Getting Great Skills

Getting Great Skills

It’s probably been discussed on these pages before, but now that friends of mine are actually starting to hold down faculty positions in respectable music departments around the country, it makes me wonder: What are they actually teaching? With no disrespect to my own teachers, who will always have a special place in my heart, I don’t think I learned much about composition during all those one-on-one sessions. Composition professors are more like therapists than anything else. They may help students forge personal strategies for coping with whatever musical dilemmas one may encounter, and possibly boost the overall confidence level of a budding young artist; but teach the art of writing music? I don’t think so.

Through individual mentoring, I’ve met some amazing teachers. Although I didn’t spend all that much time with them, I know that folks like Brain Ferneyhough and Kevin Volans have shaped my musical thinking to some extent, but I can’t put a finger on anything in particular. For sure my long stint studying with Alvin Curran manifests itself in my music in some way, shape, or form. But again, I don’t know how. Moreover, if I were to land an academic job—not bloody likely—what the hell would I have to offer besides my idiosyncratic first-hand knowledge of the bizarre little world of modern composition? Perhaps that’s all that teachers really impart: Simply their very own über-specific, personal take on things.

I remember back in my grad school days, visiting artists—such as Lou Harrison and Eliane Radigue—had a shamanistic air about them. They weren’t on campus very long, so the expectation of learning anything was all but absent. It was a simple matter of basking in someone’s aura or getting a glimpse of what these composers were like as people. I was lucky as a young composer to have several interactions with a wide range of composers. After my first of three private lessons with Toshio Hosokawa, the composer asked me in his soft voice, “Is it too late for you to study something else in school?” At the time, I was irked, but obviously he must have felt that he was giving me the best advice possible. Could I be so brave if I were in the same position?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

36 thoughts on “Getting Great Skills

  1. david toub

    As far as I’m concerned, all anyone can teach anybody about composition is the mechanics (theory, counterpoint, how to orchestrate, notation, etc.). They can’t teach anything whatsoever about composition itself. That’s like how an art teacher can lecture all he or she wants about colors, material science, anatomy, etc. but can’t teach any student anything about how to actually paint something worthwhile.

    No disrespect to teachers whatsoever, but no one can really teach any art, music or poetry. All they can possibly hope to teach are practical elements. And even if someone says “Well, composition teachers are invaluable for providing critical feedback,” then I’m not sure what differentiates a composition teacher from a critic or the average listener. Again, none of this actually teaches anything about how to write music.

  2. Daniel Wolf

    I have to disagree with my colleague David Toub altogether. With a bit of discipline, anyone can teach themselves technique or “mechanics”, and as useful as any particular skill may be, these are only as good as the attitude and ideas they are used to support.

    A good composition teacher — to borrown a phrase from the poet Charles Olson — teaches posture. Maybe not from explicit instruction, but by providing an example: “Here, I have worked with these materials and techniques and found my own way of using them to articulate my ideas.” The critique of a practitioner is necessarily of a different order than that of a critic or lay person because it is directed not at the finished product, but at the whole process of composition, and that includes the process through which the composer identifies and personalizes each of the materials and techniques (s)he brings to the work. This personalization, through which the composer publicly identifies her/himself with the work, is posture.

  3. JKG

    You have been fortunate…
    indeed if any of you have had the pleasure of studying with someone who truly mentored you. Allegedly, gone are the days when a composition professor would be so closed-minded as to insist their students write in atonal or serial styles, but frankly nothing could be further from the truth. While tonal and world music systems are in fact tolerated more in most schools, the elitist view towards an analytical music whose fabric is based upon verifiable, objective analysis still finds greater sway in many institutions around the country. In some instances, a person still cannot pull together a degree unless they submit to writing in mannerist styles, even if they are spiritually and aesthetically opposed to the foundations of such thinking. Why is this? I suspect strongly that, since “intellectual” music requires more analysis than artistic taste, it is possible for a person to become a composition professor without much real talent to begin with. There still exist plenty of schools where the notion exists that only backwards composers use tonal materials. It is ridiculous to me when some try to say the days of an elitist, mannerist tyranny within academia are over. No one wants to admit to it, least of all the tyrants – lest they be revealed for the fakes they really are.

