What Composers Talk About

I’ll bet that if you ran a new-music series and gave composers the following choice – “We’ll either give you a $500 honorarium, or you can have $100 and talk about yourself to the audience for 20 minutes” – almost all composers who aren’t in dire financial straits would choose the latter option. When the subject is ourselves, we do not like to shut up. I was on a panel of composers last night preceding the Cutting Edge series concert at Symphony Space, and the desire to chatter on was palpable. William Bolcom was the grand old man of the group, and seemed accustomed to occupying a stage by himself; we all deferred to him and let him talk most. Two of the other composers had, in fact, been students of his. Composer Victoria Bond, who runs the series, has clearly been in the moderation business a long time. She cut off each composer as graciously as though he had come to the end of a prepared text.

Whence comes this intense desire for self-expression? The yearning to have our music played, the prestige of gigs, the need to get money for our work, are all easily understandable. But why do I want the audience to know, before it hears my music, that I studied with Ben Johnston? Victoria drew a tentative connection between a vernacular element in my work and the fact that I’m from Dallas, and I slightly bridled at being thought of as a “Dallas composer.” Why? How silly. Do we imagine we’ll be the more admired if we say something clever? that some credential we bring up offhandedly will convince someone to give our music a more serious listen? Why does the picture our music draws seem so incomplete? The desire isn’t quite universal. Conlon Nancarrow was famous for answering series’ of long questions with a bare yes or no. Frederic Rzewski seems to use the interview format to prevent people from learning anything about him. But most of us are pathetically eager for an opportunity to represent ourselves, to draw a picture of our character for the audience. And, being so, we naturally bend over backward not to appear so. Every composer learns to efface himself in such situations, to substitute for some unyielding conviction a gentle joke that signals that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. We take turns out-modesting each other. We sensitize ourselves to the slightest clue that the interviewer is ready to move on. We conform, chameleonlike, to whatever level of discourse our peers launch into.

I’m old enough to recall when composers spoke more dogmatically and aggressively in public. Back in the day when we tended more to be judged by the intricacy and objectivity of our systems, we were more given to explanation. Composers informed the audience what to listen for, detailed their patented pitch methods, proclaimed their allegiances to this school or that. Of course we all know why this went out of favor. The audience didn’t much care about those pitch systems anyway, and rarely heard what we told them to hear. We were shamed out of that dogmatic technical mode, and scarred by the aesthetic battles that were its context. Next, starting in the late 1980s, came the “influences” trope: “My influences include….” For the liberal among us, “my influences” generally included Arnold Schoenberg and John Lee Hooker, or Brian Ferneyhough and the Sex Pistols – to prove to the audience that though we were intellectuals, we weren’t snobs.

These days it’s all personal. Paul Yeon Lee heard his piece in a dream. Derek Bermel got his compositional idea from listening to foreign-language tapes. William Bolcom talked about underrated musicians he had known. Mark Grey extolled the colors of the light in the valley in Austria where he lives. I talked about visiting Nancarrow in Mexico City. After the bad old days in which composers used to impress their audiences with technical expertise and quasi-scientific musical mandates, we seem to be on a huge swingback, more modestly just trying to convince the audience that we’re nice, down-to-earth guys. (I don’t mean to single out this concert at all: I’ve been noticing this phenomenon for more than a decade, and used to write about it at briefer length in the Village Voice.) The prestige of the modern composer has fallen so far that I think the reflexive self-effacement is a true reflection of the perception that society doesn’t take composers very seriously anymore. Still recoiling from the days in which we were all trying to be the next Stockhausen, now we’re all trying to convince the audience members that we’re just like them, except we write music. In front of an audience of complete amateurs this has one effect, but seems a little different in front of the musically sophisticated listeners that the Cutting Edge Concerts seem to attract, or so it felt. Despite the thousands of hours we put into honing our compositional philosophies, we’re afraid to be leaders, or to pretend to be experts.

But we composers have more to say than this. What did it mean that Bolcom’s trio had clear, vernacular-tinged rhythms couched in a bracingly dissonant pitch language? Or that Grey’s A Rax Dawn for piano was precisely the opposite, lushly Romantic in its harmonies but fluidly mercurial and complex in its rhythms? What do such choices have to do with our strategies for reaching an audience? In 2009, each of us can choose any musical language he fancies; what philosophic or social concerns guide our choices? How are composers responding to the world financial crisis? The response in 1933 couldn’t have been starker: abstract, dissonant music was abruptly discredited, writing music for the masses was in, and quoting Appalachian folksongs got you extra credit. What’s our response now? Some of us pitch our music toward audiences, quoting or appropriating whatever elements might draw them in. Others devoutly believe in autonomous personal expression, and are content with however small an audience their idiosyncrasies attract. How are we dealing with the ascendence and hegemony of commercially supported pop music? 

