So What Do You Think?

So What Do You Think?

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a q-and-a with a visiting composer whose music is exceptionally popular (by new music standards, of course). One of his comments on the current state of concert music struck me particularly hard: He felt that lay audiences are discouraged from discussing whether or not they’ve enjoyed a piece of music they’ve just heard, especially in conversation with musicians (or, heaven forbid, the composer himself). In other words, they’re prevented from asserting that they disliked the work. The visiting composer drew a comparison between new music and film and theatre—media which invite amateur criticism. I suppose the same could be said for popular music. You don’t have to write for, in other words, to have a strong opinion on which Fall record is the best and to voice that opinion loudly at parties. (Full disclosure: I once called NewMusicBox “the Pitchfork of new music.” Please forgive me.) Two perspectives on this issue came immediately to mind.

On the one hand, an informed opinion is always more valuable than an uninformed opinion. That’s one reason why I recently voted in Maryland instead of Illinois: I know the candidates in the MD races well enough to make educated judgments about how well they might govern. To feel confident about casting a ballot in the Land of Lincoln, I’d have to do extensive homework on local politics, and I’d probably end up voting along party lines in one-sided races anyway. There’s a case to be made that listeners who hesitate to evaluate pieces of new music on grounds of ignorance should follow that instinct. You might like Ives’ “Concord” sonata more if you’ve heard the piano music of Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, and, for that matter, Carter. Or you might not. But either way, you might be able to articulate the why more clearly if you have more canonical points of reference.

On the other hand, we live in America, and our right to express ourselves freely is, by and large, unabridged. Obviously we composers are constitutionally forbidden to impair our audiences’ first-amendment liberties, but we do have the power to relax the social pressure against this open exchange of feelings. Besides, I want to know what people really think of my music. My composer friends and I are neither intellectual ogres, contemptuous of audiences without terminal degrees in composition, nor tuberculitic glass-jaws who will faint at the mildest slight from our listeners. We want to know what you think, and we don’t want to be in some weird awkward situation where you don’t feel like you can level with us.

Ideally, of course, listeners will enter a self-perpetuating cycle of forming opinions and learning more about music. They’ll attend concerts they may not “get,” but be sufficiently intrigued to check some CDs out of the library, and they might “get” more from the future concerts. However, this wheel only turns if listeners feel that they can speak openly about their opinions, informed or un-.

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.

34 thoughts on “So What Do You Think?

  1. lawrence

    Whenever I am asked to say a few words before a piece of mine is performed, I almost always end by saying something like, “I’d love to know what you think of this piece. Please come find me afterwards and tell me.”

    Very few people actually do, but I think people listen more closely when they’ve been invited to respond. It’s always easy enough for me to disregard feedback that isn’t useful.

  2. Philedwardelphia

    What was great about Pitchfork for me when I came upon it six years ago was the fact that I could finally find out about new musc that was coming out and BE EXCITED about it. Being in high school in Upstate New York meant that record stores didn’t stock new records and there was no way to find out about new music. I could order the hot, new album off of Amazon and feel like I was experiencing something while it was happening (oh, high school). It was exciting!

    Of course going to college exposed me to the radio station where every Pitchfork record reviewed was available to me to listen to. And a whole community of new music “listeners” to “hang out with.” I found that these were mostly social groups, though, and not people who actually wanted to talk about music.

    I’ve since fallen in love with written music, and Pitchfork’s word is certianly not what it used to be. (Although the new Joanna Newsom record is pretty darn superb! Check out those string arrangments by Van Dykes Parks!).

    Is there a website like Pitchfork for what everyone here calls “new music?” I find this site interesting, but I guess I wish that there were concert reviews, record reviews, etc. In most posts people seem to be speaking more about genre and technical issues and not actually making the New Music Scene any more accessible or exciting for those of us just beginning to move into the deep end. For someone who doesn’t have access to performances: where do we start and how do we keep momentum?

