Words Worth a Thousand Pictures

I’m writing a choral piece for my choral director friend James Bagwell, and am hip-deep in e. e. cummings. I've learned that I had him all wrong. From cute poems with words like “mudluscious” and “puddlespring,” I had gotten, in high school, an impression that cummings was a pixieish little man with a coy sense of humor and a mischievous twinkle in his eye - quel misconcepción! And my high school literature texts aren’t to blame, for the average cummings poem, it turns out, contains too many obscenities and sexual references to make it past the … [Read more...]

Pardon My Legitimacy

I have a couple of articles out this week, unfortunately neither viewable on the web: a profile of composer Lawrence Dillon in Chamber Music magazine, and a review of some composer biographies by Daniel Felsenfeld in Symphony magazine. Sorry to go so legit on you, but in difficult times, even the most disreputable of us have to attach ourselves to the mainstream. And while I'm at it, the comments on my last few posts have taken on a life of their own, more interesting than the original posts. Since I have to OK them all individually, I'm … [Read more...]

Our Potemkin Music Scene

My post on the ages at which composers find their mature styles elicited some correspondence from an economist named David Galenson who has written a book called Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity. The book deals with the chronology-related creativity patterns of painters, sculptors, poets, novelists, and movie directors - no composers, unfortunately, but maybe that’s where we come in. Don’t ask me why an economist is writing about this, but he has some interesting ideas, and he offered me a 1916 quote … [Read more...]

The Underrated Predictability of Audiences

As a music critic, I’ve sat in the middle of hundreds of audiences, and I’ve observed them closely. I’ve seen them all gasp in unison at a right turn in a daring improv; I’ve seen them break into laughter at a clever one-chord quotation in a Rzewski piece; I’ve seen them fooled by an energetic performance into approving mediocre music; I’ve seen them let their minds wander during a performance and then clap loudly because it was something they were supposed to like. In short, I’ve generally seen audience members get swept into a collective … [Read more...]

Ask Not What Your Culture Can Do For You…

The guys (and the occasional gal) over at Sequenza 21 had their liveliest conversation ever this week, racking up 143 comments before spilling into another thread that went to 71. It was mostly young guys, balanced by house curmudgeon Jeff Harrington and official instigator Jerry Bowles, enthusing about the return of complexity to music - gnarliosity became the operative word - and morphing into a discussion (the same one my friends and I had all through the 1980s, to little effect) about how to market the music to get it out there. Finally … [Read more...]

The View in a 20-Year-Old Mirror

Virgil Thomson was 44 years old when he started writing for the New York Herald Tribune. Tom Johnson was 33 when he became a critic for the Village Voice; Greg Sandow was about 36 when he started pinch-hitting for Tom, 39 when he took over. I got a weekly column at the Voice at age 30. Now I’m 50. Thirty-year-olds seem awfully young to me. And as I re-read yet again through my new book Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice, which has just been issued by the University of California Press, I find myself pursing my lips periodically and … [Read more...]

Everybody’s Doing It

Oh, all right, since I'm too busy trying to get Christmas jumpstarted to blog anything else: Four jobs you've had in your life: music critic, record store clerk, art gallery director, door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman Four movies you could [do] watch over and over: The Big Lebowski, Greaser's Palace, Gettysburg, My Dinner with André, The Madness of King George (oops, five) Four places you've lived: Dallas, Chicago, Lewisburg, PA, Germantown, NY Four TV shows you love to watch: The Simpsons (only one, sorry) Four places you've been on … [Read more...]

Self-Discoveries of a Nonagenarian

"I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature. I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I pass myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my … [Read more...]

Being Screwed – Popular Topic

I'm in the final week of the Bard semester, and having a little trouble remembering which way is up at the moment. But the comments on my blog entry about internet radio limitations have turned into an interesting thread independently of me, too good to be buried in the back room, so to speak. … [Read more...]

Something that Has Always Perplexed Me

Every professor of composition knows, and will tell you, that you can’t predict, from a 20-year-old composer’s output, his or her eventual success. People mature creatively at different rates. Some composers bloom in their 30s, others, grappling with an array of original ideas, may not achieve an integrated aesthetic until their 40s. Others may seem to follow the crowd for the first half of their career, then undergo a startling change of direction around 45 or 50. Only in retrospect do their compelling late works reveal the germs of genius … [Read more...]

Take the Blue Pill

In response to my noncompliance problems with Postclassic Radio, a lot of people e-mailed me with suggestions for getting around the two-track rule at Live365 - thanks to all of you - and several recommended not being very public about my solutions, which is why not all those comments have appeared. I even came up with a trick of my own. Suffice it to say that I’ve learned a little more about iTunes, and that you may find an occasional discrepancy between track name and content. The playlist now running on Postclassic Radio is no different than … [Read more...]

Copyright Battles, Part II

There has been a slight delay in the publication of my book Music Downtown due to a copyright problem: not with the contents, but with the name Village Voice and its accompanying logo! Who knew? Anyway, I am assured that the good people of U of CA Press are doing their best to get orders out on time to people who ordered it to arrive for Christmas, but it's a little dicey. (Don't have a copy yet myself.) … [Read more...]