1. I keep noticing that I’m repeating myself. I’ll write a blog entry and two days later notice I expressed the same idea in 2005, better.
2. I’m tired of being criticized, which is something that’s been an issue my entire life. In high school I was practicing Webern, Ruggles, and Rochberg, and was told by my classmates that I wasn’t as good a pianist as this kid who could play “Hava Nagila,” because he played music people liked. In my early years as a critic, the criticism made me sharpen my arguments and become more strictly evidence-based. Now it just makes me self-censor. For instance, the term “Downtown” just drives some people insane, and so I’ve learned a hundred ways to write about Downtown music here without using the word. But what fun is blogging if I have to self-censor – or else deal with blizzards of complaints?
3. I suspect the blog keeps people thinking of me as a critic. It makes sense that managers keep sending me press releases and artists keep fishing for articles, but I’m trying to discourage it, and I’m afraid the blog has the opposite effect. Critics write blogs, especially when their print medium goes under; composers don’t, or not often, and a composer’s blog is presumed to be read only by his music’s diehard fans, which would cut my readership down considerably. Putting my name in front of the public every week, as I’ve been doing since 1983, became a habit, as difficult to stop as any other habit. For years it was a way to keep my name in the air while I struggled to get my music out. But my music’s out now, at a level respectable enough for a former Downtowner, and I don’t want any more gushing feature-story requests from ensembles that wouldn’t consider giving me commissions. Yet I feel guilty writing about my own music here, because this started out as a critic’s blog, like I’m promoting my music under false pretences.
What I need, after six and a half years, is some kind of blog makeover, like Alex Ross has given his blog (though his content doesn’t seem to have changed as much as his format). I’m thinking about the things blogs are good for, and what they’re not so good for:
1. Gathering information: this is perhaps the most beneficial, for me, purpose of the blog. Sometimes I need information or perspective, as I recently did on the idea of teaching a 12-tone class, and everyone with any expertise to share is happy to write in. It’s like having 3,000 free consultants. I would miss it terribly if I quit.
2. Writing about teaching: wonderful. All we music theory or history professors are pretty much in the same boat, all of us run into the same problems, none of us have been specifically trained to do this, and we can all use whatever suggestions we can get.
3. Presenting musicological work: not so good. If I’m writing a book or scholarly article about something, it’s because I’m sitting here looking at and listening to materials you don’t have access to. Unless you are Keith Potter or Charlemagne Palestine or somebody, your insight into what I’m writing about is not as good as mine. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion of my music; only a handful of people have a right to their opinion of my scholarship, and those people will be consulted by the peer-reviewed publications I write for. A blog is a democratic format, and scholarship is not a democratic activity. I’ve come to think that the presentation of incomplete musicological research in blog format has a poor return. One nice thing about writing a book is, anyone who wants to refute you’ll have to write his own damn book to do it, not just fire off a note on his laptop.
4. Information about my music: feels self-serving. Of course it’s a godsend being able to provide my own publicity for upcoming concerts, and it would be difficult to give that up. Essays about my music, though, should probably go on my web site, where people interested in my music can go to look for them, and I’ve been adding material there lately as a substitute for blogging. I even suspect that my presence in the blogosphere inhibits my music being discussed there. You’re either a subject of the conversation or one of the conversers, and no one has demonstrated yet, I think, that you can be both.
5. Opinions: mine are notoriously unconventional, and I get tired of defending them. Some days I wish I’d kept my big mouth shut all those years. As for trivial opinions like my favorite movies and beers and such, I respectfully disagree with the blogging community that anyone should care.
6. Various goings-on in the music world: of course this is what blogs are for, but it requires a tremendous administrative investment, and, frankly, more curiosity about the outer world than I possess. For decades I kept track of concerts, records, books, and I just don’t anymore, especially now that the music of the Downtown scene I was involved in gets so little attention. And if you write praising one composer’s new CD, 32 other composers get the idea that you’ll write about their CD too, and the correspondence alone takes hours a week. For decades I was a willing and active cog in the capitalist publicity machine, and you’re either in or out of that machine; there’s no hanging around the periphery.
And so I’m left with information requests, observations about teaching music, and notices of my upcoming concerts. Maybe I’ll get inspired to start a new direction. But for now I’m composing daily, and I think getting out of the habit of weekly public pronouncements was probably a good thing for me.
UPDATE: The more I think about it, I guess it seems like a blogger comes off as a group discussion leader, an initiator among equals. Everyone feels invited to join in, whether to compliment, disagree, mouth off, whatever. Usually the topic is one of common access: “I saw the movie Blick last night, Brad Pitt was great but the plot was awful,” and so everyone can say, “Really? I thought Pitt sucked,” and like that. But if I’m sitting here with materials you can’t get, and I’m telling you information that’s been secret until now, readers can’t contribute out of their own store of knowledge. But they feel they have the right to say something, so they write in and say the piece I’m analyzing sucks, or improvisations should never be transcribed, or my feet stink, or else they pick up on some passing comment that refers to something they’re familiar with. It’s just not a top-down medium. It’s not an efficient one-way information transfer. Even a blogger as high-powered as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is usually commenting on news reports or documents that are out there, that he can link to, so it’s not his private information. If he were getting confidential communiqués from the government or something, I guess people would be up in arms attacking his veracity.
Still one great things about blogs for musicology: when you need to put up audio examples, as I did with Dennis Johnson’s November, there’s just nothing like a blog.