Here I am, the third-string composition teacher at a small undergraduate college. I write uncontroversial, peer-reviewed books about Nancarrow, Cage, Ashley, Ives, three of whom are dead. I never sit on the Guggenheim committee, the Fromm commission committee, the Pulitzer committee, and I can count the prize committees I’ve been on with less than one hand: the Grawemeyer one year, and no one I voted for won; the Herb Alpert Award about ten years ago; and the ASCAP Young Composer Awards about 18 years ago. I used to be a music critic and have some influence over people’s careers, but that was years ago, and I closed up my dwindling shop in 2005. I’m in two small musicological organizations, the Charles Ives Society and the Society for Minimalist Music, neither of which plays any role in the composition world, and in neither of which I wield any power. I amuse myself by restoring the occasional forgotten composition to the repertoire. My music isn’t played often. The only current outlet for my opinions is this blog, which has been mostly inactive these many months. In short, if you listed all the people who have power over what happens in the world of new-music composition and performance, you would list hundreds and hundreds of people before you came to me, if indeed you ever did.
My views on composition are heterodox and far outside the mainstream of what most composers believe these days. And yet when I express those views, some people become absolutely livid and write in to damn me and tell me what a horrible person I am, expending tremendous emotional energy as if I must be stopped at all costs. People gather at composers’ web sites to bewail my pernicious opinions. And the only possible explanation I can think of, that makes any sense, is that I am hitting a nerve – that I am telling a truth that someone doesn’t want to think about. Because unless I am persuasive solely because I am right, why would anybody in the world give a damn what I think?
UPDATE: One thing that no one has mentioned about my nefarious academic/professional post, which has some people clutching their pearls, is that I gave the new-music community a free lesson in how to write more effectively. No one thanks me (well, one commenter slyly alluded to it), but I bet that some of the people who think I’m the Snidely Whiplash of composition will not be too proud to avail themselves of my suggestions. I hope so, I’d like to see more fluent writing in the new-music discourse.