  4. Daniel Wolf

    JKG — I have recently encountered many stories about young composers who find themselves in conflict with their teachers, and find this more than a bit strange.

    In the market of potential composition teachers, all other things being equal, it is the consumer, the student, who definitely has the edge. Back in the middle Pleistocene, when I was considering schools, I made a point of finding those with composers whose work interested me, and with whom, following an interview, it seemed we could work well together. If it had not worked out well, I would not have hesistated to go elsewhere and find another teacher. But now, I have heard one story after another about students sticking it out in – to me – impossible situations: the kid who studied with Elliot Carter but wanting to write minimal or tonal music, or the one whose compositions were blacklisted by the performance faculty at the suggestion of his own composition teacher.

    While I do realize that there are some composers who compose out of their conflicts, and even thrive in such near-masochistic environments, I just don’t get it. My own teachers did have problems with their teachers (just imagine a classroom occupied by both Seymore Schifrin and La Monte Young), but I had naively assumed that those days were gone. Maybe, coming out of the left coast, I just don’t get a lot of these things, but I am genuinely curious about the impulse that would keep a young composer in such a situation. Does the “prestige” of the institution,be it Harvard or Julliard, overwhelm the awfullness of the teachers? It is just a matter of scholarships and local residency requirements? Or do young composers not inform themselves before choosing their schools?

  5. JKG

    A curt answer…
    In almost all cases, the student chose the school because it was convenient, or the school the family most related to. Your method for locating a school was smart, yet many students are constrained by other factors, such as income. Which is sad, because in many cases entire careers have been trainwrecked thanks to meanspirited “professors” of nothing but ill will. Those who are composers at heart always stick it out regardless; there’s nothing a little autodidactism won’t cure. Bot no – no one reasonably starts out with a masochistic bent. One does begin with an optimistic one, which makes the killing off of music careers all the more poignant. It is a real problem, and one that won’t go away until the tyrants are both exposed and thrown out of places of authority, where they have no business to begin with.

  6. amc654

    We’ve already gone around and around about this, JKG, but I just want to reiterate that your image of university composition departments is gruesomely, woefully out of date. If anything, I would suggest that the current climate has reversed 180 degrees from the one you describe, at least as far as general tendencies go. At all the “big name” programs in the country, musical conservatism reigns. And, to put an even finer point on it, there is a clear emphasis towards tonal thinking (with all that might imply). I can count on perhaps one hand the number of places where one could be supported in writing legitimately “mannerist” work.

    On the other hand, I also want to make it as clear as possible that there are indeed (!!) programs across the country where there are not dominant styles, where composition professors see their job as supporting a young composer’s individual voice, whatever that voice might be. I find myself privileged to work at such an institution; I was lucky to attend such institutions as a student; several of the folks who post on this site regularly can, I’m sure, say the same. I was hugely grateful to have graduate student colleagues who were writing work vastly different from my own (and all vastly different from each other’s!). Amongst my colleagues, we had people writing graphical scores, music exploring new realms of microtonality, modal heterophonic music, pretty music, ugly music, music w/ clear harmonic languages, music with none, music w/ crazy rhythms, music in nothing but whole notes …..

    I’m very sorry to know that your experiences were so negative (I’m fairly sure I’ve asked b/f for you to reveal a bit more about your background, as this would be extremely (!) useful in contextualizing your comments), but rest assured, the situation you describe, with domineering professors pushing a particular stylistic voice, if it does still exist, certainly seems to exist in support of the music you seem to most enjoy. I can think of exactly two professors in the US who still push serial techniques above all else. Surely there are others, but I can think of several dozen who only support neo-tonal, neo-Romantic work.

