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An Open Response to “… But I Hate Modern Music”

An Open Response to “… But I Hate Modern Music”

As a composer, performer, and lover of almost every stripe of music, I feel it’s important that “…But I Hate Modern Music,” the recent article by Maia Jasper White that was published in NewMusicBox, receive a thorough and thoughtful response.

As a composer I rely on the good will and enthusiasm of musicians such as Jasper White for the effective performance of my music. As a performer, I sit in the same ensembles, and I most certainly am part of the same audiences. Perhaps this is why I was so disappointed by the dismissive tone of her article, and I feel compelled to set the record at least a bit straighter, from a composer’s point of view.

So first off, let’s talk about the opening disclaimer that all art is subjective. All art is definitely NOT subjective. For example, the stick figure drawings of a two-year-old may be heartwarming and worthy of a spot on the fridge, but we can all objectively agree on their relative quality and value within a very narrow range. When art reaches a high level of professional accomplishment that requires peer review for funding and curation for its production, the objective measures are very often already in place.

What the article refers to in terms of subjectivity isn’t actually a matter of taste. It’s a matter of expectation. When it comes to art and artistic renderings, there is, unfortunately, often a disconnect between what an artist is presenting and what an audience believes their price of admission is buying. For example, I once knew a very lovely and open-minded army veteran who loathed hearing pop artists sing the national anthem. Yes, he even hated Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl version—and he otherwise loved Whitney Houston’s singing. He hated her rendition because he believed the purpose of singing the national anthem before sporting events was so that we could all take a moment to collectively show our respect for our country. In his mind, Whitney was showing disrespect through her (in his mind) self-serving reinterpretation of the song. There was nothing subjective when considering the quality of the performance, only in the expectation of the way it should serve its audience.

As for the further disclaimer that art is too often shielded from criticism, it’s off base even in its sarcasm. While I do believe that art—through its attempt to reflect and challenge the norms of our culture and society, to express the inner working of the mind, and to inspire contemplation in those who engage with it—does hold intrinsic value, I’ve never experienced or even witnessed that aura of social value sparing it from criticism. Note that within the article I’m responding to here, the author confesses that she walked out on the performance she was attending. Criticism of contemporary art is alive and well and thriving in the hearts of every person who engages with it. Isn’t that half the fun? Isn’t that, at least in some part, the point? When you go to the movies, you don’t walk home talking about the weather; you dissect your experience. Sometimes ruthlessly. Sometimes you walk out. When you walk out, you can blame the filmmaker for letting you down, or you can kick yourself for not having gone to Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics and other audience members thought, for not watching the trailer ahead of time, for not having checked out what your favorite reviewer thought, maybe even checking out other films by the same director, screenwriter, lead actors, etc.

I simply don’t believe that the author is attempting to soothe the collective consciences of concertgoers who have been traumatized by their new music experiences. No, there is no hostage taking being perpetrated by composers today.

Here’s why I don’t believe it: while the author claims to “love and respect” composition, and to be a champion of contemporary music, the entirety of the article is an explication of what a single concert programmer expects contemporary music to do for her. Remember what I wrote above about expectations?  I do not think that’s what a champion of art does.

Champions of art seek connections. They seek connections between themselves and the artists, between the work of those artists and other works they’ve experienced, between the works of art and the lives of their constituents, between the motivations of the artist and the world in which we live. A champion of art is a translator, a cheerleader, an ambassador, a confidante, and sometimes a guru. A champion feels an obligation equally to the constituents who have placed their trust in them, and to the composers who they are ushering to the ears of the public. At least from what I can infer from this article, the model being presented is not of a new music champion.

When the author writes about bearing the brunt of concertgoers’ complaints toward contemporary offerings, she seems to be blaming composers for putting her in the awkward position of having a career as a professional performer. When she brushes off her parents’ negative response as a fact of human nature, she makes the concept of swaying their opinions seem akin to climbing Mt. Everest. In fact it’s much more liking visiting the summit of Mt. Washington. Yes the climb can be taxing, but there’s a road that goes up the back side of the mountain, in case you’d rather drive.

Remember what I said about being a champion of new music in the previous paragraph?  When people seek you out with negative opinions, champions of new music don’t take it as a complaint. They take it as a plea for your ambassadorial acumen. They don’t want their confusion to be validated—and if they do, that’s not your job, thank you very much. They want their confusion to be alleviated. Give them a map for the road up the back side of the mountain. Hell, ride along with them.

