Randy Nordschow wrote the following at NMBx in late June :
â€œThe work Iâ€™ve created up to this point spurs from a rather skeptical aesthetic standpoint, fostered by a barrage of things I just donâ€™t buy into, such as: Music has the ability to communicate something â€œmeantâ€ by its creator; music is inherently emotional; yada, yada, yadaâ€”you know, stuff like that.
For me, music is a byproduct of artistic ideas haphazardly materialized in the form of vibrating air. Itâ€™s the artistic impetus behind the will to set those vibrations into motion, and not necessarily the sonic results of whatever is written on the page (or not), that matters more to me. Thereâ€™s a certain amount of artistic cynicism that I harbor in order to tap into the concepts and materials that I use and the ways in which I use them when throwing together a new composition. Yes, it’s all so self-aware and postmodern, which I actually enjoy.
[Recently, though,] I was half-swayed to drop my attitude, so to speak, when it comes to my approach to composition. Where to go from here? Well, I was thinking of trying to write a piece without an ounce of irony. This, I’m sure, will be easier typed than done.â€
Amen to his last sentence â€“ itâ€™s damn hard to make each note count.
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June 15, 2008
Back last night from the gigantic four-dayÂ gathering in Denver of more than 3,000 folksÂ involved in todayâ€™s worlds Â Â of music, theatre and dance.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â The scope wasÂ huge and the slant was definitely towardsÂ identifying and speaking to the needsÂ of organizations, rather than those ofÂ the individual artist.Â Â Â That said, there was stillÂ a fair amount of useful â€“ essential â€“ information Â presented for the composer.
In a following post Â Iâ€™ll get to my thoughts on the generalÂ tenor and slant of NPAC.Â Here I concentrate on summarizing some Â the Â preliminary findings of the national survey of composers just completed (a project jointly supported byÂ American Music Center, American Composers Forum and Meet The Composer, with essential input from ASCAP and BMI):
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1,331 composers took the survey.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Participation was voluntary, viaÂ the internet.Â Anyone who believes s/he is a composer was eligible to answer â€“ no distinction between â€˜composer-in-embryoâ€™ and â€˜professionalâ€™.Â
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Weâ€™re mostly concentrated in urban areas.Â (No surprise.)Â Â Â Â Â But every state sent in at least one response.Â
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Weâ€™re a highly educated bunch.Â 85% of us have a college degree, and many continue beyond the baccalaureate.Â
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Weâ€™re close to 80%Â white male.Â Women comprise about 20% of respondents.
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Income:Â While c.Â 6% of respondents report annual income in six figures,Â the averageÂ annual incomeÂ – from all sources -Â isÂ $46,000.Â Â Income specifically from composing activitiesÂ averagrd $7,000.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â (Composing activities include commissions,Â grants and prizes,Â royalties,Â honorariaÂ for leading masterclasses and concert Q&A, etc.)
IdentifyingÂ composersâ€™ quality of life issues are also part of this survey â€“ an important part.Â Â Virtually the first item to appear on the power-point itemizationÂ was that We Have No Union ( or guild)Â -Â toÂ watch over the profession,Â establish an accepted fee schedule, assist in obtaining healthcare, etc.
I made the point from the floor that the organizations sponsoring this survey must Â make it their mission to increase public awareness of ourÂ existence as a profession.Â Â Â (This means from every standpoint, including that of the IRS. )
The survey will continue, focusing on the four largest urban areas, according to the now-established composer concentrations.Â
Â Â Â Â
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Gloss: Itâ€™s the Words, not the Music Â
October 29, 2007
Reading Taruskinâ€™sÂ â€œthis is the way it wentâ€ summary of classical musicâ€™s 20th-century tribulations in The New Republic, I was uncomfortable: naturally â€“ Iâ€™m in this business, and would like to know itâ€™s a going concern.Â But I did have to nod finally when I remembered the following:
Iâ€™m a big science-fiction fan.Â Â Recently, I read a compendium of short fiction culled from the early golden-age (the pulps period), including some early Asimov, and then moved right on toÂ Richard Morganâ€™s Thirteen.Â Music references couldnâ€™t be more different:Â Space explorers of the future in the early stories routinely reference purely instrumental music, citing composers quite up-to-date for their day — Bartok, Shostakovich,Â even Stravinsky and BarberÂ — and sometimes talked about what the music did along the way, and how it made them feel.Â Yet similar characters in newer sfÂ refer only to texted music, even in made-up titles — and the music is exclusively rock (not even jazz).Â
This exposes a trend Iâ€™veÂ noticed in the last decades:Â WeÂ now needÂ the presence â€“ the â€œcrutchâ€ â€“ of words, no matter the artform.Â ( Think Jenny Holzer in visual art.)Â Â Â
Whatever happened to the ability to revel simply in sounds, without engaging the sense side of our brains?
