One Less Critic

I’ve been meaning to mention that my March profile of David Borden was my last “American Composer” column for Chamber Music magazine. It was a great gig, but in recent years it was becoming an onerous burden to interrupt my other projects every two months and have to get my head into someone else’s music. Overall I wrote 69 articles for the bimonthly magazine from 1998 to 2012, profiling 61 composers individually plus several others in the September articles I wrote about more general subjects. When I started, my predecessors in that column had, to date, profiled 70 composers – all of them famous, and 3 – three – of them women. For most of my years, I conscientiously split my articles equally between male and female composers, and also wrote about quite a few young composers and those who weren’t very well known yet. I’m proud of how much I expanded the column’s purview in several directions. Then, when we had the minimalism conference at UMKC in 2009, I got criticized because there were no papers submitted on women composers (as if I could have influenced that), and I decided to quit keeping count. I figured if women composers were going to damn me, after all I’ve done to publicize them at the Voice and elsewhere throughout my entire career, then they didn’t really want to be championed as much as they wanted to complain. I thought of listing here the 61 composers I wrote about for Chamber Music [26 of them women: I went back and counted], but I’ve learned that it pisses composers off (myself included) to see lists of celebrated composers that they’re not on. A lot of my favorite composers didn’t get written about, because given the venue and its presumed readership, I did try to focus on people who wrote chamber music, which quite a number of my musical protégés don’t do.

The upshot is that I’m finally no longer a music critic – my last such gig has ended. I worked as a critic from December 1982 to March 2012 – 29 and 1/2 years, which the astrologically minded will realize is a full Saturn cycle. Major life phases tend to come to an end after 29 and 1/2 years, and so this one happily did. Now I’m going through an odd period in which I don’t really know what I am, publicly, besides being a music theory professor. That happens when Saturn passes through the eleventh house in your horoscope – some new phase of your life starts up without you really knowing what it’s going to be, as one did for me in 1982. At age 56, I’m in the mood to only write about what I deeply feel like writing about at the moment. Criticism is a noble profession, or could be if we took it seriously enough and applied rigorous standards to it, but you get pigeonholed as a bystander, someone valued for your perspective on others rather than for your own potential contributions. I fell into the profession pretty much by accident, it did very well by me – I can only imagine I would have ended up pushing a broom somewhere if I hadn’t happened into it – and I’m relieved and happy to leave it behind.



  1. says

    Great to have you speak your mind! I went to college in Los Angeles and spent a lot of time watching Esa-Pekka Salonen do his thing. I also have heard some of his music and really enjoy it (two of his pieces, thus far, genuinely move me). I’m glad to see he’s quit that job and, while he does keep busy as a conductor, I’m hoping that he will take all these Lessons Learned and apply them to creating more pieces that move me.

    And so, of course, I wish the same for you as well!

  2. says

    Just don’t give up this here bloggical column. Gotta have my Gann fix.

    KG replies: Well, I haven’t been blogging because I feel like I don’t have anything new to say, except for a few things I’m saving for a book. I get an idea, I look in my archives, and there it is already; so you can see what I’m thinking by rereading the archives.

  3. Sean Hickey says


    Thanks for all you’ve done on behalf of so many composers over the years. You most certainly will be missed. But I look forward to getting to know more of your music.


    KG replies, abashed: Well geez, I didn’t mean to solicit testimonials, but thanks to everyone who wrote in. I’m not dead and not even retiring, but I am kind of wondering what to do with the rest of my life besides guide 20-year-olds through The Rite of Spring, not that that’s not fun.

  4. Tom Cravens says

    It seems like a good time to thank you very much for all that you have contributed as a music critic. I graduated from college around the time you began writing about music, and I read much of what you wrote in the Voice during the 80s and 90s, and more recently in your blog. Your consumer guides, essays and the books on Nancarrow and Cage have been helpful and influentiaI. I hope that you continue to enjoy sharing your opinions and experiences in your blog, now that your criticism gigs are in the past.

  5. Allan J. Cronin says

    Well the end of another era. I have already whined about losing you as critic at the Chicago Reader. But I wish to echo an earlier comment expressing the wish that you will keep blogging.
    For me personally you have been critic, composer, writer and, most importantly, teacher. I have learned from all your various efforts in musicology, criticism, composition, historiy, biography. I think that your presence in the social media has made you very much a public intellectual. What you have to say obviously continues to interest many people.
    I will continue to buy your books and recordings, study your scores, access the teaching materials on your web site and hopefully read many blog posts to come. Your work supports me as a consumer and informed audience member.
    But whatever you do I continue to wish you the best because what you have done so far constitutes a rich and enduring legacy. Just don’t want that to end.

  6. John Kennedy says

    Kyle, you have always been less a critic than a much-needed music writer. If you ever had “nothing to say”, it is only because you had so many deadlines and were so prolific. It was your writing in the Chicago Reader in 1982 that made me want to first hear your music…I figured it had to be at least interesting given what you had to say about the music of others. And it was much more than interesting. You are a wonderful composer/author and we will look forward to your writing when it is really following your own assignment and deadline.

  7. Bernadette Speach says

    Thank you, Kyle –
    – for all that you have contributed as a critic, and continue to contribute/create as a composer, teacher, colleague and friend.
    Much more to say, which I’ll say in person –
    Bernadette Speach

  8. says


    I hope you’ll continue to write about music, as you do it so well. Your critical style was a tremendous influence on me as a young critic, and whenever any of my readers tell me they never saw any criticism like mine, I steer them towards you (and Richard Meltzer, my other literary influence). I’m looking forward to your book on Robert Ashley. No Such Thing as Silence was such a wonderful book that accomplished what no other book on Cage has done, and that is to make a compelling argument to skeptics that Cage was not a fraud or hoaxster but one of the great musical thinkers and creators of the 20th century. I hope you’ll continue to be inspired to put your thoughts on this blog.


    KG replies: Thanks very much, Christian. It’s nice to hear of someone being influenced by me. My oldest friend, after reading some of my reviews, said, “You’re sort of a cross between Mark Twain and Theodor Adorno, aren’t you?” So the influences just keep trickling down. I’ll keep blogging if I can keep having any new ideas, or at least new ways to say the old ones.

  9. Noah Creshevsky says


    You’ve said a lot for years, with insight and generosity of spirit. You’ve promoted others, generally at your own expense (since writing took time away from your music). You’re a unique and vital composer above everything else. I am glad to see you make a decision that ought to make it easier for you to focus more directly on your music.

    Al my best wishes for your ongoing success and well-being,


    KG replies: Thanks, Noah, and to you as well.

    • says

      Kyle, thanks for all your writing over the years. It’s not often we get the composer’s perspective on the music that’s out there. In a real way, it takes one to know one. You could be as excited as anyone over a great piece (and could clearly explain why), but you were also unflinching in calling out mediocrity and, now and then, some emperor’s nakedness. Very often you clarified what it was I like about a piece, or a composer, when I couldn’t myself.

      Wishing you continued compositional success, and I’ll be visiting your blog to catch your further insights.

      Very best,