For my final post of the month, I present you with the shirtless dancing guy. See you in three minutes:
For fun, let’s think about who the equivalents in the new music world might be.
If you will allow: the shirtless dancing guy represents composers (Actually, partly. We’ll come back to this). He’s genuinely doing what feels natural and at the same time is largely invisible to or ignored by everyone else. Without any followers, that is what he will remain.
Next, you would think that the first follower would be a new music ensemble or performer who specializes in contemporary music. True, new music players and ensembles take risks on composers all the time. But they are expected to do this. It’s their mandate. In fact, these players and ensembles are crucial to making the music happen. Without them there wouldn’t be any new music (or dancing guy) at all. In my analogy then, the dancing guy stands for more than just the composers; he’s the composers and new music players working together as a community.
So. Who is the first follower? How about this: a mainstream player, classical or otherwise, who champions a composer that the rest of the world thinks is off his or her rocker. Music that fits with the audience’s expectations doesn’t count. I’m talking about a performer who usually plays Brahms and takes a big risk by programming something that everyone else thinks is too out there, or even something that most would not even consider to be music at all.
It does happen. Glenn Gould championed Schoenberg. Bernstein conducted Varèse. More recently, Alan Gilbert brought Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre to the New York Philharmonic and here at the 21C festival in Toronto we just heard Marc-André Hamelin play a magical 80 minutes of Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus. These are highly visible musicians who are bravely sticking their necks out. They are not programming what the audience wants, they are programming—as Péter Eötvös puts it—what the audience needs. Contrast this with the classical groups that program rock or pop transcriptions and advertise it as out-of-the-box thinking.
“The first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership,” says narrator Derek Sivers in the video above. Yes it is, and it’s wonderful that there are awards like the American Composers Forum’s Champions of New Music, especially when those recognized are from the non-new music world, such as Michael Morgan this year.
So, the takeaway is: composers and new music ensembles together are the shirtless dancing guy, so let’s be as visible and easy to follow as possible. Also, to go with the video’s advice, let’s be sure to make it more about the movement than about ourselves. And players: is there someone out there who is creating or playing music that we all need to know about? Maybe you are the first follower who will spark the critical mass.