Champions of living artists are indeed an endangered species. We have far too few models. There is no critical mass of new music champions inspiring a next generation of impresarios, patrons, and yes, musician/curators to take up the torch.

To that end, it’s not helpful to acknowledge experiences with new music ranging from “profound to insufferable” without examining deeply what it is that creates that distinction for a given listener. It’s not helpful to deflect one’s own responsibility for that experience or especially to simply imply that…. what? All music should be pretty? That concertgoers are incapable of new experiences? Perpetuating false stereotypes (“grant money and music critics favor the avant-garde”) further confuses what ought to be a deep sense of responsibility for our community as a vibrant incubator of art with a fortitude and integrity to rival any other time in musical history.

Hyperbole? I don’t think so. It’s been my experience that over the past 15 years or so there’s been a dramatic shift in both the number and quality of submissions that grant panels are asked to review. Earlier in my career 100 composer submissions would in many cases have been considered an extraordinary number for a panel to review. They would be heard by a panel of 3-5 members and 10-12 of those submissions could be expected to be competitive. New Music USA now empanels 30-50 members of our professional community twice a year, just to be able to handle the immense number of submissions they receive. And even a cursory review of the funded projects will speak to the quality of the work being produced.

I’ve sat on any number of these panels and have never experienced a style-based bias deep enough to effect the outcome of the selections. The avant-garde (however we’re defining that term here) is favored when it represents the highest quality submission with the clearest and most distinctive voice. Period.

I’m not going to respond directly to the article’s review of a single illustrative concert experience, other than to point out that the composer seems not to have misrepresented the type of meditative experience being presented. Didn’t he deserve an informed, open-minded audience, capable of being in their seats ahead of time and in an appropriate frame of mind?  As I detailed above, I prepare at least this thoroughly to go to the movies. Don’t we owe our living composers more than that?

My purpose here is not to disparage the author of the article. It’s to point out the sometimes-destructive disconnect between those who would represent the broader community of professional musicians and the music of living composers, and the reality of our endeavors as artists. To that end, one last point. Jasper White presents her contention that there’s an “avant-gardist’s implicit credo” that is both arrogantly self-directed and completely dismissive of all our forebears. Leonard Bernstein is quoted to support the premise. So let me be clear. Leonard Bernstein is dead. The comments quoted from him are 50 years old now and at least 50 years behind the times. No composer of any merit is anything less than expert on the evolution of the craft of the last 300 years that informs our work, even those who come to the conclusion that the creation of new sonic approaches is essential to the expression they seek.

[Deep breath]

Perhaps finally on the last, and most important point of the article, we can agree.

The article finishes with a rejection of the conceit that there are two inevitable options when presenting contemporary music: to acknowledge our preference for “pretty” or “intelligible” music over music that is less so (which is also the preference of the audience); or to present anything that composers write whether we like it or not, honoring their First Amendment rights, and run the risk of forever alienating the audience. Thankfully, we’re in agreement that, of the contrived choices presented, neither feels good. Neither feels good because neither is necessary and neither serves artists, audiences, musicians, or anyone else.

More importantly, we can also agree that the litmus test of inspiration and the excitement of sharing ought to be the goal of the performers when presenting new music. That is, assuming they’re doing their homework. Assuming they truly are intending to be champions of that new music. Assuming they’re willing to be open minded and forward thinking. Assuming they’re truly willing to bring their audience along for the ride, unapologetically and fiercely, with a dedication to communication, and a willingness to find that common human ground that they share with the composer and their audience alike.

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.

24 thoughts on “An Open Response to “… But I Hate Modern Music”

  1. Mafoo

    This is a good response that I agree with a lot, but I think it might benefit from some blockquotes from the previous article for reference.

    Reply
  2. Phil Fried

    The change in the last 50 years here in the USA is this; it used to be that composers were awarded grants and many commissions directly, now grants are almost exclusively given to performing groups. This change in musical politics is quite apparent on these pages, and is not hidden with the use of coded language. “entrepreneur etc.” To be clear Composers are no longer on top of the musical food chain. So adapt or die. “Refrigerator art” may be dismissed but as it happens to be on every fridge the demand for its musical equivalent can not be brushed away. Especially when money is short and folks will pay for it. Whether this is a good thing or not is besides the point, its the reality for American composers today.

    Sadly, to some extent, we all have to play this game.

    Or not.

    Phil Fried no sonic prejudice

    Reply
    1. Kevin James

      Phil – no doubt! We can all pine away hoping for enlightened public policy to save our collective asses, or we can attempt to create new models that will better serve the entirety of our industry. Or not. Great thoughts.

