Good time in Kentucky

University of Kentucky

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!

 

Rafa in his bouncy seat

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Comments

  1. says

    More baby photos! Had I known you were going to still be at UK on Saturday I would have made the relatively short drive down to meet you! Glad your trip and short residency went well. I’m really curious to meet Ron and Lance–thanks for the comments about them!

    One of my chamber music partners plays in the Lex Phil–I completely forget they had a concert this weekend.

    If you do make it back down there (or anywhere in the tri-state area–Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana) please let me know–only just saw your update on facebook but was out of town most of the weekend anyway.

    • says

      This is what I get for not announcing these trips in advance! Looking forward to meeting you sometime soon, Jon. I think you’d like the Kentucky people. And maybe also something I said in my talk. Said that calling the study of western classical music “musicology,” while labeling the music of the rest of the world mere “ethnomusicology” is like the old days of my childhood, when a pink crayon in the Crayola box was called “Flesh color.”

  2. says

    Said that calling the study of western classical music “musicology,” while labeling the music of the rest of the world mere “ethnomusicology” is like the old days of my childhood, when a pink crayon in the Crayola box was called “Flesh color.”

    Excellent! My wife got a set of the recent prang crayons–the “Skin Tones of the World” set–I remember the “flesh color” Crayola while I was in grade school and always thought it was an odd name! Really wish I could have heard your talk, but glad you had a wonderful time at UK!

  3. Paul Lindemeyer says

    “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.”

    As a midwesterner who served his time in New York, I look at it this way:

    Europe, and everything European or European-influenced from the 19th and 20th centuries, still belongs to New York. Why? Because it still resonates best in New York – home of refugees in an era when civilized folk badly needed refuge. The connections to the rest of the USA never got made.

    But the rest of the world? That’s up for grabs. The rules, the easy old familiarities, don’t apply.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>