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.
Some of my music works better in live performance. Some of it works better on recording. I don’t just mean in the obvious ways – visual stimulation, acoustical clarity, multimedia, performer interpretation, etc. There are just some pieces that sound better when I am in the room with the performers, and some pieces that sound better when I am in the room with the speakers. I don’t feel one type of music is inherently superior to the other, but I’m always careful not to confuse the two.
Does your music lean one way or the other? Do you have pieces that sound best on a pair of headphones? In a roomful of jostling spectators? Indoors, outdoors? Does it make absolutely no difference to you?
posted by Lawrence Dillon
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Taste Test Echo
Kyle Gann has posted a terrific response and elaboration on Corey Dargel's "Taste Test" post below over on his PostClassic blog. Check it out.
posted by Jerry Bowles
Thinking Inside the Media Box
A composer pal emailed me not long ago to express delight in seeing her friend, guitarist Sharon Isbin, on an episode of a popular Showtime drama series. She went on to marvel at the subsequent spike in sales of Sharon's CDs, having assumed that since her appearance wasn't, after all, on a music show, that the TV watching audience would somehow lack interest in Sharon's music-making. My gleeful response was that as I like to see it, the only separation between listeners and music is that which exists due to our self-limiting perceptions.
Here's a rather counter-intuitive idea to squeeze into: the more we as artists refuse to consider differences in target audiences, the more successful we'll be! Hey, that sounds pretty cool, huh? It completely flies in the face of the way things are currently set up, whereby radio stations [read: advertisers] strap themselves into a demographic straight-jacket. And, let's be frank here folks, it's mostly those of us on the inside of this happy musical tunnel who happen to know what's coming down the tracks in concerts, recordings and the like. Admit it: we all tend to see the same type of people at the same concerts and then shake our heads wondering why larger numbers of new people aren't there. Duuhh! Just as I don't have a clue when the next forensic science lecture is, so it is for the criminologist who has no idea about any of our events. Yet.
Doesn't virtually every human like music? I'm not surprised in the least that Sharon's sales would zoom after such a mass media appearance. And it's especially wonderful and significant that an artist of her caliber participated in something mainstream like a TV show that has little or nothing to do with music.
This is what we all need to be doing far more of: integrating ourselves into the society in which we live, and making ourselves RELEVANT to our neighbors! The ivory tower of yore has collapsed. Blah blah blah, I know you've heard that a million times this week. But we've got to earn the interest of our audiences and find ways to reach them and to be seen as part of the fabric of our culture, rather than the fancy-schmancy gold thread that no one can afford to buy that we would like to see stitch that fabric together. That's not reality. Or it is, but only to an aging, wealthy population which less and less reflects who our society and its media consumers actually are.
I'm a big outside-the-box kinda gal, and I believe that in addition to the usual [and important] routes of promoting our work within our predictable community, like Sharon, we need to explore ways to get noticed in lots of non-music markets. Let's see, Tom Myron has a penchant for examining wild turtles at nose-snapping range before releasing them back to the lake, so how about some articles on him and his music in Reptile World? Herpetologists like music. David Toub's musico-medical double life is intriguing; surely there are surgeons across the nation who would enjoy correcting cataracts to one of his podcasts. Opthamologists like music. With all the time Frank Oteri spends listening to CDs, electronic and stereo gear mags should write about his compositions. Soldering experts like music. And I think the beer makers of America might be quite interested in my latest offerings, if only they knew what a fine sponsor of their product I can be on occasion. People who belch like music! Oooh, this is so easy. On the heels of Greg Sandow's and S21-ers' recent blogging about Oprah and her promotion of Faulkner, yup, that's what I'm talking about here.
So, let's hear some great, or even not-so-great, market cross-pollination stories and media expansion ideas from any of you reading this!
posted by Alex Shapiro
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, a fascinating collection of writings about trusting (and mistrusting) our instincts and first impressions.
One of the anecdotes in the book is about two professional food-tasters who help with market research when a new food-product is in development. They have spent more than twenty years professionally tasting foods and, as a result, have naturally developed the ability to accurately analyze exactly why they respond the way they do to a new food, with some thirty or forty different categories of flavor, texture, and appearance.