    As a reply to Randy, David, _and_ Daniel … I disagree w/ you all, to a certain extent. I think it is indeed possible, if difficult (and rare), to teach composition, and, more to the point, to “teach” (not really the right word, perhaps) a student how to develop their own path, their own materials, their own tools, and their own language. Much of the approach, I think, has primarily to do w/ listening more than talking, by asking lots of questions, by nudging from behind (cattle herder style) rather than by pulling or guiding or leading (lemming style). I think there is a certain amount of modeling involved, as Daniel suggests, but I think it’s perhaps a more abstract thing. It’s about demonstrating a certain enthusiasm, or a certain approach to scholarship/investigation/curiosity. I think that’s probably part of the larger question of JKG’s post, as well: what I try to do w/ my own students is to get them to really probe, investigate, dig, explore, etc. their own materials, their own interests, etc. I want only for them to be thorough and honest about those investigations. And, to that end, I actually try -not- to teach what some above have called “technique,” largely b/c I think one’s compositional toolbox has to emerge out of one’s own interaction with material (in all its facets).

    Also, I’d be interested to hear more about this whole question of why students choose particular institutions. I chose Buffalo largely b/c of the quality of the students I saw coming out of there over a 3-4 yr period. I loved that they were all writing very good and very diverse music, so I figured someone on the faculty was doing something right. (He was! And still is!) (It didn’t hurt that they offered me a pile of money.) Anyhow, I have a much less cynical view of the application process, and I trust that the majority of those who apply to study at Northwestern have some sense of what they’re getting themselves into … who the faculty are, who the students are, what sorts of courses we offer, etc., etc.

    Enough. Back to enjoying the Colorado snow ….

  7. amc654

    (I did indeed enjoy the financial support at Buffalo, thanks JKG. It made it possible to live comfortably, write a lot, teach some classes, and travel for performances while still a student. (And by “pile of money,” I do of course mean that in the most relative sense. It was nice funding for a PhD program; it was still peanuts, in the grand scheme of things.))

  8. Kyle Gann

    All my life I’ve searched for a composer who would admit to not being completely open-minded – never met one. The best you can say is that the conservative/radical continuum is a long, long sliding scale. My composition-teaching colleagues, all older than I, all claim to be completely open-minded, to allow any kind of music. Some of their students complain to me that they aren’t allowed to write the kind of music they want. I have trouble parsing such remarks. Maybe they’re trying to write trivial, dull music, and the teacher insists on improving it. More likely, I suspect, is that they’re trying to write diatonic music and the teacher insists on more harmonic variety. When I hear the same specific complaint over many years’ worth of students – “Professor X won’t allow any music with a steady beat” – I start to believe it despite the teacher’s vociferous denials. There are many kinds and degrees of pressure brought to bear, from cancelling a performance to a simple glance of disapproval. Some professors take pencil and write notes into the students’ score, which I try never to do unless some small improving touch is too obvious to overlook. Many increases in complexity and variety are urged in the name of “professionalism.” “It has nothing to do with style, your music just isn’t professional enough.”

    I myself reached a limit recently. A student started an orchestra piece entirely in whole-note triads. I nixed it not because I thought what he was doing was invalid, but because I knew that, had I submitted that piece to the orchestra, there might have been another movement to revoke my composition-teaching privileges, which has happened before (I’m officially the theory professor). I told him, “Save the Arvo Pärt spirituality stuff for later, after you’ve earned it.” So when I see JKG say, It is ridiculous to me when some try to say the days of an elitist, mannerist tyranny within academia are over – the choices that flash through my mind are, 1. maybe JKG’s a cantankerous malcontent; 2. maybe he’s writing my type of music; or, 3. maybe he simply hasn’t had any better luck in academia than average.

