School for Critics

A press release informs me that Syracuse University has opened the first master's degree program in arts criticism offered by a journalism school. The program opens in July 2005. I consider this good news. Many, many years ago, Peabody Conservatory had the only music criticism graduate program in the country, run by the late esteemed jazz critic Martin Williams. He invited other critics to come lecture, and brought me out; unfortunately, at the time there were only two students, and they of the most troglodytic musical tendencies. The program … [Read more...]


If you're looking for me this week, it looks like all my blogging energy is going to be siphoned into Arts Journal's Critical Conversation. I'll be over there - probably too much - if you want your weekly dose of unpopular new-music views. … [Read more...]

Academia and (or Versus) Progress

I’ve just finished reading David Shenk’s lovely, humane, elegantly-written book about Alzheimer’s disease, The Forgetting (Anchor Books). What struck me most, professionally, was the view he gives of politics within the scientific community. It seems that the trend today is for scientists, rather than working together in an academic environment as they used to, to gear their research toward the profit sector, for pharmaceutical corporations. Crucial new medical findings are no longer freely shared, because a lot of money depends on getting the … [Read more...]

Local Taste?

I am buffeted about in a whirlwind of preparations for the upcoming Bard Festival, which is devoted to Shostakovich this year. In 12 years in Chicago, I never met a hardcore Shostakovich fan, even among CSO buffs. Likewise eight years in Pennsylvania, nor in all these years of working in New York. But upon moving to the Hudson Valley, I suddenly found Shostakovich peripheral no more. Composers around here quote his tunes in their own works; every young string player practices the Shostakovich sonatas and quartets; the Eighth Quartet is such a … [Read more...]

The Whole History of Music, from Cage to Zorn

Critic Marc Geelhoed, who's moving to the great old Chicago Reader where I started out my career (1983-86), responds to my post about composers in academia with some gratifying reflections: It was kind of beyond the scope of your blog, but you didn't mention the value composers bring to their communities. The biggest benefit, to me at least, a composer can have on his or her community is having the chance to expose the citizens to music they wouldn't hear otherwise. This is especially true in small colleges outside the major urban areas. This … [Read more...]

I, Academic Composer

What have I been doing instead of blogging, instead of letting you know what's going on in the exciting world of new music? Why, composing, of course. And more particularly, confronting the scary fact of being a composer in academia and trying to figure out how to cope with it. "Academic composer" became a harshly negative term in the 1970s. Technically, to the extent that it refers to composers who teach in colleges, I've become one, and now that I'm tenured and really settled into the life, I struggle on a weekly basis with the nature of the … [Read more...]

Changes in Lens Technology, of Course

Electronic music genius Tom Hamilton explains why I look fatter in the PR photo for the Interpretations series than I really am: I've noticed that every old picture I look at has just a little bit narrower version of myself. The explanation is probably that changes in lens technology have created subtle distortions that tend to "bulk up" the image. (This can probably explain why Saturn's rings look so hyperbolic.) So go ahead and have that second bowl of Doritos. So comforting to have it explained by someone who understands the scientific … [Read more...]

Musicology and Originality

On the point of musicologists charging royalties to ensembles who play from their editions, long-time correspondent Antonio Ceyala offers an interesting point: Is a musicologist who sues for royalties for an edition of an almost 300 year old work admitting that his edition is not "historically accurate?" Presumably if he's entitled to royalties he added something besides filling in middle voices on a figured bass. … [Read more...]

Rogue’s Gallery

It ain't Saturn's rings, but you'll find an interesting photo at the Interpretations series web page of a large portion of Manhattan's Downtown music scene, all the people participating in next October's "Sounds Like Now" festival who happened to be in or near New York at the time of the photo shoot. Click on the photo, and it will fill your screen. The composers and improvisers are: Bottom row, left to right: Mary Jane Leach, Jin Hi Kim, David First, Phill Niblock Second row: Roscoe Mitchell, Peter Zummo, Daniel Goode, Jon Gibson, Joan … [Read more...]

Are Pigs Flying Yet?

The suit in which the record label Hyperion is being forced to pay royalties to the musicologist who edited the music of Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726), linked by Arts Journal, does sound bogus and unfortunate. Musicologists have their own well-trodden career paths, and to tempt them to gear their research toward commercial interests sounds like an invitation to chaos at worst and superficiality at best. But for a moment the story conjured up a plan I’ve always secretly nurtured. Follow this logic: Mozart made appallingly little money on … [Read more...]

Off-Topic, Expletive Not Deleted

Is it just me? I've been reading for days about Cheney telling Senator Leahy to "Go fuck yourself." Dozens of commentators have condemned his use of the F-word, many (including Frank Rich again today) mentioning - as though this were relevant - that John Kerry used it publicly last year as well. But not one writer has pointed out what seems painfully obvious - that it's not the use of the word, but that particular use of it. I can say the word "fuck" in front of my college superiors all I want, without so much as raising an eyebrow. But if I … [Read more...]