On February 17th, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin declared 2011 the “Year of the Composer” in Vermont, the first such proclamation in the country. Getting the proclamation itself — little more than a prosaic document signed by a friendly politician — and getting something useful out of the proclamation are two separate stories, one still in the process of being written.
The proclamation is a whereas-filled document that states, “the creation and presentation of newly composed music is fundamental to the history of Vermont and provides a basis for continuing growth of educational opportunities, progress in the our cultural leadership and breakthroughs in new technologies” and “Vermont has shown leadership in the creation and presentation of new music, as revealed by its high proportion of new composers and presentations of new music.”
That last sentence sums it up. Vermont is one of the most composer-friendly places in the U.S. with a dense population of composers — one of every 2,500 residents is a nonpop composer, a number that balloons when including composers and improvisers in the other genres.
It wasn’t always that way. The Consortium of Vermont Composers was founded in 1988 when artists in the state were isolated by mountains and weather, pre-web, without urban settings that could give rise to performance spaces (and audiences), and with no awareness by performers and ensembles. Their work was largely heard elsewhere. A core group of a dozen composers organized state-wide festivals of new music. Within a few years, nearly every ensemble and nonpop soloist in Vermont was performing new Vermont music and the music began being broadcast (albeit sparsely) on Vermont Public Radio.
More familiar to S21 readers is a side project that grew from the Consortium during its fallow years in the 1990s. Consortium co-founders Dennis Bathory-Kitsz and David Gunn began Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar in order to broadcast Vermont music on local radio—the earliest regular new music program online by September 1995, and soon reaching out to composers worldwide. Central Vermont—home to both old hippie communes and young professionals—was fertile ground for K&D, and the show soon became WGDR’s largest source of contributions during fundraising. K&D also won an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award and subsequently brought the Ought-One Festival of Nonpop to the state capital of Montpelier in 2001, featuring 37 concerts and 100 composers from around the world.