No one wants the aesthetic battles of the 1980s to return, but by now we ought to be able to address big issues without dogmatism. I, personally, regret the lack of substantive dialogue in the current new-music scene, but it seems symptomatic of our current condition. Privately, I imagine we are all still inspired by Big Ideas – I know I am – but publicly, we hide their effect. Perhaps we’re in too mushy a period to draw coherent distinctions. We’re split into subcultures, and no one wants to offend anyone else. Everyone feels a little helpless. No generalizable new language beckons. The personal seems safe, unthreatening. But where are the important issues facing early 21st-century music to be delineated? Certainly not by critics, who don’t understand the compositional issues at stake. Some of us composers are desperately trying to reach the audiences who fled from late modernism, but reluctant to admit that fact. Others continue in a straight line determined by their education, and don’t want to confront the popularity issue at all. I envy the discourse of novelists reviewing other novelists in the Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books: writing words about someone else’s words, they take on big issues, and are not reduced to personalities. I’ve spent thousands of hours contemplating what kind of music I ought to be writing, and I wish I could get out in public with other composers and work out the why and wherefore, rather than retreat into whatever personal tidbits of my life seem relevant to the piece at hand.

I came home and dreamed that I was ineffectively singing the Grandpa role in a school production of Copland’s The Tender Land (of which I bought a vocal score last week). The second act was taken up by a long monologue by the heroine Laurie’s rebellious little brother, whom I’d never noticed in the opera before – because he doesn’t exist. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Comments

  1. individualfrog says

    I don’t know much of anything about music, which always makes me feel unqualified to comment on this blog, but I just want to say that this was a lovely piece of writing.
    KG replies: Thank you!

  2. Armando Bayolo says

    You know, Idon’t know if it’ so much about seeming nice. I, personally, would rather have the extra cash (unless I’m talking to students, for whom I feel a special responsiblity) but I also see this need/desire to talk to the audience as part of assuring a life for my work.
    Samuel Adler in a lesson once told me a story about Eliott Carter speaking to audiences before the premiere performances of his Concerto for Orchestra. As thorny and “unfriendly” as this piece can be for audiences, it was voted the most popular contemporary piece that its premiering organization (the Philadelphia Orchestra?) among audience members participating in a post-season post. The credit for this went to Carter’s pre-concert talks, which were informative but non-dogmatic, warm and open. This story has always stayed with me as I make my way in the world not just as a composer but as a conductor of new music as well.
    KG replies: No argument there. I’m sure composers talking at concerts makes music easier to digest. I just think if we always restrict ourselves to the merely personal, we kind of dumb down the music for amateurs, and miss lots of important collective aspects like social context, compositional principles, and the issues of art in general. I have to imagine Carter talked about the larger philosophical and literary issues behind his piece, not just the way the sunset looked the day he wrote it.

  3. says

    I think you’re onto something with this observation that we’ve become more concerned with revealing something of ourselves in our music. This seems to be the case in most composers I know (and is on the rise in many genres of popular music, broadly speaking), and I wonder if we have much choice to be other than that when there is such a huge amount of music being made.
    Isn’t it actually a positive thing that creative artists are content to engage a community around them, being honest about who they are and enriching the lives of people directly? I have tended to see it as stripping back the accouterments of several centuries of industrialisation and getting back to what the arts are really about.
    KG replies: Perhaps. But doesn’t being honest about who you are also include where you see yourself fitting into society, what you think the purpose of art is, and what material issues you struggle with in your music?

