Just in time for Halloween comes the eerie coincidence to read at one sitting Richard Taruskin’s (TNR)Â articleÂ and Lawrence Dillon’s recent comments on the composer’s dilemma:Â WhatÂ choice of outlook to adoptÂ for new-made music?Â Either give the public what you believe it already wants, or write to push the high-art envelope in terms of innovation.Â Â Â
Calculated? â€“ yes.Â Valid? â€“ no.Â [ Unless you're writing jingles. ]
If our work has any integrity, it already speaks inimitably as we speak. We don’t ordinarily have such decisions to make â€“ there turns out to be one right way for the piece to manifest, and that’s the one right way it should come to life.Â
Artists can (if they wish) make taste.Â And there are, among us,Â Â composers who see their place as being neither revolutionaries nor panderers,Â but evolutionaries.Â Â These are folks who do not put on new coats for each piece.Â Â Â Their music knows and respects what came before; presses innovation forward when the moment calls for it;Â andÂ Â cares not too much if â€“ at first hearing â€“ all of the piece is revealed to all the listeners.Â Â
These composers know that art is a mirror and a lens â€“ they presume a piece will have future performances which continue to reveal its contents, flavor, and character across time.Â Â Â And they count on being able to reach listenersÂ repeatedly over years with various works, each of which is meant to have lasting resonance in some way.
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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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