Unanticipated Claim to Fame

Holy shit. Critic Steve Smith of the Times has proclaimed Dennis Johnson’s November, which I reconstructed and Andrew Lee recorded on Irritable Hedgehog, as the number one best classical recording of 2013. Of all of the ventures I’ve taken on in my life, I would not have picked this one to garner as much public resonance as it’s received. I was talking to my good friend, radio personality, and songwriter extraordinaire David Garland about it recently, and pointed out that I had also resurrected Harold Budd’s Children on a Hill, which is incredibly beautiful. “Incredibly beautiful by itself is never enough,” he said. There’s something about Dennis Johnson being an underappreciated underdog, he thought, that made a story that resonates with people. It’s not just that November‘s a wonderful piece, but that it disappeared for fifty years, that it anticipated so many of aspects of minimalism, and that Dennis didn’t get credit for all that. The public (and critics) don’t just want great music, they want a stunning narrative to go with it. If I go down in history as primarily the resurrector of November, I will be very disappointed, but it will make a certain kind of sense.

[I should clarify that while Steve Smith does write for the Times, this particular list appeared in Time Out.]


  1. says

    “The public (and critics) don’t just want great music, they want a stunning narrative to go with it.”

    This is, of course, because it is part of being human. Although I can’t remember the exact dialogue, in the film biography of Ray Charles he was asked why a great R & B singer was going to record country songs. He replied by explaining that country songs had great stories and people like stories.
    Narratives are a part of marketing and communicating with others. Just before Christmas I did a recital of Christmas music and preceded each piece with a story. Whether it was explaining the words to Veni, Veni, Emmanuel or describing how the singer, who popularised one song, had to move out of London as a small child because of the London smog (the entire audience lived in London and many remember the smog), the stories made the recital successful. Many people commented on how much they liked the introductions.
    Programme notes and spoken introductions are a wonderful way of relating to the audience and inviting them into the music by telling stories. Classical composers seem to make life hard for both themselves and their audience, and I can never understand why inviting people into your sound world is an anathema to so many creative people.
    The reason your blog is so successful and interesting, I believe, is because you combine in depth knowledge and research with good stories and well-thought out personal opinions – such as the story behind November.

  2. says

    What makes it heroic and memorable is precisely that it was a labor of love that anticipated no return. Congratulations to you, to Andy, and to David and the Hedgehog.

    KG replies: But that’s true of everything we do except teach, n’est-ce pas?

  3. says

    Do you really mean to say that when you finish a piece you don’t expect it to earn you a Pulitzer, a MacArthur, and the Nobel Peace prize?

    KG replies: These days I don’t even expect it to earn a performance.

  4. stevemoshier.com says

    Narratives take all the fun out of listening BUT “Art by Committee” types love them. Thanks for the resurrection Kyle; Happy New Year!

  5. says

    The only thing that really amazed me about the resurrection of the Dennis Johnson piece is that it took so long to find someone with the vision, the connections and the skills to make it happen. It is a significant work in the development of music that stands on its own as a living performance piece.
    Now I’m waiting for someone to record your Harold Budd transcription.