  4. Ryan Howard says

    This reminds me of something else you once wrote, regarding how composers are reluctant to provide program notes on the grounds that “the music should speak for itself.” That seems on the surface like a contradictory impulse to what you’re describing here – though perhaps both are reflections of just how difficult it is for a composer to speak with any real relevance about his or her music.
    If we shy away from discussing how music addresses the “big issues” for fear of sounding grandiose, and since presentation of compositional systems and what-to-listen-for guides have gone out of fashion (though the “my influences” trope still seems popular, along with the “blurring boundaries” thing…) we’re not left with much other than conveying personal information relevant only to whatever piece we happen to be discussing at the moment – or else remaining silent altogether. (Personally, I find listening to composers relate anecdotes behind their inspiration just as tedious as dry technical analysis, and would never subject an audience to it myself.)
    You might be right that composers fear appearing to take themselves too seriously. Yet I’m reminded of a piece of advice Sydney Hodkinson once gave a class full or composers during my undergrad: “People will (only) take you as seriously as you take yourself.”
    Reading this also reminded me of a Paul Griffiths review from several years ago of a Tanglewood composers’ concert, in which he lamented that fact that the present shying away from aesthethic battles and big theoretical issues, replaced by composers’ entire desire for self-expression, has rendered music today dull. But that’s another topic…

