Echoes Among the Young

From my minimalism seminar, I received analysis papers on Reich’s Double Sextet, Dan Becker’s Gridlock, Rzewski’s Coming Together, Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and Fratres, Laurie Spiegel, and Mikel Rouse’s Dennis Cleveland. My 20th/21st-century history class yielded papers on Ives; Laurie Anderson; Julius Eastman (an analysis of Evil Nigger); a comparison of Emeralds, Eliane Radigue, and La Monte Young as drone groups/composers; Steve Reich (by a kid who had sworn he had no interest in minimalism); Cage as postmodernist; Henry Flynt and Milton Babbitt compared (!); and text usage in Schoenberg, Berio, and Ashley. I have certainly taught my share of Beethoven, 19th-century, and Renaissance counterpoint classes, but I spent this semester doing what I spent my life training to do, which is an opportunity not to be sneezed at.

It is instructive and often gratifying to see what my students choose to write about, for I give them wide latitude. That their choices show evidence of my influence is rarely the correct assumption. When I started to bring up Becker’s Gridlock, the student who wrote that paper instantly begged me not to analyze the piece in class, because he had his heart set on writing his final paper about it. The violinist who wrote about Coming Together had played in it many times before taking my class. Henry Flynt was not someone I had thought of mentioning. Two students in the history class brought up Julius Eastman before I did, and regaled me with the story of how he took off a man’s clothes during a performance of Cage’s Songbooks; I enjoyed responding, “Yeah, I was there.” Some of them harbor their own obsessions with exactly the history of music I’m most involved with, and I can’t always tell how much they connect me with it. It is certainly reassuring, though, to see young people independently attaching tremendous importance to the same things that were important to me.


  1. says

    Not a surprise that they like it, Kyle. For years I did the same thing, teaching Romanticism and the serial music of Benjamin Britten (ick!) because that’s what paid the bills. But my course in the aesthetics and linguistics of experimental notation was a great hit, despite being rescheduled at different levels (all the second-year students who wanted it when they got to third year found it to be a second year course when they got there), unpopular times (early, early!), and impossible venues (except for one year this, the only musicology course with an inherent performance component, was scheduled in a small table-filled seminar room). Those students who vaulted these hurdles loved the course, as I adored teaching it, but it was considered by the department to be unimportant and unpopular.

    KG replies: Sorry, one trivial detail caught my attention: serial music of Britten? Isn’t that just Cantata Academica? It’s my favorite piece of his (and he’s not one of my favorite composers).

    • Virginia Anderson says

      No,Turn of the Screw, believe it or not…not my idea.

      KG replies: I did not know that. I seem to get around to every composer eventually (on Reynaldo Hahn at the moment), so I’ll probably get around to him.

  2. says

    I had also come to many of my listening preferences before I first encountered your work in your reviews for the Chicago Reader. What I found then and still find to be at least mostly true now is that your interests and and your analyses tend to parallel and validate many of my own perspectives on new music. And while there are not many people like you in the world I find a sufficiently comforting number of parallel taste streams to encourage me to pursue new music with the added dimension of not being completely alone in my tastes. Those similarities though, are what keeps me interested in your blog and current interests.
    I wonder how many students come to your class because they want to take a class with “that Kyle Gann guy”. I probably would.

    KG replies: Thanks, Allan. I, too, run across someone (like you) every now and then who validates most of my tastes and opinions, while still being reminded by colleagues on a weekly basis that my entire area of expertise is beneath the radar of the mainstream composition world. I suppose maybe everyone gets some kind of similar continuous mixed signal from their professional sphere. Elliott Carter must have been aware that his music wasn’t universally admired.