Composers Forum is a daily web log that allows invited contemporary composers to share their thoughts and ideas on any topic that interests them--from the ethereal, like how new music gets created, music history, theory, performance, other composers, alive or dead, to the mundane, like getting works played and recorded and the joys of teaching. If you're a professional composer and would like to participate, send us an e-mail.

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Monday, March 28, 2005
Start Reading This Blog

One of my favorite political bloggers, Matthew Yglesias, remarks on the relative dominance of political blogs over other blog genres, noting in particular that political blogs don't really generate much improvement in quality-of-life. How might his utility argument apply to classical music blogging? Certainly music helps people be happy, and having a better understanding of music might amplify that effect. Of course, knowing about politics has a pleasing effect on the people who read the political blogs. Might reading music blogs help us be more skilled artists? Exposure to different ideas and endorsements of music with which we might not be familiar might have just that effect. I certainly feel like the Composers' Forum is an awful lot like the Graduate Composition Seminars I took in grad school -- except they charged tuition. I'm not sure if that last is evidence that we're engaged in a utility-producing effort here or that I got ripped off. . .

The funny thing is that as I was thinking about this issue one of the arguments I was considering making went something like "politics is a sort of universal language." But here we are, blogging about the Official Universal Language and doing so in obscurity. So really, it's not so much that Music is the universal language as Music-That-Everybody-Likes (demonstrably not contemporary classical music) is the universal language. Or, perhaps not.

To wander even further afield, the language analogy is actually pretty good. We're born knowing no language, and we get trained at a very young age to speak, in most cases, one particular language. I had developed an aesthetic appreciation for English by some time in elementary school, but at that point a french poem would have been tedious and uninteresting. In highschool and for part of college I learned some French, and while my French is not particularly good, I can now appreciate French aesthetically and rudimentary French literature aesthetically. Most people are trained in their childhoods how to appreciate a handful of musical genres, and don't later get trained on how to appreciate other ones. Now certain languages are eaiser to learn than other languages, and some languages are easier to learn for native speakers of one language than of another; Japanese, for instance, is easier to learn from Korean than from English. English is supposed to be one of the more difficult languages to learn in general (in part, as I recall, due to the plethora of irregular verbs.) In the interest of dragging the same old names up again, let me propose two models:

1. The musical language of Steve Reich is inherently easier for human brains to learn than the musical language of Milton Babbitt.
2. The musical language of Steve Reich is easier to learn than the musical language of Milton Babbitt for people whose native musical language is American 20th Century Popular Music. I could see it going either way -- an probably reality is a combination of the two.

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