    (and this brings up the issue of needing to told. but for now: I need to be told or else I’ll end up taking more time exploring the origins of hip-hop…. mm. Boogie Down Productions…)

  3. amc654

    I think this is almost certainly the result of a much larger and systemic issue of cultural/political/social apathy. Or, actually, apathy isn’t really the right word — non-involvement, perhaps? I think a listener would be more likely to go home and gripe about a crappy piece on his/her blog/myspace/facebook page (hypothetically available for all the world to see, but more likely only read by people who already agree) than actually engage other listeners/performers/composers directly and in person.

    I, for one, pine for the days where booing at concerts is as likely as applauding wildly. People’s disdain seems to remain so private, these days. Or, largely as a result of web culture, _artificially_ public.

  4. philmusic

    It is true that in film production a great deal of audience research and panel approval is used to find the right endings etc, but what is the point of being a composer if, for right or wrong, you can’t make your own decisions? Positive or negative opinions aside, our compositions will seek and find their own level in their own time.

    Phil’s page

  5. Chris Becker

    “Pine for the days…” Dude, I was going to Husker Du shows when you were in preschool…lots of booing, fights, spitting, legs broken…all in the service of the audience “expressing themselves.” Right on to the musicians who stood up to that and still managed to play their butts off.

    All booing at a “new music” concert does (and I’ve experienced this more than once…) is make the people around the people booing feel awkward. Even if a piece was performed badly or maybe is in need of some additional work – why boo it? It just brings the tone of the event down to a low level.

    But I know what you mean if indeed you feel there’s some kind of passionate physical response missing from concert music scene…but I just think there’s different rituals for different music and venues. If you wanna boo someone, go to a punk club or start a fight at a hip-hop concert. Have fun. I myself don’t like watching people get beat up – it’s a drag. I mean, what are we really talking about here? Why ruin a concert for someone else? What exactly does that gain?

  6. sgordon

    A friend of mine played a club in some tiny -burg in Germany back in the late 80’s, and the audience stormed the stage mid-set and beat the crap out of him and the rest of the band. He assumed that they didn’t much like him, but turns out it was just a local custom. If you had the guts to come back and play again, they treated you like royalty.

    I’m not particularly in favor of booing – at least not during a piece (though I’ve been tempted…) I figure one can at least wait until it’s over. And even then, silence may be speak louder. I’ve been to multi-composer concerts where it was quite obvious what the less well recieved works were, and nary a boo was heard. When it’s only the composer’s friends applauding – well…

    But as to audience feedback: let’s be honest here: there was a long period during which the layman was scoffed at, where he/she was considered unfit to have a valid opinion. Maybe that attitude isn’t as prevalent now as it was in the heyday of Babbitt and his contemporaries, but I think composers of today – ones who would actually like to engage the audience – are still paying the price for that isolationist streak of yore.

  7. davidcoll

    right on chris, i totally agree. the strengths of the concert hall is no longer in revolt, its in the understanding that if the music confuses you its worth listening to at least once more, and if its not confusing, odds are you’re just apathetic about it, so just concentrate on the other stuff…

    as for getting that 2nd listening, 3rd listening, good luck…recordings usually won’t do it justice..

  8. sgordon

    its in the understanding that if the music confuses you its worth listening to at least once more

    You illustrate my point. Ameliorating negative response by putting the onus on the audience is what got us into this mess in the first place. The audience is very rarely confused. Most people know full well when they don’t like something.

    If you put something in your mouth that tastes like crap, are you going to eat it again, because perhaps you were confused?

    Seth Gordon

  9. EvanJohnson

    If you put something in your mouth that tastes like crap, are you going to eat it again, because perhaps you were confused?

    Quite possibly yes, Seth. Hence the phrase “acquired taste.” I couldn’t stand coffee in high school. Now… well, let’s just say I can stand it.

    I do hope you don’t form all of your preferences in life based on first impressions.

    And I would like to also contribute the fact that a boo from my friend amc654 was one of the most memorable concert experiences of my life. And it was well deserved.

    But come on – is there anyone who wouldn’t rather be booed than tepidly applauded? Don’t people viscerally dislike things anymore?

  10. Chris Becker

    I know what you mean, Evan. Be bad but never be boring. But if you boo me at one of my shows…you better be ready to run. Fast.

    Only kidding. Seth, have you watched Iggy Pop and the Stooges recent live in Detroit DVD? Or maybe you’ve seen the man and know of what I speak?

