Un-Homogenic: Guggenheim Fellowships Announced

Un-Homogenic: Guggenheim Fellowships Announced

I had a vested interest in the announcement of this year’s Guggenheim fellows since I was among the roughly 3,000 who applied. Believe me, the submission process isn’t easy given the fact you need to rally up four letters of recommendation. But given the fact that there is no submission fee—I don’t buy into those scams—I thought, hey, why not give it a shot? You can’t win if you’re not in. So for the first time, I decided to get in there. After brief fantasies about actually being able to make student loan payments, the rejection letter finally arrived. Eh, I’m used to it by now. But I was eager to learn who would be receiving funding.

Finally, after sifting through that mountain of CDs, scores, applications, and letters of recommendations, and who knows whatever else, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced the 187 artists, scholars, and scientists who received awards totaling $7.5 million. And on that recipient list we find nine composers—down one from last year’s list of ten—along with a sound artist winning outside the category of music composition. Okay, everything balances out perfectly then. Here’s the list:

  • Kathryn Alexander, New Haven, Connecticut. Associate Professor of Music Composition, Yale University
  • Cristian Amigo, Astoria, New York. Visiting Scholar, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University, Adjunct Professor
  • Donald Crockett, La Cañada, California. Professor of Composition and Chair, Composition Department, Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California
  • Anthony Davis, San Diego, California. Professor of Music, University of California, San Diego
  • Paul Dresher, Berkeley, California.
  • Scott Johnson, New York City, New York.
  • Janis Mattox, Woodside, California.
  • Jeff Talman, Brooklyn, New York. Assistant Professor of Visual and Media Arts, Emerson College
  • Daniel Trueman, Princeton, New Jersey. Assistant Professor of Music, Princeton University
  • Stewart Wallace, New York City, New York.

    Jazz, Latin, electroacoustic, improvised, multimedia, neo-romantic, post-minimal, experimental, folk, opera, choral, microtonal, rock-inspired, instrument builder, site-specific—these are but a few of the endless well of descriptives which can be applied to the work of the composers listed above.

    Actually, the recipient list resembles one of those weird plastic food displays you sometimes stumble upon outside a Japanese restaurant. It looks extremely fussed over. Maybe more than just a little feng shui was involved to finesse the exhibition, using little bits of everything on the menu in order to attract a wide range of appetites. Of course this is an encouraging strategy for the Guggenheim Foundation to take, proving that they are willing to support everything from steamed rice and edamame to blowfish, as well as everything in between. But is this list of nine recipients really just a simple cross section, or is it more of a conceptual cornucopia, an idealized hypothesis concerning the lay of the land, a map detailing the many facets of music circa 2006?

    Stylistically speaking, diversity seems to have been the main thrust behind which composers were selected to receive support. The same can be said about the awardees’ gender, ethnicity, and race. On the other hand, not surprisingly, most of the winners have those magic three letters following their names which separate the doctors from the common man. A few recipients—Anthony Davis, Paul Dresher, and Scott Johnson—don’t mention doctoral degrees in their bios. I scoured the web for references concerning higher degrees vis-à-vis composer/fiddler Dan Trueman, but like some stealthy cat burglar, it seems he too crept into this Guggenheim pack without a Ph.D. in evidence. But wait, can you teach at Princeton these days without a pedigreed sheepskin? Really Dan, this isn’t a rhetorical question. Let us know, okay?

    With Trueman as the youngest fellow, this year’s batch does show homogeny as far as age is concerned. Trueman excluded, almost everyone seems to hover around their mid-fifties, and one third of the pack was born in the same year: 1951. Although nobody sticks out here as being really old or really young, one name on the list managed to pique my interest: Janis Mattox. (Admittedly, this was after a little bit of research following my first reaction to this list…Who are half of these people?) Now, I haven’t heard any of Mattox’s music (someone please send us some!), but given the fact that she’s collaborated with performance artist-cum-feminist and new age spiritual guru Linda Montano speaks volumes to her entrenchment inside the experimental tradition forged in this country. No one can claim that this vein of musical expression is being treated like some kind of sideshow freak when, really, almost every composer on the list is exploring something counter to everyone else. Overall more safe than out-on-a-limb, this list of insiders and outsiders appears to be a fair attempt at encouraging a number of creative branches. Although I didn’t make the cut, all things considered, I’m not discouraged to apply again next year.

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    2 thoughts on “Un-Homogenic: Guggenheim Fellowships Announced

    1. dtrueman

      hey, i just noticed this! ok, yes, i confess, i do own those three letters. and this might seem absurd, but i most definitely don’t like to advertise it — at times, i find it, er, actually embarrassing. go figure. i think it goes hand-in-hand with me often not feeling comfortable letting people know i’m actually a *professor* (eee gad) at a prestigious Ivy League school. not to get on the couch, but a couple possible explanations:

      1. i’ve found that often i receive less than wonderful treatment from other composers when they discover my creds, especially the Princeton thing — it’s like a big fat bulls eye. hey, i didn’t invent serialism!

      2. i’m paranoid about anti-academics, even though i sort of am one. i confess, i get defensive when i read yet another generalization about “academic composers.” then i have to remind myself that i’ve had a completely un-typical academic experience, and that maybe much of academia is as bad as they say it is.

      3. at heart i’m just a fiddler, and can’t really accept that i have a Ph.D and teach at a University.

      anyhow, i’m afraid you are correct that you pretty much need those three letters to teach at Princeton, at least on the, e-hem, Professor track. and i have to say that i was proud to be listed with all those composers, some of whom i’ve been a fan of for a while. do apply again; suffice it to say that this was not my first year applying….


    2. randy

      Those 3 magic letters
      First off, congratulations Dan and thanks for the confession. You did a good job of hiding any and all degrees in you bio and I commend you for it. Thanks for the encouraging words. Keep on fiddlin’…


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