      Reply
  3. Sydney

    “The avant-garde (however we’re defining that term here) is favored when it represents the highest quality submission with the clearest and most distinctive voice. Period.” This is nonsense. There exists a definite bias for a wearisome status quo and Ivy league backgrounds together with institutionalized nostalgia for hopelessly dated and formalized improvised music.

    Reply
  4. Marcos

    “Leonard Bernstein is dead. The comments quoted from him are 50 years old now and at least 50 years behind the times.” Anyone who states this doesn’t understand music. Quality is immortal, transcendent of time, and that includes works like West Side Story, his interpretations of Shostakovich, and reams of his written and spoken musicology, including the comments alluded to. Much of what is current is stillborn, never taking flight or life.

    Reply
    1. Kevin James

      Marcos, I think you may be misunderstanding the context here. Bernstein made the comments quoted in the original article in 1962 specifically in reference to serialism and composers of serial music. I personally love love love the music of Bernstein and believe he was a tremendous force in American music who will remain so far into the future. However, the close-minded opinions he expressed on that occasion in 1962, are not even opinions that he hewed to over the course of his career. He came to better understand and appreciate musical streams that he found strident or even offensive in his youth. The context of this passage is in reference to the close-mindedness that created such an enduring rift in our community – you’ll notice I use that word a lot. We (musicians and composers of every genre and proclivity, producers, presenters, managers, etc.) are, or at least ought to strive to be, a single community. You’re assessment of a given work’s having been “stillborn” makes it no less valuable as en expression of the human condition, and, unless I’m misunderstanding, really isn’t all that pertinent to points I’m trying to make in this article.

      Reply
      1. Marcos

        Sounds very much like you’re backtracking here. You are over-attributing what the author is saying to Bernstein himself, and not even referring to the specific quotes used. I find nothing objectionable in the quotes used from Bernstein. Rather, much of what he says in the quotes used still holds true. My use of the term you state is not pertinent was called for because of your unfortunate language directed at Leonard Bernstein and the superficial misunderstanding of music itself that your words indicated.

        Reply
  5. Reena

    “When it comes to art and artistic renderings, there is, unfortunately, often a disconnect between what an artist is presenting and what an audience believes their price of admission is buying.” This is exactly why we need thoughtful curators who program music they love and believe in. Kevin, I encourage you to attend a Salastina Music Society event next time you’re in LA. Of all the concerts of new music I attended last season, the Salastina concert of Los Angeles composers was, without doubt, the single most thoughtfully presented one. I was almost tearing up with joy to see modern music presented in such an engaging way. Composers long for their music to be presented with the same degree of care they have invested in composing it. Please attend a Salastina concert before you accuse the author of not being an advocate of new music.

    I do believe that music is completely subjective and bound to its context. While a Rothko may be better crafted, most mothers will tell you that their toddler’s art does something very deep for them on an emotional level. And while they are two different metrics for measuring value, neither should be invalidated. Just because a piece of music has better craft does not mean that it is more effective art.

    “Didn’t he deserve an informed, open-minded audience, capable of being in their seats ahead of time and in an appropriate frame of mind?” No. We are not entitled to the audience’s time and attention: we earn it. People pay us to hear our music. The reason why we are able to make our living as composers is because our audiences choose to spend money to hear our works. We don’t get to demand their state of mind, level of education or schedule. We don’t get to invalidate their experience because they don’t fit the criteria of the person we thought would buy the ticket.

    Reply
    1. oh brother

      If you’re a vegan and you show up for dinner at the all-sausage restaurant, it’s literally your fault when you have a lousy time

      Reply
      1. Philip White

        It sounds like the more appropriate analogy is showing up at a vegan restaurant expecting a hearty, meatless, dairy-free meal, and being served an old carrot that tastes like shoe.

        Reply
  6. Kevin James

    Reena – You bring up important points. I think this is an ongoing conversation that we all need and want to continue. I want to be clear, though, that this article is in no way intended as a critique of Salastina or even their methods of curation and presentation. In fact, I put up a hearty cheer for any ensemble presenting the music of living composers. You assume correctly that I have not experienced Salastina’s concerts, and I absolutely would make it a priority when I’m next in LA.

    I also do not question the best intentions of the author. I believe her intention in writing “…But I Hate Modern Music” was to serve composers. However, THIS article, my article, is a direct response to attitudes and misconceptions presented in BIHMM which I believe do not, in fact, serve composers or the new music community.