    I for one have to admit I am envious of my friend in rock who, in performances, have these intense physical experiences with the audience (i.e. people jumping onstage, yelling at you, moshing/dancing). We artists want to MOVE people. But sometimes, we’re not sure if that has happened or not. It is weird.

    But the grass is always greener, right? It’s kind of hard to read a score when you’ve been hit in the side of the head with a cup full of beer…

  11. sgordon

    Quite possibly yes, Seth. Hence the phrase “acquired taste.” I couldn’t stand coffee in high school. Now… well, let’s just say I can stand it.

    I thought about the concept of “acquired taste” – so perhaps the culinary was not the best metaphor to use. But it got me to thinking: what changed your mind? I mean, I assume that after trying it the first time you didn’t go “hey, I’m gonna give this another shot” just because. It’s an addictive, unhealthy substance that makes your breath stink – why would anyone want to go that extra mile, tough it out, just to be a coffee drinker?

    For me it was having it forced on me by a friend when I was nursing a massive hangover. As my headache dissipated it was like a cloud lifting or something.

    Also, I think most of the things we don’t like, food-wise – coffee, spinach, whatever – we don’t like as children, childhood being a condition which can last well into high school. Once we’re full-on adults, we rarely make any drastic changes in our tastes.

    But anyway… I was kind of speaking from the perspective of a general audience member. I’ve gone back to listen to things I didn’t like before because it seemed like I was supposed to like them or something – god knows, I’ve given Babbitt enough tries… I’m not sure there’s anything – any particular work, I mean – that with repeated exposure I’ve come to like when I didn’t initially.

    There’s quite a lot, on the other hand, that I’ve grown to dislike after too much exposure.

    is there anyone who wouldn’t rather be booed than tepidly applauded? Don’t people viscerally dislike things anymore?

    Oh, hell, I sure do. But… well, it can be tough with the composer right there in the room. You feel bad for them. If they’re all snotty and crap and think they’re the cat’s pajamas, well, I’d be more tempted to let ’em have it. But if they’re genial enough people, and come to it (as any artist should) with a bit of humility, well, I just don’t wanna harsh all over their mellow. And there’s the whole “I might have to deal with this person at some point later” thing. You open yourself up to “revenge booing” at your next gig. A vicious, vicious cycle. Before you know it, New Music composers are gunning each other down in the streets. Well, it’d be good publicity at least.

    Seth, have you watched Iggy Pop and the Stooges recent live in Detroit DVD? Or maybe you’ve seen the man and know of what I speak?

    You know, never been to see Iggy live, but I’ve always meant to. My own “most physically intense show” – Slayer, opening for freakin’ Motorhead. 1988. I was quite surprised to still be alive following that. (Cripes, that’s almost twenty years ago… feelin’ old now…)

  12. Chris Becker

    Slayer and Lemmy? I have a whole newfound respect for you, Seth.

    But you must hear the Stooges with Mike Watt and the mighty Ashton bros.

    How do we know when we’ve moved someone with our music? Someone could boo just to be a jerk. That doesn’t mean they actually listened.

    I do advocate for conversation after shows. Sometimes composers need to be a little cooler and more patient if an audience member isn’t sure how to express what they were hearing and liked, and audience members need to take a pause if their first reaction was “that was horrible!” Well, maybe – but maybe not. That’s where I might differ with Seth. I have definitely changed my opinions regarding a lot of musicians after repeated listening…

  13. Colin Holter

    Repeated listenings are not necessarily the key to understanding a piece better, though. There are pieces I’ve liked less and less after hearing them more and more, but I can’t think of a single piece that I haven’t enjoyed more once I’ve studied it.

    I admit that it’s unrealistic to expect audiences to study the pieces on the program after a concert. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that they should – and should want to.

  14. JKG

    Far be it from me….
    to pooh pooh the esteemed opinions of some of mt peers. I feel as if I’m being baited into this one. What’s interesting about all this is how an audience will laugh behind a composer’s back if indeed they are so presumptious to set forth a work simply not worth listening to. There’s a lot of interesting new music for a lot of diverse and interesting people, but let’s face it – some “composers” couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag. Since the primary “credentials” needed any more to prove one is one of these dubious and non-gifted lackeys (add also generous helping of non-fulfilled “critics”) is in fact ACADEMIC, then I suggest we might have a problem in our schools before looking too far elsewhere. Did I bite?