  5. mclaren says

    Gann mentioned: almost all composers who aren’t in dire financial straits would choose the latter option.
    All five of them?
    Seriously, Kyle, being a serious contemporary composer today means taking a vow of grinding crushing poverty. Not many contemporary composers are tenured, or can boast a commission lineup like John Adams. They yelp for the same reason dogs at a pound make a racket when a new customer comes in. They know it’s their last chance.
    You went on to ask: Whence comes this intense desire for self-expression?
    As Leonard B. Meyer pointed out in Emotion and Meaning in Music (1956), we’ve reached a point where there is no longer any recognizable “mainstream” in serious contemporary music. That means there’s no longer any body of assumed practice and tradition the audience can rely on to navigate a new piece of contemporary music. Once upon a time, if you went to a new music concert you could count on either getting hit with some Stravinsky-follower stuff or some atonal serial stuff. So either way you had some coherent tradition to frame what you were gonna hear. Then guys started playing with tape recorders and computers and synthesizers, and other gals started doing highly repetitive music, and overseas people started analyzing spectra and writing scores using those analyses, and other even wilder people broke out of the conventional 12-tone-equal tuning system altogether, and the coherent traditions broke apart. So now when you go to hear a piece of contemporary music, you don’t what the hell you’re gonna hear unless the composer tells you.
    There are so many multiple parallel traditions in modern music today, and so many wildly divergent micro-ecologies of contemporary music, it really helps if the composer says, “Okay, I’m doing sort of what Harry Partch was doing but it’s different in this way, and this way, and this way.” Or if the composer says “I’m working in the computer music tradition of the Samson Box at CCRMA except I’m also using some of the information theory algorithmic techniques pioneered by Laurie Spiegel at Bell Labs, and also some of Paul Lansky’s work in digital signal processing applied to computer music.” Or if somebody says “I’m working in the general vein of Ferneyhough but with more of a third-wave flavour in the tradition of Gunther Schuller.” I find that really helps.
    Some contemporary composers switch between radically different styles, and there it really helps to know what’s going on in each piece from the composer hi/rself. Warren Burt has a fantastic data CD in which he includes published essays describing what he’s doing, and mp3s of compositions that illustrate those essays. So when he does a sonification piece you can follow what’s going on, and when he switches to some fiercely modernist algorithmic thing you have an idea what he’s after, and when he switches again to an approachable-sounding modal piece in ancient Greek tunings you can tell what he’s doing there too.
    Almost all of what makes music memorable involves the differences between what the composer does and what the tradition dictates. So it’s really helpful to get an idea of how each contemporary composer diverges from hi/r own micro-tradition in today’s separate musical ecologies. Because there are just too many musical ecologies today and too many contemporary composers to keep track of ‘em all (unless you’re Kyle Gann, I guess, and have 5 filing cabinets full of contemporary composers’ scores. Most of us don’t).
    For example, you asked: But why do I want the audience to know, before it hears my music, that I studied with Ben Johnston?
    Okay, I’ll bite. If the composition the audience will hear is one of your just intonation pieces, that’s important to know because people will understand that you’re working in the tradition Ben Johnston set up, which sort of stems from the Harry Partch musical ecology that’s all about JI tuning and visceral approachable music with recognizable melodies and functional harmonies and a discernible rhythmic pulse, and a very strong ethnic influence, particularly on the rhythms. Except what you do differently is that instead of building your own instruments (Partch), or using conventional acoustic European instruments (Johnston) to do JI, you typically use synthesizers. If I were in the audience and didn’t know jack diddly about the history of just intonation composition in America, I’d find that very valuable to know. It seems to me that’s what going on when contemporary composers cite their “influences” list. I really don’t think it’s so much trying to be “one of the guys” and playing buddy-buddy with the audience, as providing GPS coordinates to help the audience locate you on the global music map.
    You also asked: Do we imagine we’ll be the more admired if we say something clever?
    Yep. That’s the way it works. There are no great composers in America, only great decomposers. Mostly, contemporary composers in America get no publicity until they croak. So ya gotta make a lotta noise. We live in a crowded noisy ad-glutted publicity-driven world. If you write a mediocre piece of music and say something snarky and witty and memorable, people will remember you a lot more than if you write a great piece of music and utter boring platitudes. Case in point: Pierre Boulez.
    This brings up the most important reason composers talk about themselves nowadays — because no one else does. Contemporary music has plunged in cultural status over the last 45 years. Once upon a time, TIME magazine put guys like Aaron Copland on its cover. The last time that happened, David Byrne got put on the TIME magazine cover. Newspapers have cut their classical review columns and replaced ‘em with pop music reviews. Everywhere you look, publicity for contemporary music has dwindled. In this harsh new environment a composer had better create publicity for hi/rself, because today, that’s the only publicity s/he’s gonna get. This goes along with Meyer’s accurate prediction that we have now entered an era of “fluctuating steady state” with many different musical traditions simultaneously competing for attention in modern music. With so many competing different cultural trends in modern music and no mainstream, there’s no longer one single mainstream avenue for a composer to get publicity for hi/r work.
    The bad news about the old mainstream tradition in modern music, prior to about the 1930s, was that it shut out a lot of dissident composers who didn’t want to go along with the mainstream. The good news was that once a composer got recognized within the mainstream of contemporary music, that mainstream became a powerful publicity machine because it controlled the outlets for modern music and could really get behind a composer and push hard to bring hi/r to the public’s attention. That’s no longer possible since there is no longer any one mainstream of contemporary music. So composers today need to make as much noise about their music with publicity as they possibly can.
    Previous avenues of publicity, like Leonard Bernstein’s saturday morning TV show about classical music or the various music appreciation program that used to run on classical radio stations, have vanished. In fact, classical musica radio stations have largely vanished. Internet “radio” stations aren’t the same thing, ’cause you have to know about ‘em to hear ‘em. The old classical radio stations, you could stumble across just by twirling the dial. Diversity has greatly enriched contemporary music for the audiences, but it’s paradoxically fractured and diminished the audience for each type of contemporary music.
    Composers need to become dancing bears today, making a spectacle of themselves and giving interviews and putting up profiles about themselves on last.fm and uploading YouTube explanations and all that other stuff just to get enough attention for their music so it doesn’t vanish completely into the din of advertising jinlges and light jazz. We’re not all D’arcy James Argue, you know…we can’t all snap our fingers and get 50 grand to record a CD of superb big band jazz, and then tour Europe based on that publicity. People who do algorithmic electronic music like Warren Burt get hammered particularly hard. You practically have to stand in a traffic intersection stark naked with a strap-on nowadays if you want to get attention for your serious contemporary electronic music. Can you blame composers for trying to eke out some extra publicity by yakking about what they do?
    I agree they could do a better job of it. You make an excellent point about how contemporary composers seem frustratingly reluctant to go into detail about how their compositions work and what they as composers are trying to do in the larger context of modern music. Yeah, I’ve been bored to tears by more than one graph-and-math monologue prefacing a serious concert (the worst and most bathetic was the half-hour-long graph-laden explanation of Xenakis’ Theraps for solo ‘cello, followed by the snapping of the ‘cello string 90 seconds into the performance. The ratio of pseudoscience to sound was about 1,000,000:1 on that one). But you’re dead right that we really seriously could use modern composers putting up a YouTube piece maybe 5 minutes long in which they talk about the interesting nitty-gritty details of how one of their compositions is put together, and exactly where they as composers see themselves fitting in modern music. Maybe they could even include abandoned versions of a piece, show how the composition evolved, play excerpts, play parts of other compositions that fit into he same sort of tradition they’re working in, all that stuff. I for one would love that kind of stuff. But no contemporary composer does that, maybe out of a misplaced fear of scaring the audience away. There is a reasonable middle ground between droning one about pseudoscience equations & graphs for half an hour, and just spewing vague platitudes about your personal preferences.
    You mentioned: Privately, I imagine we are all still inspired by Big Ideas…
    Maybe in New York and the east coast. I dunno, out here on the West Coast, a lotta compsoers are just trying to write music that grabs people. “Big Ideas” sorta sounds like “historical necessity” and “the end of history and the last man” and “the project for a new American century” and “the Global War On Terror.” Haven’t the last 30 years taught us to be intensely suspicious of Big Ideas? I get the sense we’re in a Candide-style phase of tending to our gardens in contemporary music. But maybe I’m full of wild red raspberries — after all, I don’t know contemporary music nearly as well as you do.
    KG replies: I don’t know that I buy your last sentence.