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Recently Frank Oteri wrote to describe a currentÂ project of AMC and ACF to prepare an updated statiscal portrait ofÂ today’s composers –Â where we live, what genres we address, where our financial support comes from, etc.
Â Â Â Â I’m more interested in who we are artistically.Â Do we still write complex music?Â Are our fabrics rich or thin?Â How have today’s habits of listening looped back, affecting the content/style of what we produce?Â Â How have general financial constraints — coupled with the beckoning finger of the educational market –Â affected decisions as to what we produce?
Â Â Â So I ask again (as in my August post) Pete Townshend’s question:Â Â Who are YOU? Â
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The phenomenally gifted Harlem QuartetÂ offered the first three performances ofÂ my new Â String Quartet â€“ Â eight, seven and six days agoÂ back EastÂ (Cornell, Eastman, Syracuse).Â Â I was able to be present only for the very first performance and without questionÂ believe it to beÂ theÂ best world premiereÂ to date ofÂ any of my works. Yes, the audience response was prolonged and effusive â€“ butÂ whatÂ most touched me was the superb close attention to â€“ and love of â€“ my notes on the part of this great quartet.Â Â This was the real deal: Â Â They absolutely the music, and made it their own.Â Â Â Â I was personally sure about this piece Â once I had wrestled it into final form on the page – Â but now, thanks to HQ, Â anyone can hear itÂ just the wayÂ I imagined it would sound.Â Â Hats off to Ilmar, Melissa, Miguel and Desmond!Â
Ed. Note:Â The Harlem Quartet will be appearing at Carnegie HallÂ this Tuesday night, September 25, as part of the Sphinx Laureates Concert.
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Last April Â MSR Classics released a CD ofÂ my concert music based on ragtime.Â Prestidigitations â€“ Contemporary Concert Rags by J L Zaimont.Â Â For years Â Iâ€™ve been writing Â rags -Â some on my own prompting, some on commission â€“ because of an itch to do with this American dance idiom something similar to what Chopin did with mazurkas and polonaises.Â Most are big framedÂ five-part rondos Â Â but each is in a different tempo stretchingÂ the forms along with Â the Â concept of Â syncope.Â Â
For years Â Iâ€™ve been writing Â rags -Â some on my own prompting, some on commission â€“ because of an itch to do with this American dance idiom something similar to what Chopin did with mazurkas and polonaises.Â Most are big framedÂ five-part rondos Â Â but each is in a different tempo stretchingÂ the forms along with Â the Â concept of Â syncope.Â The time seemed rightÂ to gather them as a group.Â Â Â On two otherÂ discsÂ (â€˜03, â€™05) Â a single rag was added in , and reviewers appeared Â fascinated by Â the idea Â (several Â using the word Â â€˜irresistibleâ€™ â€“ or as one UK critic put it , â€œirritatingly catchyâ€).Â Â Â Some are for piano alone while Â others are for Â various forces, broadened out Â to society orchestra Â in two arrangements Â by David Reffkin. Â (David directs San Franciscoâ€™sÂ American Ragtime Ensemble, featured on the disc.)Â We recorded in San Francisco Â last October.Â Â (I play on a few cuts, and had a hilarious Â telephone rehearsal in advance with flutist Elizabeth Owens â€“ she being in SF and me in Maricopa, Arizona Â – neither Â one of us having access to any sort of advanced technology!)Â
Without intending to, the disc is functioning as quasi litmus test,Â pinpointing Â a â€œdivide â€œ in ways of hearing.Â Early write-ups in ragtime and classical journalsÂ illustrate the distinction in outlooks: Â While all the writers agree that this is (quality) contemporary music, Â Â for the classical folks the music is easy to take in, but Â for the ragtimers noticeably more knotty.Â Â Â Â
The classical writers (again) spend words on Â the â€˜novelâ€™ Â concept, whereas the ragtimersÂ advise repeated hearings so a Â traditional Â listener Â getsÂ comfortable with unusual forms.Â Â Â
IsÂ PrestidigitationsÂ the work of my alter ego?Â Â Â Iâ€™m not Â Â a fusionist, Â but Â ragtime reaches me â€¦ Â who doesnâ€™t like aÂ good tune, music thatÂ feels neat to play, Â Â and every once in awhileÂ writing in major?
