General William Booth, and Many Others, Enter into Heaven

It's been a long day, and I've been drinking scotch with John Luther Adams, but here are the highlights of the first full day of the Ives Vocal Marathon at Wesleyan University:1. In a comment from the audience, the ever-incisive Bill Brooks situated Ives's creative life between the Civil War and the Warren G. Harding election. The Civil War, Bill said, put to rest an ongoing ambiguity in American life: whether we were going to be ruled by the Articles of Confederation or by the Constitution. In other words, whether states were allowed to secede … [Read more...]


Tonight at 8 I'm delivering the keynote address at the Ives Vocal Marathon at Wesleyan University, the Memorial Chapel. And this Saturday is the deadline for proposals for papers for the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music taking place Sept. 2-6 at UMKC. Not that we're stuffy about deadlines, but my colleagues on the selection committee are chomping at the bit to see what we've got. Lots of exciting topics so far. … [Read more...]

Starting Over

We've been watching Ken Burns's jazz documentary again, for the third or fourth time at least (I can't watch the last tape, in which Wynton Marsalis skips over 15 years of exciting post-bebop jazz to pronounce himself the reincarnation of true jazz, as if Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and Arthur Rhames never existed), and my favorite quote came up, from Roy Eldridge. It's a statement that, to me, seems to sum up the essential condition of music:The beboppers are good. But they closed more clubs than they opened.And while I'm at it, I'm a … [Read more...]

Outside My Comfort Zones

I'm busy writing my fourth keynote address, this one for the Ives Vocal Marathon taking place at Wesleyan University Jan. 29 to Feb. 1; my speech is at 8 PM on the 29th. Across four days, an assortment of singers will perform every version of every song Ives wrote (201 items in all), with the legendarily masochistic Neely Bruce permanently stationed at the piano, no doubt periodically soaking his hands in two fishbowls of water like the young George Antheil. As with my Cage book, I will be speaking about Ives to people who know more about him … [Read more...]

Theories of Minimalism Still Welcome

This might be a timely moment to reiterate that the deadline for submissions to the second international conference on minimalist music, which is being held at the University of Missouri at Kansas City September 2-6, is January 31. We're prepared for more papers than we've received so far, so if you're interested, give us a try. We've gotten almost no papers from Europe yet, but it was our European colleagues who asked to have the date extended, so maybe their proposals will all arrive at the last minute. We're honoring Charlemagne Palestine, … [Read more...]

Freedom Caught in Notation

I wrote my "American Composer" column for Chamber Music magazine this month - though it won't be out till March - on John Halle, one of the eight composers of the Common Sense collective. And, as often happens, I obtained a generous influx of his music, so I uploaded seven pieces to PostClassic Radio. John's vocal music employs political texts - from Project for the New American Century, Larry Summers, D.C. activist Sam Smith - that sound pretty shocking when set to music with seeming innocence. (Much the way, I suppose, that Allan Kozinn once … [Read more...]

The Armchair Musicologist

I sent in the quadruply-revised final draft of my book on 4'33" today: 217 pages, with 325 footnotes and eight pages of bibliography. Wiley Hitchcock would be proud of my footnotes-to-pages ratio. He used to kid me about how many footnotes in my American music book read "e-mail to the author." But hey, I figure, if you know the composer, why spend hours rooting through a library when you can send an e-mail?And may I mention how euphoric I am to be writing books in the era of Google? The time-saving features are unbelievable. I read through … [Read more...]

Theorizing NOW

My Analysis of Minimalism seminar I just finished was the most exciting course I've ever taught, and I plan to write about it at greater length. But as I'm sitting here grading final papers, I'm pleased as punch to note that one student, Erica Ball (herself a precociously interesting composer) wrote her analysis paper on two works written late in 2008, by young composers Caroline Mallonée and Jim Altieri. When I think how many young composers come out of grad school these days all excited about dinosaurs like Ligeti, Xenakis, and Carter, I am … [Read more...]