Who Are You?

Who Are You?

I’ve spent a good part of the day pondering a nationwide new music study which the American Composers Forum and the American Music Center are in the process of formulating. This morning, some members of both staffs got together over a conference call to discuss some important preliminaries.

We spent quite a bit of time trying to answer what might seem to be pretty basic questions: “What is a composer?” and “What is new music?” How these terms are defined has significant implications in how service organizations promote our constituency. And, on the practical side, determining what these terms are will ultimately determine who will be queried in this study.

So, what definitions of these terms are broad and inclusive enough to reflect the breadth and inclusivity of this music? Music-making is an activity that encompasses everything from whoever has charted on Billboard this week to every single band on MySpace. How porous is the line between what we think of as “new music” and the rest of music? Should such a line of demarcation even exist at this point? How can we define the term “new music” broadly while still keeping the focus on the music we think we know as “new music”? Should we be concerned about marginalization at the expense of inclusivity?

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.

48 thoughts on “Who Are You?

  1. William Osborne

    Any definition of who we are will by necessity be reductive (like when I, for the sake of comparison, suggested you are a hip postmodernist.) Wasn’t it Cage who said, “Let us admit once and for all, the lines we draw aren’t really straight.” You and your colleagues will have to agree where to draw an arbitrary line in the sand, a line that can never be anything but arbitrary, and then stick with it until you get your job done. Functionaries in the near and distant future will draw theirs, and a thousand arbitrary lines drawn in sand will add up to what we call the truth. Maybe that is who we are. Or no…maybe we are this:


    William Osborne

  2. Elaine Fine

    Kerouac/Allen film clip in above comment
    Thanks for this film clip! At first it was kind of annoying to have Steve Allen play while Kerouac was talking, but then the whole musical element put him so at ease, and allowed him to experience the music in his words that let me hear them in a way I have never heard them before.

  3. philmusic

    Frank, you have a mission statement don’t you?

    Then decide who you “want” to be associated with-
    then figure out who you “have” to be associated with. And whatever you do don’t forget;

    those backslapp’in frat boys
    Out every night

    they know that they are their own hearts delight

    those backslapp’in frat boys

    scrap’ in for a fight

    they know they can’t lose because they’re always right

    those backslapp’in frat boys

    It’s such a mystery

    why they must insist on telling us their extremely detailed and idiosyncratic personal view of history?

    those backslapp’in frat boys

    I wish they were mild

    tune into another segment of alpha males gone wild.

    those backslapp’in frat boys

    they have a ball!

    because they know you “can” fight city hall!

    I apologize in advance to all!

    Phil’s page

  4. philmusic

    those backslapp’in frat boys

    there is never to few!

    sorry to say it

    I guess I’m one too!

    I apologize to myself!

  5. philmusic

    those backslapp’in frat boys

    there is never to few!

    sorry to say it

    I guess I’m one too!

    I apologize to myself!

  6. Somebody

    Just Pondering
    Well there you go again Frank. Just sitting at your computer pondering what new music is, and what a composer is. And, well, you have called the somebodies and asked them to talk about what a composer is, and what new music is. Frank, composers are basically being treated like @#$%, the American Music Center basically does nothing for composers, the Composers Forum does nothing, Orchestras throw scores in the trash, board members award themselves grants and all you can do is sit at your computer and ponder what a composer is. You might as well ponder what a tree is. Or, how about this one, why don’t you ponder what a board member is, even better, what an editor or journalist is? I can’t believe you get paid money for this job. I can’t believe you get funding. Would somebody just shut this site down.

  7. John Kennedy

    Mr. Balakian, I will tiptoe into this because I am a composer and an AMC board member, and I might consider your recent complaints on these pages from both perspectives. I know many composers (including myself) who share some of your observations and frustrations regarding new music establishment politics. Many of my closest colleagues in this field have endured years of indignities or brush-offs from orchestras and publishers – in fact, some of the distinguished American composers given the honor of a Letter of Distinction by the AMC, have been unpublished and are certainly rarely if ever performed by orchestras. Unfortunately, American composers have suffered this for a long time, and this is a main reason the AMC and NewMusicBox are here, and why some of us support the AMC as our best hope for composer advocacy. NMBox has discussed the phenomenon of the neglected composer on many occasions in the past, and has served to shine the spotlight on many composers whom one would never accuse of having insider connections. And frankly, if you look at the programming histories of many of the composer/performer/presenters who frequent these pages as contributors, posters, or subjects, you would discover the bulk of their work is devoted to the “underserved” composers in our world. This place is not the enemy – it is your best advocate.

