Tania León: What it Means to be an American Composer

Tania León: What it Means to be an American Composer

11. Reaching Out

“…the best that we can do is listen to one another, say, as individuals because now composers are not addressing music from the point of view of a specific party…”
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RealAudio sound clip
Sound sample – TANIA LEÓN: from Pueblo Mulato
Performed by Voices of Change (from the CD Voces Americanas, CRI 773)

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TANIA LEÓN: You know, I think that the Sonidos Festival should apply to all of us in general. I wish some day we would have a festival that didn’t have people demarcated, you know. That we didn’t have to say this is Latino, and this one is black, and this one is a woman and this one has a sexual preference. You know? These are composers. And the best that we can do is listen to one another, say, as individuals because now composers are not addressing music from the point of view of a specific party. We are not the serialist composers or, you know…

FRANK J. OTERI: When Sonidos came along, you couldn’t hear this music anywhere else. There are no recordings of most of this music. It was all new. And yeah, they got lumped together. Okay, now we’re doing the Venezuelan composers. Now we’re doing the Cuban composers. But it was a way to get the word out that, wow, this was a bunch of new music that many people got together and said, we should hear, this is worth hearing. I wish every concert were as much of an event. How can we make a regular concert on a subscription series as exciting as those concerts were?

TANIA LEÓN: Well, this is precisely what we were talking at the beginning what I was thinking of, you know, I mean, that excitement shouldn’t be only music director, but it should be the audience, it should be the musicians in the orchestra, it should be the PR department of the orchestra, you know, it should be an event to the tune that happens when festivals are put together. Usually a festival has an atmosphere that regular seasons may not have. So, I mean, how to create the festivity in what we do in order to celebrate the people that are creating an art that is going to be perpetuated in the future.

FRANK J. OTERI: Wow. Now we talked about how to disseminate the music out there. And, you know, we have the concert hall, and we talked about composers being more public, and getting together and putting an ad in the New York Times. But we have this amazing technology now with recordings and with the Internet. We can actually get music into anybody’s home. Just press a button and wow, we can hear this piece of music if it’s out there. And this is even better than the advent of the LP or the CD where you can go to the store and buy all the new music you want. The orchestra in your town doesn’t play new music? Well, you can go to Tower Records or you can order this CD over Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com and hear all of the Tania León you want to hear, you can hear all the John Cage you want to hear, all the Milton Babbitt you’d want to hear. And now over the Internet, we have a chance to really make a community for new music in ways that used to require much greater resources,… I mean, do you see this being an effective tool for your music in the future?

Sonidos de las Americas program cover: Puerto Rico Sonidos de las Americas program cover: Cuba Sonidos de las Americas program cover: Venezuela

TANIA LEÓN: Well, it could be an effective tool. I know that there’s a lot of talk about the different things, such as MP3 and different sources that are actually making this possible. The question is, how to control these new entities that are emerging into a force that probably will actually become something very big. And it has to do precisely with the livelihood of the composer, because if anyone can actually take this piece of information and only this piece of information without actually giving a share to the composer, we are back to square one. And the composer nowadays, I mean, how many composers are making their livelihood out the money that they earn through their music?

FRANK J. OTERI: Very few.

TANIA LEÓN: To me, I mean, composers are in a very incredible situation, when you are an entity that creates the music, you know, giving music to the world, and then you have to share all the profits to the tune that you end up sometimes being the person that receives the least.

FRANK J. OTERI: And often times the composer has to pay for a work, to get the very work performed. You have to hire musicians to play it, and then, or you have an orchestra does a piece of your music, you don’t have access to the tape and no one can hear it.

TANIA LEÓN: Or also, you know, you have to produce all the copies, the score, everything. So, I mean, it’s a heavy-loaded situation for the composer, even though the composer is hoping to have his or her music played and known and accepted. And this is the thing: acceptance. You know, I mean, the composer has such an incredible appetite for acceptance that sometimes, you know, they make a lot of sacrifices.

FRANK J. OTERI: When I talked to Foster Reed from New Albion for our 2nd issue, we were talking about how you could really sell people music over the Internet and get people to buy music over the Internet in ways that you really can’t reach them in a store. Maybe the store isn’t going to house the CD if it doesn’t sell, but as long as you have a Web site, and if you have a way of having a secure line and getting a credit card, you can actually sell the music directly and reach people directly.

TANIA LEÓN: Absolutely. That is happening more and more, and I think that, you know, based on that information, a lot of composers are becoming entrepreneurs, are much more business oriented, trying to protect their legacy, and also trying to make a living. All solutions are welcome.

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