Friday, April 08, 2005
Over at New Music Box, right next door to J. Mark Scearce's much discussed controversial essay on the education of composers, Keeril Makan has a great essay on a graduate seminar he is teaching at U Illinios, Urbana. He and his students are taking a sort-of "State of the Union" survey of the new music scene in the US.
"So, first we investigated programs and institutions that are national in scope. The students researched composers that have won national commissioning competitions in the last five years (such as the Fromm, Koussevitzky, Meet the Composer, and Chamber Music America). Coincidentally, I was serving on a national commissioning panel early on in the semester, so I was able to give students a more in-depth example of how such a panel works. We also discussed composers that have received multiple orchestral commissions in the past five years, and looked at how national performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI function. Then students researched and reported on new music activity in given urban centers. So far, we have looked at New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Chicago (not a comprehensive list, but certainly a start). Students were charged with investigating larger institutions as well as small performing ensembles, local composers active in the region, and the universities that have composition and new music programs."
This strikes me as a fantastic idea, and I wish that such a class had been offered when I was at NEC. (Maybe there will be something like this at what ever school I go to for my doctorate. Heck, I may even look at U of I.) We spend so much time studying historical music, and so much time living in our own little corner of the current new music world, that we can't see the forest for the trees. I know who some of the major historical figures are in the minimalism/downtown scene (let me confess additionally that I know less of this history than I should) but I don't have much of a sense of who's doing what now. That's even more the case in more uptown styles. I know the Boston scene to a certain extent, but I bet there's all sorts of exciting stuff going on in New York, San Fransicso, DC, Chicago, and in dozens of other cities of which I'm completely ignorant. Now one might note that if I want to learn about these regions I can just do the research on my own, and one would be right, but the beauty of Professor Makan's format is that a group can do more research than an individual can, and then each member of the group can present his or her findings to the group. It's far more efficient. If these students are doing reports, maybe they would be willing to put them together into one publicly available repository so that the rest of us can benefit as well?