    Re: subjectivity – our experience (enjoyment or otherwise) of art is certainly subjective and context based. The quality of that art, rarely is. I don’t believe I implied any sort of invalidation as a result, though. While some of my most magical musical experiences have been at town band rehearsals in tiny rural Italian communities – the sheer joy and conviviality is just overwhelming – I doubt anyone who wasn’t present would find enjoyment in their recordings.

    I think your last point really does speak to the “disconnect” I mention, and a whole host of other issues our industry is facing. Should art demand nothing of those who would engage with it? Should there be distinctions between “pop” art and “high” art (I apologize for the non-specific and unhelpful labels)? Is art, by definition, elitist and inaccessible? In the context of my response to Ms Jasper-White’s unsatisfactory concert experience, I have to disagree with your conclusions. There is a distinction between art which is designed for entertainment and art which is designed to inspire introspection. I believe we need to help concertgoers understand that distinction, but I also believe it’s reasonable to expect audiences to make that distinction and adjust for the sake of their own enjoyment and satisfaction. In this context, I don’t see the price of admission in the same way that you do. I see it as an investment in my ability as a composer and the performers’ abilities as musicians to deepen one’s own experience of their humanity. OK – I don’t always see it that way. I write short, fun, little ditties now and then, too. But then we’re back to talking about context and expectations. While you’re absolutely correct that it’s not my place to invalidate the experience of anyone engaging with art, regardless of context, that concertgoer does bear responsibility for how they’ve chosen to engage. I don’t think the prices of admission changes that fact.

    Reply
    1. Jordan Brown

      Maybe here is an entry point to further dissect the problem: “Criticism of contemporary art is alive and well and thriving in the hearts of every person who engages with it. Isn’t that half the fun? Isn’t that, at least in some part, the point? When you go to the movies, you don’t walk home talking about the weather; you dissect your experience. Sometimes ruthlessly.”

      1. Yes, but some people go and enjoy the film, and are less equipped to dissect, analyze it afterward. The language of film, etc. Should they stay home? this is an open question.
      2. When we go to the movies, most of us are seeing a film with a plot and in an intelligible language (or with subtitles we can read). We don’t mostly go to see Last Year at Marienbad or Solaris.

      Reply
  7. Louis Torres

    In Defense of Maria Jasper White
    *** The basic thesis of Maria Jasper White’s article, as I understand it, is reflected in this string of words quoted from it: “accessibility . . . incomprehensible . . . accessible . . . understand . . . accessible.” Music, in other words, like all art, must be accessible, comprehensible, intelligible. If it not these things, most ordinary people, and many musicians, will dislike it intensely, even hate it. She’s right. I would only add that if it is not these things, it is not music.
    *** “[M]usic critics favor the avant-garde,” according to White. They sure do. Although I document only the monopoly of the avant-garde in regard to the visual arts in my “Monopoly” essay (see below), I could have done so in the field of music as well. Even the loaded term “new music” is biased, in that, like the term “contemporary art” in the visual arts, it is used by critics to refer to avant-garde music—not to new Neo-Classical or new Neo-Romantic music, such as that composed by Stefania de Kenessey. (See her “Are Composers Who Use Early Music Techniques Writing New Music?”, NewMusicBox, September 1, 2001–http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/Are-composers-who-use-early-music-techniques-writing-new-music-Stefania-De-Kenessey/.
    *** Regarding “new music,” see also “Classical Music’s New Golden Age,” by Heather Mac Donald” – http://www.city-journal.org/html/classical-music%E2%80%99s-new-golden-age-13309.html: “It is surely the case that the concert repertoire, derived from a narrow slice of the musical universe, is in desperate need of new music. But the critics are wrong in defining “new music” exclusively as contemporary. The public could not be more unequivocal: it finds little emotional significance in most contemporary classical music, especially that produced in academic enclaves.”
    *** Concerning my views on so-called new music, I refer the reader especially to Chapter 5 (Music and Cognition) and Chapter 12 (Avant-Garde Music and Dance) in ‘What Art is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand,’ which I co-authored. It is in many academic and public libraries, Enter the full title at WorldCat: http://www.worldcat.org/title/what-art-is-the-esthetic-theory-of-ayn-rand/oclc/43787446?referer=brief_results [or http://www.worldcat.org/%5D.

    Again, I believe that Maria Jasper White was right in her essential argument, which I tried to summarize in my first paragraph.