  15. jbunch

    the barrier(s)
    If we want a responsive audience I agree with the thought that it is up to us to provide them the atmosphere and opportunity to respond. Somehow in the way we design concerts, we have to convey a sort of instant perspective for our listeners. I’ve been thinking through these Turkey break experiences of stopping at the Art Institute of Chicago on the way home, and then at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The thing I think is so great about these places is that they provide a sort of instant perspective for their benefactors. I’ve never been to an art gallery before that essentially throws a bunch of paintings on the wall that have nothing to do with one another or don’t refer to something shared or knowable about the work. The Art Institute is organized predominantly temporally, where as the DIA is presently organized a-temporally but by subject. I’m of the opinion that we need to find a way to do this with new music concerts. I don’t think every piece of music has to be streamlined for digestibility, or have all of the confusing, contradictory, or even ambiguous elements ironed out. I DO however agree that we must ditch the prosaic yard-sale/meat-market style of presentation and create a story, a narrative, a joke, a happening, an event, an image, a statement, a question, etc.

    In some ways, I think the question of multiple listenings has little to do with audience reception. Afterall, it’s not really ACTUAL audience feedback that seems to cause us to program concerts as we do (if so why would there be so much damn szyminowksi and Kodaly being played?)

  16. EvanJohnson

    I’m not sure there’s anything – any particular work, I mean – that with repeated exposure I’ve come to like when I didn’t initially.

    That’s interesting, because it happens to me fairly frequently – it’s happened with Mozart, with Stefan Wolpe (particularly his Symphony #1), with Chopin (in whose case, just in the last couple weeks, I finally and suddenly understood what all the fuss was about), and, yes, with Babbitt.

  17. pgblu

    I enjoyed this recent radiolab production, which has a segment about repeated listenings in connection with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Apparently we have neurons that clamor for repeated listenings of things they don’t understand. Perhaps it’s an over-simplification, but I do find the whole segment both intriguing and depressing.

    Depressing part: if everything can eventually be “assimilated” by these neurons, who are we to ever say something is not worth listening to?

    Possible response: who are these neurons to tell me what I should and shouldn’t like? I refuse to listen to my neurons!

  18. Colin Holter

    They’re probably just self-appointed neurons anyway, to paraphrase Herbert Brun.

    Like Evan, I’ve had rewarding experiences with repeated listenings; I’ve finally come around to the likes of Shostakovitch, Haydn, and Boogie Down Productions. It takes a while to acclimate to the glare, the severity, of KRS-One’s conviction, but once you get over the hump, few can rouse the spirit with as much gusto.

  19. amc654

    repeated listenings
    Almost universally, my favorite music is from composers whose work I at first found baffling, maddening, aggravating, boring, or just plain horrible. A short list: Ferneyhough, late Feldman, early Reich, Ablinger (thanks to Evan for his persistence), Schumann, Scarlatti (D, not A … still don’t particularly like A, despite Evan’s advocacy). And, for the record, I don’t like that work b/c I’m supposed to, nor did I even reexamine that work b/c I thought I was supposed to. In each case, a kind of gestation period was required … my ears and my brain had to catch up, I had to learn new things, I had to see new artwork, read new books … eventually I found those pieces enthralling and thrilling (and in some cases still maddening).

  20. EvanJohnson

    Scarlatti (D, not A … still don’t particularly like A, despite Evan’s advocacy).

    Presumably the A you mean is Aldo Clementi, although I am also, it is true, quite fond of Alessandro Scarlatti.

