We’re talking 19th century, when the southwest was a renegade region known as Texas. Samuel Maverick was a mid-century landowner and politician who fought for Texas’s independence from Mexico. His later habit of leaving his cattle unbranded, whatever his reasons, delivered his name into the popular lexicon as a term for someone who goes his own way, who refuses to follow the crowd.
In recent decades, the word has found some traction as a moniker for composers who stand outside of – and even actively avoid – historical tides. This usage is` really no more awkward than any other, but it poses problems for anyone who feels that cities are the most natural breeding grounds for innovative work. It’s difficult to expand the definition of “maverick” to include people who gravitate to large urban centers, places where one must subscribe to myriad small and large social conventions in order to survive.
In the case of new music, it can often feel like branding is everything. Certainly the people who do the branding, the ones who decide what is important to our culture, live in cities, not off by themselves in the wilderness. It’s easy to imagine an enormous number of unbranded calves that simply go unnoticed by history.
It makes sense to me, as someone who is neither a maverick nor an urban dweller (at least not at this point), to celebrate artistic accomplishments regardless of their source. There are certainly composers who head off into the cultural wilderness and create work that is insightful and enduring. Likewise, there are composers who cluster into cells of like-minded artists and show us things we never could have seen otherwise. The former we could call mavericks; the latter await a more suitable term.