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Andrew Waggonerâ€™s recent NewMusicBox essay deals with theÂ perils of entering most public spaces these days due to Â the onslaught of pumped-in music, Â most of it monotonously pop and largely negligible.Â Â Â Thereâ€™s an undertone of anger in the piece the author readily acknowledges, Â in that weâ€™reÂ not able to change the situation â€“ so we have to duck out, feeling somewhat impotent, so as to recoverÂ the quiet Â necessary for hearing inside oneâ€™s head.
Iâ€™ve also written about this, along withÂ other present-day vexations for a composer,Â over the past half-dozen years. Â Â (Most recently:Â Â Imaging the Composer Today, published this month in the IAWM Journal,Â a small tweaking of the Keynote address given last fall at the Â College Music Society national conference.)Â My take though, is a bit different:
I consider it a strength move to boycott the places which are the worst offenders. And I believe itâ€™s an act of confidence to create for oneselfÂ personal spacesÂ where serenity, contemplation and the required think-environmentÂ — so necessary to beginning a new piece â€“ can prevail.
Lutoslawski observed â€œPeople whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven quartet.â€Â LargelyÂ true.Â But even as we bemoan the diminishment of the capacity for active listening en masse,Â we do,Â each,Â take steps toÂ preserve that capacity for ourselves.Â
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Relocating to Arizona has been wonderful.Â After I stepped away from teaching and in early â€˜06 moved to this clean, dry climate with its endless vista of sky, my creativity has surged.Â Â Once all the mechanics of moving were sorted out, I began toÂ feel as ifÂ twenty years have been stripped away, and Iâ€™m just approaching age 40 â€“ a composerâ€™sÂ â€˜prime timeâ€™.
Especially this last half-year has been chock-full of new notes. Two big pieces just finished ( three premieres looming in Sept.-Oct.), another premiere andÂ newÂ CD released in March ,Â a big essayÂ published and another furbished up for issue next year, and feature articles in summer issues ofÂ two magazines.Â Â
And itâ€™s not just me.Â My husband, Gary, has gone back to his artÂ — whichÂ IÂ see as having parallels with my music.Â With communicationÂ nowadays requiringÂ on-the-spot definition,Â I welcome the comparison.Â Â We both Gary share these traits:Â Â Tradition made fresh, overall modernist viewpoint,Â Â engage with the subject in a dramatic way, high quotient of design on every level,Â emotional impact,Â huge scope.Â Â Â (Take a look at one of Garyâ€™s recent works from the Large Animal series,Â Â 4 ft x 7.5 ft, cut paper on paper. )
Â Â Â Â Â
In later posts I plan to write about specific pieces under development, about being a teacher of composers (composer blogs now largelyÂ tilt towards a comp.Â studentâ€™s perspective), and something on navigating the waters of the currentÂ new-music scene.Â But this opening post is just to get things started.
Whatâ€™s yourÂ answerÂ toÂ Pete Townshendâ€™sÂ question,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Who are you?Â (Boop-boop, Boop-boop)
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