What a good time I had in Kentucky!
Yes, I hated to leave my new baby, but before he blessed my life I’d been invited to the University of Kentucky, and because the baby’s not-schedulable arrival meant I kept hassling the date of my visit, I couldn’t see canceling.
Besides, life goes on. So there I was, Friday and Saturday at the University of Kentucky, giving a talk on the Rey M. Longyear Lecture Series, about the future of classical music. And visiting for quite a while with students from a seminar on music criticism taught by Lance Brunner, my fun and gracious host during my visit.
And, really — what a good time I had. Smart students, lively, personable, full of ideas and questions. And a school of music full of surprises, one of which (at least for me) was how visible ethnomusicology is. Or was that just because of the people I met? One of them was Ron Pen, coordinator of the Division of Musicology and Ethnomusicology and Director of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music. (If you go to his website, add a Santa Claus beard to the photo you’ll see.) Here he is, running the department (and the lecture series), and his interests range far from classical music.
As do Lance’s, since (among much else) he goes around the world teaching meditation. Often I’ve learned how provincial those of us from big cities can be. And this trip was another lesson. Here I am in Lexington, KY, meeting people better traveled and more cosmopolitan than I usually meet, full of talk about hiking in Kyrgyzstan, and hosting visitors from Central Asia.
Which doesn’t even get to how well Lance juggles, or…well, let’s leave it at that. Everyone I talked to, especially the students, was full of hope and ideas for the future of classical music, and just about everyone (as far as I can see) would welcome tremendous change. Along the lines we talk about here in this blog, as many students I met were quick to say.
A couple of snapshots:
How wonderful, in a big conversation about music criticism, to have a musician from the Lexington Philharmonic, whose concert (well, half of it — I needed some rest) I’d heard the night before. (And it was good — another thing we in big cities may not understand is how good the smaller orchestras can be.) Readers of my voluminous posts about orchestra culture may remember how quick orchestra musicians are to criticize conductors. This musician was no exception, and very pointedly asked how often critics realized how little a conductor might be doing, how often orchestras save conductors from major mistakes, and, generally, how much of what we hear in a concert might come from the orchestra, not (and often in spite of) the conductor.
A thoughtful voice student told me that the peak of her operagoing experience was Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner, with a libretto by Toni Morrison. This singer loves the familiar operas (as I do). But to see an opera about our own culture, our own history, our own world — that energized her. And she wants more. She wouldn’t (if I dare speak for her) disagree at all when I say that classical music has to function not just as history, not just as scholarship, not just as a museum, but as a contemporary art, if it’s going to survive.
But, sigh. Those are theories, those thoughts, as I’ve just stated them. It’s a thousand times more powerful to find the same idea expressed with no punditry from someone on fire with the reality behind the ideas. Which humbles and inspires me.
Many thanks to everyone I met, and especially to Lance. Hope I go back there someday soon!
And special thanks to the student, who eagerly asked me to post more baby photos. Jenny, this one’s for you!