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"The necessity of rejecting and destroying some things that are beautiful is the deepest curse of existence."
- George Santayana
True? False? Relevant? Irrelevant?
posted by Lawrence Dillon
Monday, September 19, 2005
Life in the Post-Prohibitive Zone
Many readers of Kyle Gann's "When Does the Post-Prohibitive Age Arrive?" and the subsequent discussions in this space, on Kyle'spage, and, doubtless, around watercoolers in hip offices around the nation, may be thinking "gosh, that sounds awful, but it's not really like that any more. I don't, or my school doesn't, or my composition teacher doesn't tell anybody there are certain styles I'm not allowed to write." Congratulations! -- you've found safe harbor in the Post-Prohibitive Zone. (Please fill out your paperwork clearly so that we can process your refugee status promptly.) I have no doubt that there are still plenty of professors and departments out there who practice overt discrimination, coersion, and prohibition (as some of Kyle's students, and others, can attest) but since the trend is away from such overt pressures it's important to understand the dynamic in the Post-Prohibitive Zone.
The key rule is supply and demand. Most graduate composition programs accept only a handful of people each year. I don't have actual statistics, but my impression is that the norm is something like 50 to 100 applicants for 3 to 5 positions. Well- funded and well-reputed programs don't generally have more spaces, but will get substantially larger application pools. Open faculty positions are even scarcer. And the people making the decisions on accepting students and hiring faculty were, in general, either trained or hired during the heyday of stylistic discrimination, so regardless of whether they themselves are prejudiced against any style or styles, most of them are Uptowners. With so many qualified candidates and so few positions to fill, it's no wonder that the acceptance and hiring decisions ultimatley come down to "whose music do I like the most," -- usually somebody working in a similar style. Uptown dominance is in this way self-perpetuating even in the post-prohibitive zone: in many departments discrimination is not exclusive, but selectively inclusive. The problem in the Post-Prohibitive Zone, then, is systemic, but it's no less real.
All of the gates (except the first one) along the road to academia (i.e. BA Music or BMus Composition -- M.A. Music Composition or M.M. Composition -- Ph.D. Music or D.M.A. Compositon -- Assistant Professorship -- Tenure) operate in that environment, so even non-prohibitive professors and non-prohibitive schools advise their students accordingly. I have been told point-blank that I probably don't have a shot at acceptance at schools X Y and Z for stylistic reasons. It has been made explicitly clear to me that my chances of ultimately having a successful career in academia are substantially limited by the style of music I write. I hear this from people who have been very supportive of my music and stylistic alignment, and of my academic career -- they are simply telling me what I need to know about how the world works.
Other interesting things happen in the Non-Prohibitive Zone, and let's not forget the broader, generally department-wide zones of general stylistic neglect and casual disinterest. But I'll save those for another day.
posted by Galen H. Brown