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Dvorak Teacher-Training

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  1. Greetings, Joe! It’s been a long time since we read Beethoven violin sonatas together. Your Dvorak project looks important, and I will recommend to a colleague that she apply to the NEH-Pitt institute.
    Through your work you are trying to stop the decline of our culture by fostering the conditions whereby new composition (in music, and in other fields) is part of, and draws from, but yet transcends and adds to, that culture, with no arbitrary prejudices as to what may be drawn upon from that culture.
    I particularly like the Dvorak idea because his goal was not to foster the writing of glorified folk music, but rather was to foster the writing of American art music (as he knew it in his time and place) that Americans would love and find essential to their lives. Perhaps you know how much he was, or was not, acquainted with American composers like Foote or MacDowell or Beach or Chadwick, and perhaps he made remarks about some of them. From my knowledge of them I would have to agree that there was a problem with their music “connecting to” much of an audience apart from the northeast coast upper classes that could afford to maintain their European connections via the “grand tour” or via European-trained professors.
    It is possible, however, that Dvorak did NOT know of the actually beautiful compositions that were being written and had been written by these composers and many others. (I would argue that these pieces deserve preservation in the active repertoire of orchestras and ensembles and choruses for that reason–their beauty–alone.) On this point, it is crucial to note that a work of art grows old only if that beauty ceases to be realizable in that work. As long as there be a performer who can render that beauty (and the mental-spiritual-emotional life of it), and there be a new listener to experience it for the first time, then one can say that the piece is as if born again, and has transcended its time and place of origin.
    Two brief anecdotes relating to the above: In the early 1980′s while doing orchestral playing at Lincoln Center (NYC), during a break I walked to the top floor of the NYPL Performing Arts Library into a sizeable room FILLED with the scores of composers of ‘American’ music. I was shocked to think that I, a graduate-level student of music, knew so little of this American history in my chosen field. This set me onto a course of exploration that culminated in a concert and a modest amount of teaching on the subject.
    2nd anecdote: For anyone going to Pittsburgh, drop in at the University of Pitt library and ask to see the collection of–you guessed it, not Stephen Foster [whom I do admire], but an obscure, American, strictly-classical composer–one Fidelis Zitterbart (1848-1914; his grandson is a professor of piano at Carnegie Melon). This fiddler was probably the most prolific of American composers: more that 1400 scores in that library. And probably generally a mediocre composer who wrote way too much too hastily. But he continues to be left out of the Grove Dictionary of American Music. Isn’t that telling?

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