The pavement doesn’t stop so much as merge, shifting into crumbled asphalt, then stones, then weeds, then wilderness. I have the impression that once upon a time the street came to a distinct halt, but gradually Nature has been chipping away at that solid line, reclaiming it morsel by morsel, turning it from fine line into broad brush stroke.
Musical value is often measured in connections. It’s seldom enough to be a wonderful composition; a piece of music has to have a traceable impact on compositions that follow. In the process, second-rate compositions that miss their mark are sometimes celebrated for introducing ideas that later become standardized.
This way of apprehending music, though rather common, is terribly nearsighted. It’s the attitude that relegated Bach and Mahler to the dustbins of history for fifty years after their deaths. To measure music by the connections it makes to the following generation is to relegate listening to a secondary status, emphasizing historical narratives over sound.
I am, of course, sensitive to the fact that my music could be seen as lacking connection (we are all prey to this assessment), as not pointing a way forward – in short, as a dead end –it’s an attitude from which I have to constantly shield myself. I write the music I need to write. Because I need to write it, it is, by definition, historically relevant. The historical value others may assign to it is something else entirely, and can vary with the fashions of interpretation. The moment I let myself focus on where the music points is the moment it loses its immediacy, and its necessity.
This focused approach benefits my teaching. Students come to me with all manner of outside influences to sift through. I help them absorb the influences around them, find the ones that are beneficial, and demonstrate how to focus on the things that really matter to them.
It’s possible, and valuable, to look at dead ends as more than a stoppage. For me, they are merging points, all the more enticing because what they merge with is often unknown. There are millions of points where human endeavors connects to other human endeavors, and that’s great. But why should we care less about the millions of points where human endeavors run straight into the wilderness?