  9. JKG

    Maybe, maybe, maybe…
    Hi Kyle, in the interest of leaving little if any doubt about any of the three prospects you mentioned, I will give a brief answer to each: (1) I am most certainly a cantankerous malcontent, particularly when others insist to me such and such a music is wonderful and upon listening to it it sounds like warmed over crap, (2) it is possinle I write your type of music, assuming I am not altogther provencial for your tastes and you happen to admire traditional forms and Nielsen-type global tonalties, and (3) if I had bad luck in college, it is likely because the one school I yearned to graduate from turned out to be one where Webern was quite literally worshipped as a god; I think he’s a very interesting composer, yet I leave to others the honor of emulating him – I have no such neccessity or interest. Please do not think me a sourpuss on every level, because frankly I’m a pretty blessed soul for beauty and a life poetic. What irks me is that a fringe few still exists to try to dominate the aesthetic experience at large, and they do so in the name of their dubious academic credentials. There should be something published on the internet where a student could go and choose a composition program which was plain in its expectation of traditional versus radical output. Unfortunately, the radicals have scant interest in such a publication, as it would largely ruin their recruitment efforts, thus threatening their livelihoods (as well it should). Vested interests? Hmmm… And to say those days are over where a student isn’t bullied into writing in styles that mean nothing to him is just plain stupid – there are still many schools which insist on experimentalism as its general modus operandi – after all, how much real talent does it take to be analytical to begin with? Thus it is some professors become composition teachers without ever having written a single meaningful musical note in their entire lives (except to themselves and a few chosen family and friends). Those are the folks who should be run out of the music department – maybe they could teach acoustics in the physics department?

  10. philmusic

    Hey Kyle–you never asked me! But then again, I’d probably admit to anything for a price!

    Oh–didn’t Babbitt teach Soundheim? I know I know he was forced to eat that 12-tone cereal every day for breakfast! Crunch-a-lishlicious!

    Phil’s Page

  11. JKG

    Secret desires…
    Yes, much has been made of Babbitt’s secret desire to write show tunes. I always wondered why he didn’t. Was it because he lacked the talent? If not, I’d be happy to listen to a song by Uncle Miltie.

  12. Daniel Wolf

    JKG: Babbitt’s Three Theatrical Songs, the remains of a musical based upon the Odyssey and written as a vehicle for Mary Martin, are published by C.F. Peters. Judge for yourself.

  13. Colin Holter

    I love how he writes showtunes for Mary Martin and has them published under the completely inert name “Three Theatrical Songs.” The middle of the twentieth century called: They want their boring-ass title back.

  14. pgblu

    Pie in the sky
    “There should be something published on the internet where a student could go and choose a composition program which was plain in its expectation of traditional versus radical output.”

    I don’t know if there is a -central- resource for such programs, it’s true. But some programs do try to recruit students by offering courses in so-called ‘traditional composition.’

    One example I can wholeheartedly recommend is the University of Oregon in Eugene. Professor Robert Kyr teaches there, and while he works in a broad range of fairly traditional styles (so we’re clear on what that means: a style in which one can clearly discern the specific criteria of established musical idioms (e.g. isorhythmic motets, sonata form, etc), and that to a very refined degree in Prof. Kyr’s case), he is very knowledgeable about all sorts of music, a great all-around musician, and, from my own all-too-brief experience with him, he seems to have a very open mind. His students love him and swear by him.

    But I’m just citing him as ONE particularly memorable example. Can anyone else cite counter-examples to JKG’s allegations? Now would be the time. Prof. Kyr is not the only one.

  15. pgblu

    “And to say those days are over where a student isn’t bullied into writing in styles that mean nothing to him is just plain stupid – there are still many schools which insist on experimentalism as its general modus operandi – after all, how much real talent does it take to be analytical to begin with?”

    As for this comment, some students are uninterested in experimental styles, true, while others are uninterested in writing fugues, etc. If they are ”bullied” into trying these techniques out, then it may just be good for them. Depends what is meant by bullying. If it’s just applying standards that are not the student’s own standards, then I can’t really say I object. The student should award him/herself a degree if he/she feels like s/he’s being bullied.

