Through the Eyes of the Unencumbered

If there’s anything I remember about being a grad student, it’s what a ruthless and unobstructed view one has of the world. You are not yet complicit in its ubiquitous ills, you are not yet bought off by its bribes, you have made no moral compromises, and your judgments are made with a relentlessly clear eye. In the intervening decades I have learned to make admissions of self-interest and allowances for human frailty and differences of taste, but I do not at all feel more right today than I was then. A certain amount of willful blindness has proved necessary for survival.

After my Ives lecture the other day, a grad student composer came up and plaintively asked, “Does anybody really get excited about the music of all the composers who are getting a lot of attention these days?” Many will be quick to suggest a counter-example here and there, but that a well-informed student could ask such a question speaks volumes about the extent to which our institutions have reduced a great art form to a mere profession.


  1. Joseph M. Colombo says

    “It becomes increasingly obvious that to these fellows, music is not an art. It is a process of teaching teachers to teach teachers.”

    “What happens to the young man who comes to the university to learn his craft as a composer? …if he has any luck, we can call him a survivor.”

    -Morton Feldman

    I suppose I am in a most tentative of positions, as I am about a month away from graduating from grad school myself.

  2. Bob Gilmore says

    I’d be interested to know who was on his/her list of the composers who are getting a lot of attention. Even (to my mind) very fine composers working today get shockingly few performances (if we discount a tiny handful, Reich, JC Adams et al). And hardly anybody writes about their work. I think academia has a lot to answer for in this and other respects.

    KG replies: He didn’t say, but I had my own guesses, whom I will refrain from mentioning.