A study was done in which ordinary people taste-tested a variety of jams. One group of people was asked to taste the jams and then immediately rank them. Another group was asked to taste the jams, rank the jams, and write an analysis of the flavor of each jam. Those who ranked the jams without analyzing them reached almost exactly the same conclusions as food experts, but those who ranked and analyzed the jams reached completely different conclusions. So the study suggests that the way ordinary people respond to jams, and the conclusions they reach, are no less accurate than professional food-tasters, unless the ordinary people try to analyze and justify their decisions.
This got me thinking about how conservatories and universities approach music theory. Could teaching young musicians to write analyses, dissections, and formalistic essays about music improperly influence their responses to it (i.e. do they actually like the music, or do they think they’re supposed to like it)? Is it possible that introducing music theory and analysis at the undergraduate level may subvert or distort a young listener’s perfectly valid instincts? Is it better to require theory and analysis courses only for music theory majors?
I believe that there is sometimes value in placing distance between an artist and his/her work. Our “natural instincts” can, of course, be influenced by the negative qualities of our environment, so at times it is good to be able to rationalize and analyze our first impressions. By doing this, we can be more aware of how ingrained fear, racism, homophobia, etc., are affecting our first impressions of people, places, and situations. We can also learn to more carefully develop impressions of experiences that challenge us in some way.
So how can music teachers avoid damaging students’ healthy instincts while also influencing them to critique their habitual responses?
Greetings from Western Mass. I'm currently at Greenwood Music Camp, (actually at the moment I'm in the Java Net Cafe in Northampton) where I've been on the faculty for several years. Greenwood is a wonderful place, and is what makes it possible for me to get through the rest of the year. The camp's been going for 73 years, and there are some pretty illustrious alums by now, including Gilbert Kalish, Joel Krosnick, Lucy Shelton, Pamela Frank, and more recently Nick Tzavaris from the Shanghai Quartet, and Becca Fischer and Jonah Sirota of the Chiara Quartet. There are c.60 high school kids here, who play amazingly well. They spend most of their time doing chamber music. This week I'm coaching groups doing a string quartet of mine called Faith-Based Initiative, the second movement of the Tippett 3rd quartet, and the Mendelssohn e minor quartet, first movement. They got the music yesterday and they'll play on Saturday night. The orchestra is doing, on the final concert, the first performance of a piece by Luna Woolf which was commissioned by the camp (they do a new piece written for the orchestra every summer). Other things possibly in the works for later are the first of movement of Schoenberg 3rd quartet, the Schulhoff first quartet, a wind octet by Gideon Klein, Cancel My Rhumba Lesson (from the Horse With the Lavender Eye) by Stephen Hartke, also an octet by Yung Hsiang, who's a regular visitor to the place. Lots of Haydn, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, of course, but new stuff among it all, and the kids like doing it. It a pretty effective way to do something about getting people to like newer music--on however small a scale.
posted by Rodney Lister
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Just wanted to call people's attention to the fact that the S21 Listening Room is now available as a podcast (just direct your podcasting application, or iTunes 4.9, to http://webjay.org/by/idealord/sequenza21wikilisteningroom.xml and download whatever you want).
There's been a lot of interesting discussion related to how to get new music in the hands of impressionable teenagers. Jeff Harrington and I are of the same mind: get this music on the Web in a digital format and make it freely available. Podcasting can be a part of the solution, and even though Jeff doesn't own one, he's quite correct in his statement that the iPod can be the venue. Live performances are great, and nothing beats a great live interpretation of new music. But if a lot of people might download the garbage on my music site, or listen to a podcast, isn't that a great way to get new music around? No worse than Keith Haring making his great art available to anyone interested in the NY subway system...
posted by David Toub
Name That Tune
Okay, here's the assignment. Create the program for a Fourth of July concert that celebrates America and does not include any pieces by Charles Ives or Aaron Copland. In fact, let's say you can include works only from the past 50 years.
posted by Jerry Bowles