I boarded 34 airplanes in 2010, far more than normal, in pursuit of my compositions, which were flying this way and that before me. Years like this come along every once in awhile; I’ve learned to enjoy them for what they are, rather than what they may promise.
In addition to stuffing too much airport food into my system, the year gave me an opportunity to see a number of different music scenes in action.
What I found was a lot of dedicated individuals who had studied the challenges and resources presented by their artistic worlds and found ways to optimize their musical experiences, as well as those of the people traveling in the same circles.
In some cases, their efforts are widely recognized and applauded while, in others, the same degree of effort and ingenuity goes largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
The volume of applause is one kind of measure – but not the only one.
The experience gave me a new appreciation for the intricacies of provincialism. As defined by the Oxford English dictionary, provincialism can be “Attachment to one’s own province or local area rather than the whole nation or State.” At its best, provincialism summons enthusiasm and energy to worthy projects that might not otherwise come to fruition. None of us would welcome a society that has no interest in its own art, one that imports all of its artistic energy from the outside. Good provincialism supports local composers, artists, writers for what they tell a society about itself.
At its worst, though, provincialism leads to mindless exclusion of ideas from the outside. We’re all at risk from this negative side of provincialism, whether our province consists of the densest urban territories or the most sparsely inhabited countryside.
(Provincialism of this sort is rampant in our nation’s politics these days, as various parts of the country fire salvos at one another, believing that the shoes that fit one should fit all. But I’m talking about artistic provincialism here – although, come to think of it, they may be more closely related than I realize.)
A new province has arisen in the 21st century. It’s the one you and I are communicating across right now, this Wild and Wonderful Web. In one way, the internet allows us to transcend traditional provinces, as we form alliances with far-flung souls who share our interests and concerns. As with physical provinces, the value of supporting like-mindedness is crucial to the health of this society. But, as with physical provinces, there is a down side. When we disparage experience that differs from ours, when we downplay the importance of what goes on outside of the ether, we are no better than those who refuse to acknowledge the unprecedented power of the virtual.
So, the trick is to find just the right balance — which can shift from day to day, and even hour to hour – between protectionism and adventure. We watch ourselves, we watch one another, guarding our collective accomplishments from losing touch with either extreme.