  6. Joe Kubera says

    I was at the concert too, and though I missed the earlier panel discussion, each composer also had a chance to say a few words just before his piece was played…and I recognize some of those comments from what you’ve written.
    Part of the tendency toward the “personal” might stem from the published topic of the evening: “Inspiration: What Sparks the Imagination?” That seems an invitation to discuss the dream, the language tapes, the journeys into the European countryside — the direct experiences that triggered the compositions.
    I agree with you — as a musician myself, I’d rather hear the nuts and bolts of what the composer went through and a better explanation of the choices made. I wonder if it was all easier when there was a dominant compositional style. Even if you worked within that style, you could speak pretty readily about how your work conformed to or differed from it, or just approached things from a different angle.
    I could probably come up with more musings, but it’s getting late…

  7. says

    Really cogent, compelling piece Kyle.
    I’m also envious of the seemingly natural integration of critique and discourse in other fields. I didn’t study composition formally, so it’s possible that I’m just not aware that students in conservatory programs are engaged in peer critique. That said, I do spend a fair amount of time around composers in the “real world”, and I just don’t get the sense that discursive interaction with BIg Ideas (or maybe more precisely, the details of said Big Ideas) is as valued in the music world as it is in the visual art community for example. There are exceptions, of course, but even the artist blogs tend to avoid geeking out. I mean, I see blogs as an opportunity to create a self-published “monograph” of ones artistic aims. Got a system you’re exploring? Spell it out over the course of several posts with inserted score/diagram details and mp3 examples.
    Of course, I’ve started to do this type of thing several times, and then the reality of 21st century professional schizophrenia intrudes. In any case, I have an admittedly romantic yearning for the type of collegiality that less fragmented times ostensibly fostered.

  8. says

    I’d take the $500. I love going to concerts of my music and sitting among people in the audience who have no idea that I am the composer.
    “Play it, don’t say it” is one of my personal mottos (useful in both composer-ly and performer-ly situations). If a piece can’t speak on some level for itself, then it is not doing its job.
    (I would provide program notes, but not for a reduced fee.)
    KG replies: I love sitting in the audience incognito myself, but no one ever lets me do it. You hear some great comments when people nearby don’t know you’re the composer.
    I agree, too, that every piece should speak for itself, but there are also listeners who don’t know how to meet even a clear piece halfway, and it’s nice to give them a boost.

  9. John Kennedy says

    Kyle, it is always great when you raise these issues and ask these questions. But I’m not sure I remember it being much different 20 years ago, in terms of discussing “big issues”. I wonder how much is cultural, not just specific to the practice – reflecting a generalized lack of passion for subversive reflection on all matters including politics and cultural critique.
    The cult of personality and individual as creative force is one of those classical music legacies that we simultaneously have to contend with and we also buy into and participate in. It is what I try to resist most in programming, and it is tough. But we see it reinforced in the profiles in our publications, in granting, in how mainstream musical organizations present the living composer to the public. An era of the creative individual’s sum of experience…but yes, it is more interesting to get under the hood with each other than inside the dream journal. But if you have to go back to singing Grandpa in The Tender Land, work on your high notes dolce.
    KG replies: Well, at least back then we had serialism, minimalism, chance techniques, info overload, and a few other catch-phrases to kick around. Today we still have namable tendencies, but no one wants to acknowledge the names.

  10. says

    As a non-specialist way back up in the peanut gallery, I can say I’m a regular reader of your blog because you have a real gift for being able to talk about music in fresh language, this post being a great example. You’re talking to your peers, but clearly enough that folks who just like music can understand what you’re saying.
    I’d guess that if there were more conversations like you’re wanting it would help with that reconnection with the audience people like Greg Sandow write about.
    As to the self-expression, isn’t some part of the motivation to compose music to express something only you can express, and wouldn’t that desire be as likely to manifest verbally as well as musically?
    KG replies: Your last question is indeed the logical rejoinder. Still, it strikes me that I write music for different reasons than I like to talk about myself. The music comes from someplace pure and humble, while the talking is kind of an opportunity for (however subtle) self-aggrandizement. I never regret writing a piece of music or having one played, but I sometimes regret having dominated a conversation.