  21. tbriggs

    back to the point…
    I had a bit of a different perspective on this topic, as I was also at the same forum where these comments were made. As Colin mentioned, we have the power to relax the social pressures around an open exchange of opinions about a piece. However, in order to do this I think we should reevaluate whether or not an informed opinion is ALWAYS more valuable than an uninformed one. Sometimes the uninformed make observations and pay attention to details that the “informed” have become blind to. I belive that part of what inhibits the “uninformed” listener from expressing their experience of a work can be the internalization of the attitude that their opinion is somehow less valuable or valid than an informed listener’s. (This probably has something to do with the culture of academia that has grown up around new music in the past century.) I have experienced this kind of self-inhibition and it is only recently that I have begun to see that it is self-destructive. As composers trying to express ourselves, shouldn’t we encourage others to do the same? In other words, all the possible aspects of listeners’ experiences – whether they be intellectual or intuitive, rational or emotional – should ideally be actively included in an open dialogue about our music. It will, of course, take some work (maybe a lot of work) on our part to create this kind of open dialogue but its rewards will come in the form of honesty. If listeners can feel comfortable enough (i.e. not intellectually intimidated) to honestly tell a composer what they think, then they might actually level with us. As always, we can take it or leave it.

  22. davidcoll

    i don’t see anything really changing with our audiences until the culture changes, and that means cold hard cash…without more money put into all of this, theres just no reason people will complain/boo about many more composers aside from john adams, steve reich, etc- people generally aren’t complaining about the music as much as react against the recognition it gets- i bet corigliano wants to break into that club, but its questionable if he’s got the name recognition…

  23. pgblu

    It all comes down to…?
    OK, dcoll, so there is nothing composers can do to change the situation? Money has to get snowed upon us? Should composers become professional grant-writers and lobbyists so they can continue to ‘do whatever’?

    The question here is whether there is something WE can do to make the atmosphere better for lay criticism.

    Pff. Cynic. LOL.

  24. davidcoll

    i’ve been occassionally throwing this $ idea out every so often, because i think it gets forgotten…i’d rather not have anything to do w/it and i think u know that i’m down w/having a community thats not too big, that serves each other through each persons contributions, provocations, challenges, ideas, etc.

    but the thing is i feel like people keep blaming ‘weird music’ as the reason why contemporary music isnt as popular as holywood or pop music…and then call for music thats ‘better’, less academic, prettier—-isnt the main reason just really because of money, don’t u think?

    and yes, i’m totally off topic….but come on, this is post#25!

  25. Lanier

    Responses to a few posts here:

    First for Philedwardelphia, if you’re looking for more concert/CD reviews of ‘new music,’ try We have various insider-y stuff there too, but there are pretty regular reviews that I think can be pretty accessible (if lacking the snark of Pitchfork). There are also a variety of blogs by prominent reviewers that’ll get you in; Kyle Gann, Alex Ross, and Steve Smith (among others) have good sites.

    Second, I’m surprised more of the discussion hasn’t centered on Seth’s “I might have to deal with this person at some point later” point. For most of us, other composers and performers make up a big, big chunk of our audience. I think general politeness stops a lot of people from being publicly critical – but we miss out on reactions from some of the people who probably have the strongest reactions b/c composers/performers both don’t want to harm their own career and are pretty likely to empathize with the composer/performer who delievered the crappy piece/performance.

    I think the goal is really to develop a culture where honest, focused, considered criticism can be exchanged between peer composers and performers. Booing might be exciting, but it gives the composer no indication to what the boo-er is objecting.

    Third (to JKG), is it really academia’s fault? I know that’s your platform, but it seems to me that the ‘credentials’ often come from the very fact that the composer has convinced a bunch of performers to play his/her piece in public (and the better the ensemble, the better the composer must be). That process, as far as I can tell, often has far more to do with connections than plain-old academic credentials.

    Sure, an academic background helps since you spend a bunch of years in a musical environment during which you can meet other musicians. And I imagine that a fancy degree on your CV can impress some performers. But I think plenty of people get their musical connections via schmoozing and publicizing outside of academic contexts. This route is a particularly available option if you’ve got a gimmick or a good back story. I imagine that the composers stuck in those wet paper bags are equally as likely to be drawn from these ranks.

    Ok, that’s enough from me.

  26. jbunch

    comment cards?
    It seems if you want to get listener response you have to go the research route – I’m not sure we could provide enough of a comfortable and realistic atmosphere for “the laity” to talk turkey afterwards. The problem is, what would you REALLY do with the responses? If somebody says “your music sounds like a horror film” are you going to try to make it sound less like a “horror film?” What if somebody tells you your music is too long?

