rather closer to what he called the top of the heap, where the coercion is worse. I may have been particularly lucky or I may just have been so pigheaded and such a bad student that I didn't notice. I'm not teaching composition to college students these days, but I do have some idea what goes on at NEC and Harvard at the moment, and it's not clear to me that there's coercion of that type there now (although Galen Brown at one point earlier in the year seemed to imply something different about NEC).
I remember when I was an advanced student at Dartington that people would play some of their music and say things along the lines of, "I used to write twelve-tone music, but I never liked it, I just felt like I had to." My question when I heard somebody say things like that was if what they were just writing something because they felt like they had to then, what it is that "proves" that they're not just writing what they feel like they have to write now?
Another comment that's relevant is one by Virgil (speaking about who influenced who, him or Copland)--"There's no question of anybody influencing anybody else. We all sat in the same draft and we all caught the same cold."
I'm just wondering how much it's really true that there was all that coercion going on either then or that it's going on now, and, if there are people coercing their students to write nasty modern music that they don't want to write, are there also people out their discouraging their students from writing dissonant modernist music? (Also I'm not convinced that very many people either then or now have a particularly clear idea of what it means to write twelve-tone music. (Most ideas seem to be on the level of what Bernstein says about it in The Joy of Music--that it's suppose to guarantee that the music won't come out sounding tonal and that you have to play the other eleven notes before you can play the first one again, which seems to me to be a completely grotesque misunderstanding of the idea.) Kyle gave me some specific instances, and I don't intend in any way to claim that he's not truthful, but still I wonder...
I suppose there's also the question of how intentional the coercion is and how much it's a matter of, as it were, body language, and therefore not at all intentional by the people supposedly doing the coercion. Or, as Lawrence said, how much of it is followers of Babbitt or Carter or whoever, or by peers, going overboard, rather than by teachers.
As a teacher, I can't imagine that anybody would think that anything at all good could come out of trying to force people to write what they don't want to write, but who knows?
I think what I'm saying is, anybody care to share some war stories?