On Friday, we had our first Composition Seminar of the year, a monthly gathering of all the composers in the department – students and faculty. After introductions and outlining of plans for the year, we settled down to the real business of the evening: digging into some of Burke Street Pizza’s finest.

Between peppers and pepperoni, the conversation was initially cautious and wide-ranging, finally settling into a discussion of pop music trends. Two of the students lamented the passing of the Nirvana attitude, which appeared to be unfamiliar to some of the younger students. We got into a discussion of “attitude” and what it means, apart from the music.

And I got to thinking about this relationship between the music we listen to and the world perspective we are buying into as a result. At dinner, the term that was used was “attitude,” but a more traditional term is “culture.”

Every music comes with a specific culture. If you love the music, you’re supposed to dress the way the musicians dress, talk the way they talk, relate to your environment with their perspective. Hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, avant garde – they all come with an implicit set of cultural values which their fans adopt, knowingly or unknowingly.

But sometimes we love music and hate its corresponding culture, or love a culture, but hate the music that goes with it. I come across this all the time with regard to classical music – people who love listening to Brahms or Bach, but gag at the cultural associations that come with loving music by dead Europeans.

From an anthropological standpoint, this is insane.

And yet the insanity persists and, for many of us, is an accepted part of our daily existence. In fact, there is a substantial movement afoot in this country to preserve this music while attempting to change the culture that has grown around it.

Perhaps this perspective is peculiar to artists, or at least more prevalent in artistic circles, where the music is seen as the objective, rather than as one element in a galaxy of cultural artifacts. But I wonder sometimes if we are engaged in a toxic relationship, loving the hand, but hating the arm that it’s attached to.

Unrelated note: Anybody finding themselves in Kiev tonight, please stop by the National Philharmonic for the Ukranian premiere of my Furies and Muses at 7:30 by the Maxima Ensemble. It’s the first live performance of the piece — that I know of — since 1998, which is a shame, because it’s one of my best works.

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