Reaping the Whirlwind

My, oh my - it turns out the good people at New England Conservatory are reeeally touchy about that Charles Ives line I quoted in connection with them ("You never hear negro spirituals mentioned up there to the New England Conservatory!"). I got blown away by my own little personal Hurricane Katrina of sarcasm, via e-mail from their PR department. Number one, Charles Ives said it, not me. Number two, it was more than 80 years ago - you think they'd laugh it off by this point. Number three, I didn't really consider the line a reflection on NEC - … [Read more...]

The Do-It-Yourself School

I drove 190 miles to Boston last night to hear a concert of John Luther Adams's music at NEC, as I've learned they call New England Conservatory. I had never been there before, and all I could think about were Charles Ives's complaints about the place: "[In an old lady's voice,] You never hear negro spirituals mentioned up there to the New England Conservatory!" But anyway, pianist Stephen Drury, famous for performances of Cage and Zorn piano works, has an ensemble there, and had organized a wonderful Adams program: Strange Birds Passing for … [Read more...]

Another One

Donald Rumsfeld comes into Bush's office to give him his daily briefing. Among other things, he says, "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed." "OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!" Bush goes into a display of emotion that stuns his staff, who nervously watch as he sits with his head in hands. Finally, Bush looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?" … [Read more...]

Fetishism of the Literal

I'm writing program notes for Toru Takemitsu's Fantasma/Cantos, which is being played by the Cincinnati Orchestra this season. I find the title inelegant, but it's a gorgeous work. Written in 1991 for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, it makes the orchestra sound like physical clouds of tones through which the clarinet solo sweeps, stirring up waves of subtle harmony. Crotales and harp limn the clarinet's high notes, while woodwinds, including the orchestral clarinets, respond with an ambiguating halo of echoes. What really distinguishes the piece … [Read more...]

Next, the Estée Lauder Symphony

In 1995 I wrote a piece of music called Fractured Paradise. I've just been contacted by someone who wants to start a clothing line of that name, and is quasi-asking permission. I have no idea what to say. It's true I wouldn't, at this point, write a piece called Fruit of the Loom. I can't figure out if this is a problem or not. … [Read more...]

Youth without Revolution

A former Peabody composition student tells me that I was mistaken to include that school on a list of schools where the professors limit what kinds of music their students can write. He recounts that the faculty there is entirely permissive, but says it's most of the students who adhere to a homogenous, bland neoromanticism, while their professors leave them perfectly free to explore more interesting avenues. And now that he mentions it, I had heard the same story from another, current Peabody grad student. Why do I have trouble believing this? … [Read more...]

I Take It All Back

[This entry has been updated, 9-19-05] Ben Wolfson weighs in with a contrasting view to the Keith Jarrett quote in my last post: I was reminded by the Keith Jarrett quote you posted on Saturday of Derek Bailey's description of learning to improvise in Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music, where... he basically says that one must do it by apprenticing oneself to a more experienced interviewer. He quotes from an Indian correspondent whose description of how he learned to improvise (granted, within a particular tradition), was … [Read more...]

So Much for Schools

With reference to all the hoopla lately (here and at Sequenza 21) regarding whether or not composition can be taught, singer-composer Emily Bezar (whose lovely music you should check out) tenders a relevant quote from Keith Jarrett she read in last month's Downbeat magazine: Schools cannot create innovation. Innovation and schools are almost diametrically opposed. A jazz player cannot study with jazz people because you become a part of who you study with. So, you can't become yourself. No one will help you on that issue. If you're … [Read more...]

Slipped One By Me

Forgot to mention that my review of the new recording of Johnny Reinhard's realization of Charles Ives's Universe Symphony is in the Village Voice this week. … [Read more...]

Yeah, Right

Q. What's Bush's position on Roe versus Wade? A. Actually, he doesn't care how the poor get out of New Orleans. OK, so I wasn't the first to get it on the internet, but I was in the top ten. This isn't my only job, you know. … [Read more...]

Figuring Out Today’s Students

There's a fairly interesting interview in Salon today with an anthropologist in Arizona who enrolled in her own school as a freshman, anonymously, in order to study her own school's students as an anthropologist, and figure out what made them tick. (She tried to publish the book under a pseudonym, but got outed by a reporter who figured out who she must be by process of elimination.) The interview isn't terribly substantive, and it's difficult to tell whether the book is more so. But two things she says ring a bell with me. The first is that … [Read more...]

Stalinists in Academia

I have to quote, in its near-entirety, this story that composer Jeff Harrington tells over at Sequenza 21, in a continuation of an ongoing argument, about professor pressure in composition grad school: ...This period is history and needs to be remembered. I was told throughout my student years, even during my graduate studies in 1987-88 at Tulane that I had to write in certain styles. During my graduate studies then, my graduate teacher told me that she would not give an MFA to somebody who wrote 'tonal music'. I remember coming home to Elsie, … [Read more...]