    Writing good twelve-tone music is hard, writing music in the style of Mozart is hard, and writing a fugue is hard too. And analysis is also difficult, especially when it’s more than just writing Roman Numerals or identifying a development section…

    The alternative to bullying is not traditionalism, but rather the laissez-faire attitude, which is not an education, really, but rather playground supervision. I know that when I was an undergraduate, I did things I didn’t want to do, and initially didn’t see the point of doing (e.g., writing a minuet with a given phrase structure and modulation scheme). But I didn’t go so far as to claim I was being bullied.

  16. JKG

    Wooley bullie…
    Yes, we must all avoid generalizations, even if there is a tendencey to interpret some things as generalized when they aren’t (a further type of value judgment). I must check out Kyr and will attempt corresponding with him. I believe students are best served if they are given good reasons for finding themselves musically, which is hardly an advanced form of playground supervision. In fact, the very tyranny of a pedagogy which allows for everything at the expense of individuality says more about the vacuity of the teacher’s outlook than anything else (so much for inclusivity and political correctness). If we make music in our own image, then what would it mean to say some folks are brazenly superficial, and only capable of producing superficial art? These are the types which have no business teaching, at any level – and yet, for lack f any talent save mediocrity, they are precisely the one’s whose infighting helps to produce faux authority in the music world to begin with. The are critics who are not immune to same allegations of spiritual and aesthetic rottenness from within. It is important for all of us, especially students, to be able to steer clear of such types. If mannerist technique has anything to offer, it should be made plain to everyone for their use. Of course, then there’s the Darnstadtlers (Boulez et al) whose goal was to produce a music which could not be used for national propagande as in the case of Wagner and the Nazis. Thats a novel idea, Pierre – let’s create a music NO ONE listens to!

  17. pgblu

    By the way, something’s been bugging me. Randy, do you really consider Hosokawa’s comment to have been brave? It may have taken bravery for YOU to say something so callous to a young composer, but coming from a composer of such stature it strikes me as almost an act of cowardice. Bravery and “nerve” are two very different things.
    Either way, I for one am glad you stuck with it.

  18. jdescherer

    I think you put your finger on exactly why I enjoyed my studies at Buffalo, even without piles of money to grease the wheels…

    The individual studies, and the coursework certainly educated me, but it was interaction with the other students that frequently gave me the courage to incorporate new ideas into my writing. Having completed my undergraduate and masters level studies within the ‘bubbles’ of smaller liberal arts college, I found that the variety of ideas, opinions and influences of my colleagues at UB to be extremely exhilerating.

  19. amc654

    Either way, I for one am glad you stuck with it.

    Me too! (Your music’s a heck of a lot more compelling than Toshio’s!)

    That said, I think I disagree w/ PGB a bit. While it may not be “brave” to do so, I wish more composition instructors were willing to challenge their students directly. There are times when “are you sure you’re in the right field” is exactly the right thing to say, even when (or especially when?), as in Randy’s case, it results in even more conviction and determination.

    My best lesson I ever had as a student came that same week at Royaumont, actually. BF looked at me and, quite sternly & w/ not a small bit of anger, it seemed (not in Hosokawa’s gentle, peaceful voice), said, “Look, Aaron, we don’t need another member of a ‘_school_.’ This isn’t your music.” Though there are those who would probably argue, that comment (which, btw, led to about an hour of sobbing off on some corner of the Royaumont grounds) changed my compositional life.

  20. pgblu

    Since you mention it
    Looking at where Randy was in 1999, it takes a particular amount of nerve and a good lack of imagination to suggest that he find another line of work — also considering Randy was accepted into the program, Hosokawa was obliged to consider him seriously, or at least to pretend to.

    And just like nerve is not the same as bravery, so a gentle voice is not incompatible with a sadistic streak.

  21. amc654

    I still disagree. I _completely_ agree w/ you that Toshio was dramatically off the mark (and, if anything, it illustrates to me all that’s wrong w/ his work), but I don’t think he was wrong for saying it. And I -do- think that what he said took a certain amount/form of bravery. It is far, far easier to go through the compositional motions … ‘this section needs to be shorter,’ ‘do you mean an F# here?’, ‘the flute is masked in this register’ … than it is to really engage something. And sometimes engaging work actually means saying, “look, I really think this is crap.” It’s then Randy’s job (I wonder if he’s actually reading any of this nonsense?) to take that statement and process it however he needs to.

