Please don’t read this unless you read me regularly. I had gotten my blog readership down to about 150, 200 hits a day, and the commenters are almost all regulars, and I’m comfortable with that, because I can’t explain my entire philosophy of life in every post. But for some inscrutable reason my recent anecdote about a student composer concert took off like wildfire, and was read by thousands of people. I always noticed, as a critic, that people have an amazing capacity to convince themselves, when they read something, that it says what they expect it to say rather than what it actually says. I could get bawled out for positive reviews and thanked for negative ones, and was frequently challenged to defend opinions I didn’t hold and had never uttered. It’s the strangest feeling. On top of that, one says things in a blog, inevitably, that, taken out of context by people who don’t follow your monthly monologue, are easily misconstrued.
And so after a concert of pieces that were mostly pretty similar in style, some colleagues made a big deal about how diverse the music was, and I reflected that their frame of reference for new music must be vastly narrower than mine, for them to think that. A friend suggested that the music was influenced by Hollywood; that hadn’t occurred to me, and I thought it interesting enough to report as an anecdote. So it subsequently whirls around the internet that I hate film music and consider it a terrible influence. In reality, I barely think about film music. Maybe ten percent of what I hear I like, ten percent I don’t, and the rest I don’t notice. I would certainly never generalize about it as a genre. You can look through my six books, my 3500-plus articles, and my 1500-plus blog posts, and you will not find a single general disparagement of film music, or Hollywood, nor any strong opinion expressed about it. When students say, “That sounds like film music,” I don’t even know what they mean. How does one “sound like film music”? But a friend of mine said the word “Hollywood” and I reported it, and suddenly I am the great hater of film music, and look down my nose at all young composers who imitate it. Imagine how much slush from your own subconscious you would have to pour into someone else’s 116-word blog post to decide that Kyle Gann is contemptuous of film music and its cheapening influence – after Kyle Gann has published more than four million words without ever expressing a general opinion on the subject. I have to think that all those people secretly consider film music a guilty pleasure, and so they’re constantly on the lookout for intellectuals who despise film music so they can complain about them. In short, I must have inadvertently touched a nerve.
Likewise, people crap all over me for complaining that postminimalist music is neglected, because the word is used, when used at all, in a very loose sense. I use it only in a very strict sense, and since I’ve written the major articles about it, I’ve decided that I know what I’m talking about. When I write for readerships outside this blog I make sure I define the term and the repertoire I intend for it specifically, but I can’t go through all that every time I use the word. Those who read me regularly know what I’m referring to. Also, I have lamented that musicologists neglect new music because they’re all doing gender studies – leading some to make fun of me as an old fogey who’s threatened by gender issues, when in fact I had been cheerleading for gender studies from the moment they started appearing. What I typically object to is everyone doing the same thing.
I did express an opinion that musical ideology, which is generally frowned upon these days, has a close association with musical diversity, which is considered an unalloyed blessing. I was praising diversity, which I thought would be uncontroversial, and lamenting its absence, while trying to rehabilitate ideology, which I consider not as horrible a thing as people today think. It may be an odd opinion – I’ve never run across it in anyone else’s writings – and so, being unexpected and not the kind of thing people say, no one picked up on it. People expect music professors to disdain film music and complain about their students, and I had written some sentences which, hastily read and without knowledge of my general principles, could be easily twisted into that caricature for a satisfying “Gotcha!” moment. And quite a few people did so, in comments here and elsewhere on the internet.
The human race is filled with individuals who simmer with resentment toward certain injustices they see in the world, and their sense of outrage is easily triggered by a sentence or two that appears to imply, or at least not to contradict, some nefarious opinion they’re on the lookout against. I’m not claiming that I’m an exception, but I do avoid commenting on other people’s web sites except to be supportive. Those who don’t know what I’m about are welcome to my books, but I would rather they ignore my blog.
UPDATE 12.23.15: I recalled today that I used to teach suspensions in Theory 1 with Randy Edelman’s film score for Gettysburg, in my own transcription, so I’m on record as not trying to shield them from the genre. I always liked giving the impression that music theory was something you might be able to make money with.</i>