I just returned tonight from Indiana University, where I gave a lecture Tuesday for the music department entitled “The Ethics of Composing in a Corporate Society.” I probably should have mentioned here beforehand that I was going to present this, so that if you were around you could have gone. But I mention it now because, to tell you the truth, one of the benefits of maintaining this blog is that it contains a running list of my gigs, so that later, if I need to update my résumé (something I hope I won’t have to do many more times in my life), I can look through my blog to locate the details. And I’m not going to post the lecture text here. I need to cultivate a repertoire of unpublished talks I can give when asked to do these things, so I don’t have to write a new lecture every time the way Mozart wrote a new concerto for every concert. After all, I only have a finite number of ideas. At least, I only have a finite number of noncontroversial ideas, and I’ve been trying lately not to piss off the people who invite me somewhere. This hasn’t always been my practice.
Besides, as always with academia, it’s the peripheral human contacts that carry more weight than the central pretext. For the subsequent evening, the faculty invited me to a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which I hear is a cute piece, but grad student Brent Reidy also hinted that he was hosting an informal concert of student compositions at his apartment, and that was better bait. Brent – a composer who’s getting a doctorate in musicology, which is an idea I kind of wish I had thought of at his age – hates the standard people-in-rows-of-chairs concert format, and he’s starting his own concert series at which each piece will be played, then discussed, and then played again. It’s a wonderful idea, reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performance but even friendlier. So I heard six student pieces, twice, whose lack of academic pretension would have been deemed miraculous during the era I was in grad school. The faculty I met were lovely and gracious and impressive, but the students are always more interesting, aren’t they?, because they give me clues as to what’s coming up in the future.
I also heard an informative and admirably clear lecture analyzing the music of Thomas Adès by John Roeder of the University of British Columbia. This gave me a new vocabulary item with which to discuss my music. Apparently Adès employs a technique that Roeder calls “parsimonious voice leading,” which means that the chord progressions move by the smallest intervals possible. I’ve spent my entire creative life exploring parsimonious voice leading, but didn’t know to call it that, and with 31 pitches to the octave as opposed to only 12, I’ll go up against Adès in a parsimony contest any day. Partch called it tonality flux. [UPDATE: Ah, “parsimonious voice leading” is a Schoenberg term – not one I had paid specific attention to, but it obviously seeped in and took root somehow.]
While there I met some students who read my blog religiously, and I hope that percussionist/musicologist Kerry O’Brien and percussionist Andy Bliss, in particular, will appreciate reading here that it was lovely talking to (and drinking with) them. Store these names away, because you’ll hear them again someday.