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Friday, February 25, 2005
two points

I have two seperate comments on this thread, so I'll try to be concise.

1. I don't think it's fair to presume that Brittaney Spears doesn't "think deeply about her art." She's a first-rate performer, whether you enjoy her performances or not, and I don't think you get to be a first-rate performer without a tremendous amount of thought and practice. I am sure that she could perform the "deepest" pop and jazz standards totally convincingly. So she's picked a genre that doesn't get any respect -- so what? Now let's think for a moment about the songs that she performs and the composers who write them. It takes a huge amount of talent and artistry to write a pop song that is as well constructed and appealing as the songs that are written for Brittany. Those songwriters may be applying their talents to a maligned art-form, but their talents are formidable nonetheless. And the production value of her albums is extrordinary -- yes her music designed to appeal to the masses, but it takes talent to appeal to the masses.

2. I think a lot of people take the wrong lesson from the Babbit article. His point was that audiences and compsers need to accept the fact that in many cases they live in different worlds. The audiences need to stop getting angry with the composers for writing music that the audiences don't enjoy, and, more importantly from my perspective, composers need to stop getting angry with the audiences and the culture for not liking their music. David Taub says "Unless composers write music that expresses something, and is not written for other composers at an intellectual level, their music is doomed to be relegated to obscurity." To the extent that any music is capable of "expressing something" (a subject for another day) Babbit _does_ express something -- it's just not something that most people are interested in. And that's okay; Babbit has told us that if we're not interested he doesn't mind if we don't bother listening to his music. But to say that he will be "doomed to be relegated to obscurity" is to imply that the goal of composing is to reach a wide audience. Babbit is interested in reaching a narrow, specialized audience, and at that he is very successful. That neither David nor I find ourselves in that audience is irrelevant.

Where Babbit goes astray, in my opinion, is when he claims that academic specialist composers have a right to public funding in the same way that physics or mathematics specialists do. I'm as big a fan of the NEA and of public funding as anybody, but I see the portion directed to obscure new music as public generosity rather than public responsibility. Math, sicence, and many other disciplines benefit the general public but can't necessarily get the money they need in the market -- obscure new music that nobody wants to hear or ever will hear doesn't. (Although I'd love to be persuaded that I'm wrong about this point.) Classical music isn't "dying" as so many people say it is -- it's moving from mainstream to subculture, and we either need to find a way _in_the_marketplace_ to keep it mainstream, or get over our egotism and accept that we are a subculture and behave accordingly. I enjoy industrial music, and there's some brilliant work out there, but I don't hear industrial bands clamoring for public funding.

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