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.
I thought I’d check out one of the orchestra websites at random. I picked the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Its URL is www.nmso.org, but I didn’t know that, so I just typed in www.newmexicosymphony.org and found this:
I bet you were assuming you'd end up at the website for the The New Mexico Symphony. Unfortunately, that organization does not own this URL. Nevertheless, while you're here please take the time to learn more about orchestra management and the administrators engaged in those activities (one of which is to purchase the URL's which contain the orchestra's name!). My name is Drew McManus, I'm the author of 'Adaptistration', a weblog about orchestra management. I'm also an orchestra consultant and a classical musician....
If you're interested in purchasing this URL then you're in luck because it's for sale. there are no restrictions on who may purchase this, meaning, you don't have to be the orchestra in question to own this URL. you can be: a board member an administrator (disgruntled or not) a musician (disgruntled or not) a union representative a volunteer a patron just someone looking for an investment opportunity posted by Corey Dargel
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The dialogue David Toub and I had below headed off in a number of valuable directions, but his argument is based on one assertion that I find mistaken. David argues that teachers should deal in facts, like the names of the brachial nerves, or e=mc2. But teachers are not simply dispensers of information – if that were true, they’d all be useless, because we can get all the information we need from textbooks.
At least as far back as Socrates, the job of the teacher has been to share wisdom.
Now one could argue that many composition teachers are not very good at sharing wisdom, and I would have to agree. But it makes no sense to say that the entire pursuit of composition teaching is a waste of time. By that logic, the fact that most musicians can’t play Feldman’s second quartet would mean either that musicians or Feldman’s second quartet are a waste of time, which is preposterous.
What I would love to hear David say is “Great music can be written by people who don’t have composition degrees,” an assertion I would back wholeheartedly, and listen respectfully as he expounded on the theme, because he has insights into the challenges and rewards that I can’t possibly match.
So here’s a question for everyone: Can great music be written by people who don’t study composition? Do you have a favorite composer who received no formal training?
posted by Lawrence Dillon
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
teaching composition is a waste of time
I suspected that my comments on music composition teachers would not go over well with those who are, in fact, composition teachers
No disrespect was intended for anyone who is a composition teacher. However, I (and I suspect at least a few others) would dispute the notion that the vast majority, if not all, composition teachers will view their student's work from their own perspectives and biases. That is normal, and part of being human. But it is exactly that bias that makes the notion of 'teaching composition' a wasteful exercise in my opinion. If one is teaching technique, a la music theory, ok, but is that really teaching composition? The tools perhaps, but not composition. My teachers almost never taught me the tools, since that was what my theory and solfege classes were for. Rather, they looked at my music and offered opinions on what were essentially matters of personal taste.
We're not dealing with factual matters here, but a highly subjective form of art. That seems to get forgotten. A teacher of anatomy or mathematics can certainly offer instruction based on a set of facts: F = ma, E= = mc^2, the names of the brachial nerves, etc. These are all facts. In composition, what can one teach? Write with/without key signatures? Write this in third species counterpoint? Write something more/less melodic? Develop this there a bit more? All of this is subjective, not factual.
Stravinsky (or Schoenberg; whomever it really was) had it 100% correct when he urged Gershwin not to study with him: "Why end up as a third-rate me when you are a first-rate Gershwin?"
I've just seen too many people who end up emulating their teachers. This is partly why, I suspect, there is perceieved discouragement of new or individual styles in music conservatories. One factor is an academic bias against something new and different. But another is the fact that most composers who teach in academic environments will naturally view things from their own perspectives, and that would tend to promote their own styles with their students.
I suspect it would be a rare teacher who would do otherwise. I also don't think this constitutes being absolutist. I dislike absolute statements and am a relatavist my nature, but I think if there is a general perception and a large number of observations to back it up, one could at least get away with making a claim that in the majority of instances something will indeed be a certain way.
posted by David Toub
Wearing my Comp. Teacher's hat
Please, please do NOT tar everyone -- every composition teacher -- with erroneous absolutes !
(1) David Toub writes: "...the nature, I think, of what being a composition teacher seems to entail: molding students into your own way of thinking." Very not so, today.
If this was ever true ( which has not been my experience: CUNY, Columbia, Jolivet ) it's in no way pertinent to methodology of any Composition teacher I've encountered.
All my students know that my signal function is to enable them to become *better able, more nuanced, and more knowledgeable* creators following the artistic directions their music already suggests. There is never the directive to 'do it my way' ...my own music is mine, theirs is theirs.
(2) The Past: Your past is not my past, and so it goes.
Evan Johnson writes: " ... aside from a massive statistics-compiling effort, I think perhaps everyone simply needs to stop trading in absolutes." AMEN here.
~ Those of us who had anything to do with the 'women in music' issue (research, publications, advocacy, etc.) know that anecdotal evidence -- even in massive piles -- requires facts/figures to give it persuasive strength.
(3) One more comment on 'the Past is past': Those who carry grudges or 'victimhood' experience from the past forward into the present day "to the extent that it cripples current functioning" damage only themselves!
Being an artist requires one to be both sensitive and TOUGH. Teachers come and go. If you have any ambition that your music be excellent, be durable - the only critical voice that ever really matters is in fact your Own.
J L Zaimont (recently retired after 36 years in higher ed.)
posted by Judith Lang Zaimont
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?
posted by Rodney Lister
wither the cd
OK, enough rhetoric. I was speaking with an exec at a major corporation today at work and our conversation was about the new iPod (the conversation spurred by my walking in with my new 60 GB iPod) and downloads. I raised the point that as a kid, I could afford to listen to a lot of different music, some good, some not as good, because records were often very inexpensive. This gave me the opportunity to take a chance on an album. Were it not for the record and its fairly affordable pricing, I'd probably never have known music by Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley, Lubomyr Melnyk, Tom Johnson, etc, all of which could be had very easily at the New Music Distribution Service in SoHo (are they even still around?).
But now we have CDs, and they're pricey. This hurts new music in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that fewer people will explore music they are uncertain about. In economic terms, the uncertain marginal benefit of the music is outweighed by the certain marginal cost.
The larger labels realize that they have a good thing going---potentially nice profit margins and willing buyers, even though CD sales are taking a downturn. Most importantly, they have established distribution channels.
But small independent labels don't have such an easy time getting their products distributed. Some are already turning to downloadable releases rather than producing CDs. This is not that different from the publishing world, as many print deliverables are now produced entirely for download on the Web.
I think this is the next wave, once the public votes sufficiently with their wallets in favor of downloads vs CDs. Once I rip a CD to my iPod (yes, there are other MP3 players, but they are becoming of historical importance only), I have no real use for the CD except as a backup. I'd prefer to just get my dose of new music as a digital download.
Now, I'm blessed with not having record companies beating down my door to distribute my music on CD 8-) . Here's what I think would work well for many composers, certainly better than CD distribution:
Web-based digital audio downloads
Podcasting (? "newmusiccasting")
I predict that within five years, the CD will be relegated to the same status as the LP. Actually, i really think it will take less time than that. And unlike the LP, there will be few stores carrying CDs for the audiophile, as they do not have the same fidelity in some people's minds as the largely defunct LP.
posted by David Toub