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts); Co-Author, ‘What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand’ (Open Court, 2000); and author, “The Interminable Monopoly of the Avant-Garde” in ‘After the Avant-Gardes’ (Open Court, 2016) – http://www.aristos.org

    Reply
  8. KC Thomsen

    1- are people listening?
    2- are they buying/spinning/streaming/downloading?
    3- is you primary composer income due to grants or special awards? vs. your music is bought, listened to and performed by other ensembles?

    Music will evolve, music will change and composers will resist. The “new” will replace the “old” thinking, leaving many to yell “hey, not fair!”
    The ivy tower academic tradition of non-tonal, non rhythmic music is largely over.
    The predictions of the serialists in the 1920’s never came true. We are all free to create what we want and however we want, but to have a lasting impact (read historical significance) is not in”Avant garde” music. Music tastes have changed. Create to your heart, but don’t expect the public to change for “you”. The dilemma is……..art vs.career. Some can walk that line (film composers) most can’t.

    Reply
  9. Sugar Vendil

    I used to be really dismissive of modern music when I was in college, and didn’t start listening or playing it until after grad school, and I often wish I had started sooner. Better late than never I suppose! All I can say is it’s best to stay open and it’s so important that all forms of music exist and get played, even the kind one may consider “insufferable” (e.g., styrofoam scraping a snare drum). I can understand Jasper White’s frustration about the “silent derision” of what she terms “pretty” music, however, I disagree with a lot of what she says essentially about modern music being unable to communicate. Why? Because I’ve been on the dismissive side and now I enjoy a lot of modern music, and can try to appreciate even music I dislike. And I’ve witnessed new listeners enjoying modern music. There are people out there who’s ears are open!

    I’d consider my existence as an artist pretty sad if my focus was accessibility. I like what you said here: “Give them a map for the road up the back side of the mountain.” As performers/presenters/champions of new music, I think what we can do for audiences is to “give them a map” as best we can.

    Reply
  10. Phil Fried

    It is a disservice to music composition to claim that style alone is its crucial feature. That the only music that lasts must pass a litmus test of accessibility. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern are going strong. Lots of folks, including me, obviously find their work beautiful. If on the other hand if you believe that instant and overwhelming popularity is the true gauge of a composer look at the career of opera composer Reginald De Koven. At one time the most performed composer who unfortunately he is not enjoying a revival at this moment. That’s the point. If you dispute this fine, but then your interest is not in music composition or its history. It’s what you personally find pleasant and you assume we must all feel this way.

    We composers represent a wide spectrum of styles, to malign one is to malign us all.

    Phil Fried, no sonic prejudice

    Reply
  11. Jordan Brown

    I’m a conductor and teacher who has spent considerable effort identifying and commissioning composers over the last five years to write for my student orchestra at The Dalton School, in New York. Ms. Jasper White’s article was brave and well-argued, and the topic rings a lot of bells for me. My student ensemble, for whom I’m commissioning new works, are inexperienced with the tools of modern music (the twentieth-century repertoire tends to be off limits to all but the most advanced student groups). The audience my orchestra perform for is similarly conservative in its expectations of new or unfamiliar pieces. All this has the effect of “raising the stakes” when we present something outside of the comfort zone of the players and listeners. I think that’s what she was getting at. BUT…

    Ms. Jasper White was articulating the issues as they pertain to her presenting organization, and to illustrate their challenges, especially in a knowledgable new-music community such as exists at this website. The avant-garde is not dead, but it was a product of its time to some degree. For better or worse, the music of the 21st century (also a product of its time) has been forced to conform to the demands of the market and to compete for commissions in a competitive environment. I don’t think this is all bad. What composers were truly undone by the demands of writing for the box office, for a specific public? Name one whose genius was compromised and diminished by this challenge. On the other hand, Mr. James’ view of musical “Curatorial” work is spot on. If the only two paths available were to present atonal noise to the audience against one’s better judgment, or seeking out composers of only the most saccharine tonal candy, I’d probably recuse myself from presenting new music altogether.

    Presenting new works in an environment where it isn’t well understood means inviting the audience to join you on a journey, wherein a composer (whose work you believe in) has carte blanche to re-imagine a space of time on a concert program. There is some wiggle room in there, and it’s the presenter’s job to know whether the audience might respond best to Wuorinen or to John Luther Adams. I have occasionally thought about the Leonard Bernstein precis from “Infinite Variety” over the years, and I don’t think it was anachronistic of Jasper White to reference it. Bernstein was struggling to name an impermeable, eternal truth. Whether it holds up, I don’t know. But tonality, by its most simple definition, still has life in it. Composers don’t just write in a “style”, they actively create new musical language when they compose in their own voice. The problem with “I Hate Modern Music” is the premise itself: There is no one Modern Music.