    The point is that you make certain decisions as a composer with specific ends in mind – these ends are derived from sensibilities that are cultivated and seasoned by your unique experiences. What if an audience member doesn’t really understand the relationship between form and material that makes it necessary for your piece to be 35 minutes long? I wonder how many of you are of the opinion that it’s the composer’s responsability as a public servant of sorts to change your writing if the audience regards some aspect of your music in a negative light? Is this a “BAD” way to react? Is it “NECESSARY?”

  27. sgordon

    What if an audience member doesn’t really understand the relationship between form and material that makes it necessary for your piece to be 35 minutes long?

    Depends how many people say it. One comment is easy enough to disregard – but if the overwhelming response is that your one hour peice would have been better at 35 minutes, maybe it’s the composer who isn’t understanding something.

    The relationship between form and material is all stuff and nonsense as far as the audience is concerned. What’s more important, after all – the end result or how you got there?

    It’s a question of do you write music to be listened to or music to be analyzed? Do you want to be admired for the way it makes people feel or for it’s inner workings? “Both” is not a valid answer – first and foremost, what’s the primary goal?

    If that goal is the former, then you have to base your analysis of a work’s success on the emotional response it gets. If that response is flat or negative – then there’s something wrong with your form, not their understanding. It’s not “selling out” to ask yourself, “why am I not connecting?”

    If the latter, so be it. But be honest. If someone says “I thought that was too long” or “too aimless” or “too skronky” or what have you, tell them straight up: “I don’t write music for laypeople.” It may sound snooty and all, but at least it’s honest.

    Doesn’t matter much to me – I don’t much care what kind of music anyone wants to write, unless I’m stuck listening to it. But unlike, say, JKG, I’m not trying to convince anyone to drop their tone-rows – do whatever you want. I just think it’s a bit silly to complain if said “whatever you want” results in not getting a pleasant reaction.

    (Y’know, for someone who puts on a show of being an old-school Midwest Conservative Libertarian, JKG sure doesn’t have a live-and-let-live attitude. He’s much more of a Liberal Populist at heart than he realizes…)

  28. amc654

    if the overwhelming response is that your one hour peice would have been better at 35 minutes, maybe it’s the composer who isn’t understanding something.

    Yikes! The notion of making art based on majority rule is altogether troubling, problematic, and aesthetically wimpy. I’m just thinking of majority audience response to, say, early performances of the Eroica, or form in late Schubert, or orchestration in Les Nuits d’été, or presumptions of old-fashioned stodginess in Bach, or … questions of “material and form” in Pollock or Ad Reinhardt or Barnett Newmann or Duchamp ……

    The relationship between form and material is all stuff and nonsense as far as the audience is concerned. What’s more important, after all – the end result or how you got there?

    Yikes, again! Surely “form” and “material” -are- the end result, right? Those elements are absolutely central to -listening-, processing, thinking, and perceiving.

  29. sgordon

    Surely “form” and “material” -are- the end result, right?

    Well, they’re parts of it, sure, though I’d argue that more abstract things are what truly defines the end as what it is – after all, thousands of people have used the form of 12 bar blues with the materials of E minor and yet there’s a big difference between BB King and One-String Sam (besides King having five more strings…)

    Regardless, what I responded to wasn’t about “form” or “material” but the relation between the two. And the point was the audience doesn’t think in those terms. That relation may dictate that your piece be 35 minutes long, but if everyone finds it boring… then your forms and materials ain’t worth bupkes. Just don’t get married to ’em is all I’m sayin’.

    Yikes! The notion of making art based on majority rule is altogether troubling, problematic, and aesthetically wimpy.

    Oh, come on – nobody suggested that, you know full well that’s a total overreaction. I believe I said something like “overwhelming response” – which is quite different. And we’re not even talking here about response from your average Britney or Justin fan. We’re talking about your target market – people who are of the sort who would actually pay money and attend a concert with a piece of classical music written by someone who is still alive. If your reaction to them is “they don’t understand” (or something akin to that) – then communicating is, simply put, not what you are trying to do with your art.

