The Community Center

The Community Center

Five years ago, I felt that there was almost no such thing as a new music community. There were little neighborhoods that sometimes overlapped like a Venn diagram, but which were mostly separated widely by viewpoint, and there was precious little that brought those neighborhoods closer together. It was easy for everyone to feel like an outsider, because what community existed seemed uncompelling, pathetically small, and exclusive. Personally, I was an AMC member as a kind of clinging allegiance to the cause, but I had no ties to the organization and was rather pessimistic about the health of our field.

John Kennedy
Daguerreotype by Robert Shlaer

When NewMusicBox arrived, the people in those other neighborhoods began to have more than a face. The wonders of the Internet provided (almost by happy accident) a great way to create community for a subculture so disparate and inclined to often solitary art. With this, the American Music Center began to feel like a community center—not just a gathering place but also an active resource for the citizens of this community. And it was and continues to be an institutional ethos of the AMC and NMBx to be ecumenical and open, and to keep the doors open to any and all who desire to declare their citizenship.

Communities need centers, and the AMC is ours. In our discussion this month examining whether boundaries exist in new music, the same questions can be asked of the AMC. While it is important that we distinguish the difference between our field as a whole and the AMC, we also know that for our field to be strong, it needs a central proactive advocate that sees itself as representative of all reaches of the community. So, while we can proudly acknowledge the role the AMC and NMBx have played in the past five years in building community and eroding boundaries (and I ask you to join and support this continuing effort), we still need to continue to ask critical questions.

One of the most important is: how serious are we about inclusiveness? Are there unspoken assumptions about what "new music" is, and who makes it, which form unintentional boundaries and cause exclusion? Do the programs in our field reinforce traditional paradigms or are they structured to allow for the maverick, the different, the outsider? (At the AMC, we recently revised the Copying Assistance Program as the Composer Assistance Program, to allow for a more expansive approach to nurturing performance preparation.) Do grant and award panels have breadth or do they follow formulas? Is access to power and influence in the field representative of our gender, ethnic, and artistic diversity? As AMC Executive Director Richard Kessler likes to ask, do we have our ear to the ground?

Our Forum is a place where we hope you will help us answer these questions, and devise approaches to problems. The AMC is this month celebrating our 65th birthday at our Annual Meeting by recognizing extraordinary individuals and organizations whose work has helped redefine new music and our community. With NewMusicBox, we celebrate five years of dense and lively discussion which eclipses the discourse of the years before that. Join our party, tell us what you think, and be a member of a community which takes pride and pleasure in knowing that new voices and new sounds transform us.

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.