Reputations Never Die

I occasionally get invited lately to visit music departments and lecture about my own music “and/or the current scene.” I appreciate that one of my functions in academia is that I will expose the students to crazy music that the resident faculty won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. But I’m always surprised that anyone ever supposes that, given the choice of talking about my own music or someone else’s, I would ever waste a sentence on someone else’s. For one thing, I know very little about the current scene: I can describe the Downtown scene of the 1980s and ’90s in great historical detail, but like most composers of a certain age, I’ve quit paying attention. I don’t mind being paid to lecture on one of my topics of musicological research, whether Nancarrow, Cage, totalism, whatever, but if you’re looking for enthusiasm rather than dutiful professionalism, ask me about my own music. If I thought Glenn Branca, David Lang, and Diamanda Galas were out there lecturing about my music, I might reciprocate by lecturing about theirs, but something tells me this isn’t going to happen. I agree that composers in college ought to be exposed to less mainstream forms of musical creativity, but it’s time for composition teachers who think so to start doing that on their own. Please, if you’re interested in bringing me to your department, don’t expect me to dilute the interest in my own music by talking about other people’s – unless you’re specifically bringing me in as a musicologist, and then I may require a higher fee because I have less incentive. 

Relatedly, I am really not interested in writing liner notes anymore. When I was in my 30s, living hand to mouth and with loads of time on my hands, the occasional $400 I could make on a liner note fee (and that’s the most it ever was) was often a life saver. I turn 55 this month, I draw a steady if modest salary, and I spend every spare moment on my own music. I have trouble finding people to write my liner notes, and what I need are commissions, not petty-cash jobs. I won’t say it’s not flattering being still thought of as the young house music critic for the wild and crazy set, but I need for people to start thinking of me as just another self-obsessed old composer. Thanks.


  1. mclaren says

    I appreciate that one of my functions in academia is that I will expose the students to crazy music that the resident faculty won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
    Isn’t that the function of web 2.0 social music networking sites like and pandora?
    KG replies: Only if they know about them and use them.

  2. says

    My students introduced me to Groove Shark on the web, which has allowed me to finally sample the music of Robert Ashley, Rhys Chatham and other composers far from the “mainstream.” And while some composition departments do tend to still be relatively conservative, just down the hall in the theory department you can find a number of composers who are interested in a WIDE panoply of music(s).
    KG replies: I didn’t mean to imply that all departments are conservative, but I am sometimes specifically told that they’d like me to expose the students to composers unheard of in the regular curriculum. Obviously the fact that they invite me indicates some measure of open-mindedness.

  3. says

    Oh, I know. I’m always struck by how limited our notions of contemporary music, let alone “the repertoire” (whatever that means anymore) can be, especially in academia, not to mention how surprisingly closed the academy can be (especially among PERFORMERS). But things aren’t so bad either. There are some nice, open minded departments out there, and even some conservative ones that have people teaching a wide variety of music (I’m lucky to work with colleagues and students who have widely varying tastes and who have taught me a great deal about music I would otherwise never have come across).
    Of course, don’t put your own expertise down. I’ve learned a lot of music I wouldn’t have known about from your American Music book in particular.

  4. says

    55 is hardly old
    KG replies: No, but it’s too old to keep putting off one’s ultimate goals for the sake of petty cash and resume-building. Feldman died at 61. Should I wait until old age to do my most important work?