    Reply
    1. Phil Fried

      ” What composers were truly undone by the demands of writing for the box office, for a specific public? Name one whose genius was compromised and diminished by this challenge. ..”

      Well there has been some discussion of composers in the old soviet union having to “artistically”conform to their disadvantage. I believe Shostakovitch was mentioned. Nikolai Roslavets is also an example.
      In addition a number of counties, until recently, forbid “Atonal noise”.
      ON the other hand no one wants geniuses anymore; they might not be user friendly.

      Phil Fried, No sonic prejudice

      Reply
      1. Jordan Brown

        Right – Shostakovich’s fifth symphony – widely regarded as a cop-out and a failure

        but in all seriousness… re: “Geniuses”, I think your comment is a bit dismissive. It seems the new-music community often wants to have this both ways. On one hand, the traditional establishment organizations don’t play enough music by composers, because they have this “genius complex” – (“we only play masterpieces”). But if the mainstream groups aren’t commissioning MY work, then they don’t appreciate genius enough.

        Reply
        1. Phil Fried

          ” I think your comment is a bit dismissive. ”

          Not at all. I dismiss no one. Rather I believe in inclusiveness. Sadly many folks don’t. For example; no interest in Roslavets?
          By the way Shostakovich’s 5th symphony didn’t stop a second denunciation for formalism, though I would agree that it is ridiculous to wonder what if. Since there are plenty of composers out there to fulfill any need it seems unnecessary to disparage those composers who one does not wish to use. Sadly that is part of entrepreneurship.

          Phil Fried. no sonic prejudice

          Reply
  12. PT

    “When people seek you out with negative opinions, champions of new music don’t take it as a complaint. They take it as a plea for your ambassadorial acumen… They want their confusion to be alleviated ”

    This is condescending.

    A plea? Maybe they just, you know, don’t like it. This has a very “the confused masses look to us for enlightenment” vibe to it.

    I don’t know if my enlightenment would make a difference. I don’t know if it should make a difference. I don’t know if it would benefit the other person in either case.

    Maybe we’re the ones missing the forrest through the trees.

    Reply
  13. Keith

    I totally agree with your comments on expectation. I am a performer of and a wanna-be composer of new music. I teach my music theory students that most pieces establish some sort of expectation and then proceed on a course of violating those expectations to some degree, and then re-establishing them at other times throughout the piece. The degree of violation of these expectations that one can “stomach” tells you a lot about the sort of music that individual gravitates toward. I have gotten to the point in my listening and performing life that I have no preliminary expectation except that I want and look for the unpredictable. For me, the same formulaic harmonic progressions of tonal music have become mundane, not unlike children’s stories that you know will have a happy ending. Sure, some authors may weave a more skillful telling of the story, but in the end, we all know how it will end. New music oftentimes breaks this banality for me. I listen to pieces intently that keep me guessing. The are the analogous to a story with endless plot twists. Refreshing. Going back to my music students, I challenge them to push themselves, gradually, to start opening themselves up to varying levels of expectation violation. I encourage them to start slowly, usually by walking them through the history of music of the 20th century, exploring the different methods of new organizational structures that composers were using and explaining the respective contexts. To me, understanding and appreciating new music also entails context. You were very correct to call the author out for her experience in which she got to the venue late, did not read the program, and left early. I believe that if I had have been in that situation, during the 45 minutes of “boredom” that she says she endured, I would have simply pulled out the program and read what the composer intended. Perhaps she would have gotten the piece if she had. Please know, that out here are modest champions of new music, even though we may be tucked away in our little corners of our communities. We are still working to shine the light on and spread the word of new music composers, one student or listener at a time. (Incidentally, I have a 15 year-old student who has downloaded Babbitt’s “Philomel”, Adams “Transmigrations of Souls”, and Reich’s “New York Counterpoint.” It’s a start.

    Reply
  14. Maia Jasper White

    Hi everyone,

    I am happy to see the lively discussions that have been borne of my original post. Naturally, I appreciate all the supportive words. Some interesting big questions have certainly been raised. And I find the backlash worth exploring. To that end, I wrote a follow-up post on Salastina’s blog here: http://www.salastina.org/blog/2016/8/30/tempest-in-a-teapot

    Kevin: to say that I am sorry to e-meet you under these heated circumstances is an understatement. Reena was kind to speak to the quality of Salastina performances. I would happily welcome you should you choose to attend someday.

    Reply

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