    What is cowardly, in my view, is saying nothing, or, worse (far worse, I think), saying something half-assed. That Randy was accepted into the program isn’t any sort of reason for an instructor in that program to nod politely (or, to put a less cynical spin on it, to force him/herself to find all that is good/effective/interesting in Randy’s work and support that). I think the _worst_ thing a composition teacher can do is to “pretend” to do anything. That sets an awfully lousy example to his/her pupil.

    Along those lines, I can say anecdotally that all of the best (or, at the very least, the most -memorable-) lessons I’ve ever had have been ones where the teacher didn’t like what I was doing, for one reason or another.

  22. Colin Holter

    I’ve had lessons in which I know the teacher wanted to advise me to pursue another line of work, but nobody’s ever said it to my face.

  23. pgblu

    Not done yet
    Brave: “I am at a loss to help you. I don’t understand what you are trying to do. Your music means nothing to me. What are your influences and what do you intend to achieve?” If the student hems and haws about an answer, the message “Go study something else” starts to come through loud and clear. Works great if you want to interact with an adult.

    Callous and lazy: Is it too late for you to be studying something else?

    I hope the distinction between these approaches is clear. I am not even considering the possibility of saying something half-assed; I agree that that is unacceptable. I am sure that Randy is reading this ‘nonsense’, it’s pretty much right on the topic. That you call it nonsense in your faux self-deprecating way says a lot about _you_, since we’re now in the psychoanalysis mode.

    I jest, but only a little. I know you can take it.

  24. amc654

    That you call it nonsense in your faux self-deprecating way says a lot about _you_, since we’re now in the psychoanalysis mode.

    And where, Philipp, does that comment fall on your brave/callous/lazy spectrum?

    I ask not b/c my feelings were mildly hurt but b/c it is in fact your ability to be direct, to push through the facades and get to the heart of things (though, in this case, there was in fact no “faux” in the self-deprecation) and to voice your opinions rather directly that I most admire in you. (Your comments about my self-deprecating obfuscation in my discussions of my own work last spring, for example, meant quite a lot to me and have quite dramatically changed the way I try to talk about what I do and why I do it, and have also, in a less direct but no less important way, changed how I deal w/ talking about various sorts of challenging music in academic settings.)

    I mention it only b/c I still feel that my best lessons have come in situations where the instructor has been very direct and occasionally very harsh with me, times when the instructor said things that made me uncomfortable, upset, or even angry. (The tears at Royaumont, the time my score was chucked across the room in Buffalo, the time Evan & I were told that “people who write music like you have ears like old boots,” … those were the times when I really had to think carefully about what I do, why I do it, if I want to continue doing it, what the larger implications of that work might be. The lessons/masterclasses (especially masterclasses!) when we all just had a little chat, where I explained why I did what I did, where the instructor said, “well, it’s not really my thing, but … good luck w/ your music” were, on the whole, not worth the time and money.)

    And, to that end … what’s the next part of the interaction in your “adult” scenario when the student -doesn’t- hem and haw, when s/he has well-formed, reasonable, intelligent, and detailed answers for those questions? I think at that point we’re perhaps back to the same problem. We’re still left at a position where the instructor either has to be direct, voice his/her objections, or where s/he just sort of shrugs and we all just agree to disagree.

  25. pgblu

    I did step over a line, this being a public forum, but only because I know you well and everyone likes a little smoke as long as there isn’t a fire. We are colleagues (I like to think). This is not the same as a master teacher interacting with a student whom he doesn’t know very well (Hoso-Nord), so that analogy isn’t sticking.

    I definitely did not mean to hurt any feelings — I just didn’t understand why you posted something and then referred to it as nonsense, so I wanted to egg you (on).

    And thanks for explaining the boots quote. You’re a stronger man than I to put up with that.