  11. says

    fascinating piece, this has been on my mind for some time now.
    one aspect that contributes to the let’s say marginalization of deeper listening is the sheer volume of individuals making music nowadays.
    listeners have their attention divided, and composers will do things to attract that attention away from others, perhaps so much so that in addition to the depression of a financial crisis, the draw towards the popular ear is now more of a offensive attack in order to be heard above the din.
    i can’t count how many times i’ve been depressed by an artist or label’s followup release(s) that started to get more popular sounds and structures in it. was it that they were a “popular artist” all along? this dip into the deeply experimental was just a ploy or a passing phase? or is it a desire to be more widely accepted, which almost necessarily means adapting that which is popular on some level?
    the proliferation of music making software has instilled the right of music making to everyone with a computer, as it should be. the homogenizing element is the networks of communities which now span the globe and give an outlet to all these people for their individual sound to be heard. on the one hand it’s a wonderful way to self-promote and be out there as an active member of a community, but it’s definitely increasing the noise ratio raising questions about what it means to “publish” what’s become an increasingly object-oriented music; that is, concrete objectification available for download and repeated listening.
    as you point out, dissonant music making isn’t exactly uplifting stuff, and if the “composer” is spreading from serious studying musicians (a minority) to marketing demographics with computer purchasing power (a much vaster majority), it almost seems that the overwhelming taste for music must be popular, or else software used by experimental musicians wouldn’t include drum samples and easy ways to use loops created after a popular aesthetic.
    in some ways i feel like the virtues of compositional integrity have been spread very thin by this, since a listener cannot tell the difference between an instrument sample and one played by the composer.
    KG replies: For me, the vast number of composers today makes an emphasis on ideas even more crucial than before. No one can navigate a cacophony of 40,000 distinct personalities, but a network of 25 or 40 musical ideas in which composers participate to one level or another is something a mind can comprehend.

  12. says

    Nice post — I strongly agree with the idea that composers should be obligated to contextualize their work within the world somehow, no matter how small the gesture might be. I think that the overall problem right now is that a lot of composers simply have nothing to say. Like most people living in modern society, they’ve become overloaded with conflicting and contradicting ideas that they’re left unable to take a stand on any issue. Or maybe they actually do have opinions, but aren’t willing to take the risks involved in voicing them in public. Or maybe they’re taking the administrative position of knowing what’s going on but presenting the audience with contradictory ideas in order to hide their true intensions. In any case none of these things bodes very well for the overall health of the music world.

    In addition to the “I wrote this while watching the sunset” thing (I mean, who should be obligated to care about such a thing, really), there’s also a tendency for a lot of composers to talk about their music in terms of their technique or method — I used this type of structure in order to arrive at my result, or I used this concept as inspiration of the piece, etc. The problem with this is that most of the time you can’t really hear the correlation between their idea and the result. And even if you do, more often than not it leaves you with a feeling of “ok, so what?” after the piece is over. If music doesn’t relate itself to the world somehow, then it basically means that musicians are turning a blind eye to the problems that exist outside of the concert hall.

    Talking about personal observations and subjective emotions can serve as a way to avoid talking about important matters since those things in themselves can’t really be invalidated or argued against. It’s fine to be personal, but what good artists do is draw universalizations based on personal experiences. I think it might help to think of universalization less as an act of imposition, but as way in which a composer can create a bridge between themselves and the audience through the act of relating common experiences together. Because we place such a huge emphasis on one’s individualism, there seems to be a type of fear in acknowledging the commonalities that we might have with each other, but I think this is kind of silly.

    Back in the Baroque era music was believed to serve an argumentative purpose, similar to the act of discourse. I think that it’s primarily the reason why people can study Bach in the 21st Century and still get something out of it — seems to be something that has been missing in the classical world for some time now. We could probably use a dose of transparency in structure, both in music and in society.

  13. Garken Fikes says

    To Mclaren:
    What is wrong with classical music “dying” in this country, so to speak? Not to be antagonistic, but what is wrong with newspapers carrying reviews for “pop music” instead of classical music. Isn’t this just a sign of changing times? I have two questions for you.
    1) Why does American society need to have so called “traditional Western European classical music”?
    and 2) What’s wrong with everything else?