    If your goal is to communicate and you are not successful, you have to ask yourself “Why?” – and the first place to look for possible answers is from your audience. Ask yourself, honestly: do you want to connect with them, above and beyond anything else? If not, so be it. But if so, you cannot, under any circumstance, put the blame on them. If you want to communicate, it’s your job to do it.

    No big deal if you don’t, mind you. If that describes you, if you’re of the Babbitt Philosophy, one of those “composers who only composes for other composers” – fine. I won’t venture to suggest what it is you’re aiming for with your art – people have all kinds of reasons for doing what they do. I have a bunch of paintings I made to hang in my apartment, on account of I kinda liked the paint colors and thought they’d look pretty good mixed up in rectangles on my wall. And darned if they don’t.

    But if I put those same paintings in a gallery… I better be prepared to take some lumps.

    It’s not “selling out” or “dumbing down” to take (lay) people’s opinions to heart and into consideration (hell, I’d say it’d be “smartening up” half the time…) – why is it any less valid a part of a compositional process than, say, tone rows, or sonata form, or verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus? Any way you look at it, unless you’re playing solo free improvisation, you’re never working completely intuitively.

    Regarding wimpiness: it’s quite easy to write music when you’ve a built-in excuse (“they don’t understand”) for any criticism that might be tossed your way. Or to put it another way: An insecure man keeps insisting he knows how to get there, and will wander around lost all day. A real man has the confidence to ask for directions.

    Not that I’m calling anyone here a wimp. But composers, by and large, are notorious woosies. I’ll take a metal guitarist as backup to a fight before some namby-pamby notes-on-paper milquetoast anyday.

  30. pgblu

    No, you’re not calling anyone a wimp. Except the person who is about to disagree with you. That poor milquetoast schlub.

    At the risk of sounding pusillanimous, I want to say that the music I most admire is the music that makes me want to go home and compose, and I find that to be a high compliment for my own music, too. Not everyone has a creative streak, and I fear that those who are looking for an enzyme to fill emotional receptors in their brain are apt to be disappointed in what I produce. I still value their opinions, and I sincerely hope they will someday come around, but it’s like hoping that they will someday think of music as a creative act. I can’t force that attitude upon them. I can just invite it.

    Lordy, I’m pathetic. Smite me now!

  31. JKG

    Yes, drop your tone rows…
    Just kidding. Frankly, I could care less if someone wants to write in a manner other than tonal, whatever the style. I cannot, however, be convinced that something is beautiful it its meaning is lost in some convoluted explanation as to the piece’s existence in the first place, which is why most folks don’t bother with mannerist music. For some, such approaches aren’t music at all, but mere manipulation of noise. As far as my being a populist is concerned, I am surprised there is any question of that to begin with – but since you bring it up, yes, that is precisely my held view towards art music and its survival as a viable, meaningful way to express itself. I am too pleased with disagreements, as that helps me to see what needs to be improved about my own aesthetic and how I might better relate to others. I do not expect the same of other composers, and in fact have come to expect quite a bit less – thus what is considered my tirade against untalented degree-holders. Talented degree-holders are a different matter altogether, and just because I might not care for someone’s style or approach doesn’t mean I think they are automatically untalented. Some people prefer coffee, some tea. Some prefer a simple latte, others insist upon a triple mocha macchiato with one and a half pumps of sugar-free vanilla syrup using half heavy cream and half-non-fat milk (with a little whipped cream on top and a few caramel squirts for good measure). Oh, and don’t forget the two and a half Splendas. I don’t begrudge anyone how they take their coffee, but after three descriptives, its not about the coffee any more.

  32. JKG

    Having lived in Seattle for several years in the past, I can safely say I am only too familiar with their lingo and attitude. I don’t blame the company for the asinine commercialism so typical from time to time – but when it breeds egotism and yuppieism I admit to wanting to throw up in line. In Miami some time back, one customer actually went ballistic because the poor barista put two shots of espresso in his drink instead of one and a half. I have come close many times to buying a bumper sticker that says, “Friends don’t let friends drink coffee at Starbucks” because of self-same self-important outlook on life. The further you get from Seattle, the weirder the coffee culture gets – Los Angeles started that whole “half-de-caf” thing. That’s like “low fat chocolate milk” – what’s the point?


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