  26. pgblu

    “When the student has well-informed, reasonable, intelligent, and detailed answers to those questions”, then it is time for the teacher to rethink their position, and start asking questions rather than making declarations. The questions will change one or the other mind, perhaps, as Socrates has taught us. At the end of the lesson, the teacher can still say it’s all horse pucky, but then at least something fruitful has taken place and money&time have not been spent for nothing.

    I emphasize that this is only if the student has an answer or can develop one in the course of more questions. If the student is reduced to helpless shrugging, then the message becomes clear without any browbeating. I am not objecting to a teacher being ruthless.

  27. JKG

    Ruthless teachers…
    Yes, I agree. I rather like it when a teacher sticks to his/her guns. Just as long as their actions and words are in synch and they don’t become pedantic (and obviously jealous) with their students. Nothing like having to answer to a spinelss bully who detests the talent of others. It is only true in SOME cases (so don’t go off the deep end anyone), yet I think for the lame-assed education some composers have gotten, they should SUE TO GET THEIR MONEY BACK. God I hope some lazy, professorial type is reading this – may they all rot in abject mediocrity.

  28. amc654

    God I hope some lazy, professorial type is reading this – may they all rot in abject mediocrity.

    Duly noted, JKG.

    I’m sure the other two professorial types who’ve posted on this thread appreciate your well-wishes, too. Cheers.

  29. amc654

    Can anyone else cite counter-examples to JKG’s allegations? Now would be the time.

    Well that depends entirely on what we mean by ‘traditional,’ I suppose. The best ‘traditional’ counterpoint teacher (in fact, the best classroom teacher, period) I ever had was Mike Pisaro, but his own work is very much in the experimental tradition. The best ‘traditional’ orchestration teacher I had was Erik Ona, but his compositional work is similarly ‘experimental’ (or something along those lines).

    If what we mean is teachers whose music is aesthetically ‘traditional’ (??), I would list the faculties of many (most) of the major composition institutions in the country. You’ll forgive me for avoiding naming names, at present.

    But, let me say anecdotally that the composition teacher who I’d list as the most open and supportive, immersed in the tradition and its materials, able to deal w/ music of vast and various aesthetic positions is Brian Ferneyhough. Go figure. Maybe JKG should go study with -him-?

  30. JKG

    Thanks, but no, Aaron…
    Autodidactism has too great a hold on me to study with anyone, although I’ll certainly look up Brian and check out his work. And just go things are not so black and white – I have no problem with mannerist systems being taught so long as they are taught in perspective of the twentieth-century genres they represent. Its when mannerism (serial, 12-tone and abject experimentalism) becomes the full order of the day that I get my dander up. Why? Because all analysis aside, the average listener can smell BS when they hear it. If mannerist styles must be applied, we should insist (as with tonal materials) that the best possible expression be made towards the audience. Music is, after all, entertainment – or has some dolt decided otherwise?

  31. amc654

    . Music is, after all, entertainment – or has some dolt decided otherwise?

    Yeah, I know when I’m being baited. I’m not playing any longer. That’s one too many generic “anyone who disagrees w/ me is a moron” posts for one thread. I’m out.

  32. swellsort

    I would have to agree with JKG on this one. As composers, we have to consider our audience, and hopefully, we are trying to reach the broadest audience possible. But at the same time, we can’t expect the whole world to like what we write, even if it is steeped in traditional harmonic and formal structures. This brings up Milton Babbit’s ever famous essay; ie, physicists don’t expect the layman to understand, say, the string theory, so why should composers expect the lay person to understand, say, serialism? Although I don’t agree fully with Babbit, he does raise a good point.

    I had the pleasure of studying composition in Ashland, Oregon, where there are quite a few fine composers who are willingly open and mindful of the students. Todd Barton is a good example; he is the resident composer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as Director of Composition at Southern Oregon University. I took lessons with him, and the biggest lesson I learned from him was to keep a child’s curiosity about music, to not allow pedantry and bullying to deter your musical curiosity and creativity. That, I felt and still do, is getting great skills!!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.