    A real strength the AMC provides the field is that we honor healthy and respectful dissent. The board itself represents wide viewpoints, but knows that at the end of the day, we are all devoted to this because we love new music of some kind or other. Believe me, you are not alone in taking issue with politics and injustice in the field – I have seen it addressed forcefully by many of our colleagues. And I truly empathize with composers who have never received an individual peer-panel award or won an individual artist grant. I am one of them. Welcome to a big and proud club.

    These are big, ongoing issues for composers who all have to work in a society with marginal respect for our work – but they can’t be answered by reductive anger. The vitriol aimed at Frank is not fair. He is a terrific, talented, neglected composer himself. In some respects, his advocacy of others and his position has compromised his opportunity and standing as a composer – we have seen this suffered by other composer/writers before. Frank has the most sincerely generous musical mind of any of us. He hears music, not personality or politics or privilege or power. He has nothing negative to say about anyone’s creative and personal efforts – he wants us all to succeed however we can. He is the best advocate of every composer, including you.

    Frank – thanks, and please keep pondering who the hell we are.

  8. William Osborne

    Thank you for your comment, John. I thought it had just the right touch, even though I too can sympathize with some of Craig’s rather poorly expressed ideas . Referring to Frank, you write: “He hears music, not personality or politics or privilege or power.”

    I think, in some ways, this might partially define the American composer, at least in comparison to their European colleagues, who are much more ready to hear and address issues of politics, privilege and power in music. The social and cultural climate in Europe is far more politically diverse than in the States. Every country has a wide range of parliamentary parties, as opposed to the narrow spectrum of America’s two party system.

    One cannot think of composers like Luigi Nono or Hans Werner Henze without considering their deep questioning of the structures of politics, power and privilege in Western societies. Americans, on the other hand, are almost conditioned to believe that such questions represent a form of class warfare that is somehow tacky or inappropriate. Oddly, Americans hold these beliefs, even though few even attempt to explain why it would be wrong for a composer to address such social questions or to allow them to be part of his or her identity as an artist. It is also striking that America once had very political artists, but that they and their tradition were literally exterminated through McCarthyism.

    This might explain why a politically engaged composer like Frederic Anthony Rzewski spent so much of his life in Europe. To put it perhaps a little too simply, his thought would not have fit in the States and he probably would have been marginalized. This negative attitude toward political artists might also explain why a composer like Colin Nancarrow spent his life in Mexico after having been politcly persecuted in the United States. We often consider events such as these as insignificant, but over time this atmosphere of special contempt for political art and artists has probably had a very large effect on our profession.

    More recently, we have seen a related phenomenon in the suppression of arts funding hidden behind surface events like the Maplethorpe controversy. The general ethos seems to be that artists are not to be trusted, exactly because of their possible political and social inclinations, while in Europe, even the most political artists are highly esteemed and supported by extensive public funding.

    Rzewski and Nancarrow are admittedly two of the more extreme examples, but I think they hint at the larger social environment that has shaped what American composers are. If American composers want success, they must be relatively non-political. Exceptions are extremely rare. Even the blasé political nature of works like the operas of John Adams are too much for America. “Klinghofer,” for example, has essentially been suppressed. When one considers the massive social problems in the States, like racism, urban squalor, poverty, and militarism, the country’s lack of politically oriented composers becomes very notable. And it is even more striking if we compare this barren atmosphere to the politically engaged atmosphere of the arts in America during the 1930s before it was ravaged by the political suppression of the 50s.

    This is, of course, related to America’s rather radical and isolated system of arts funding, where almost all financial support comes from the wealthy. It is the only country in the world with such a system. All other industrial countries publicly fund the arts. In many European countries the public funding for the arts is not just hundreds of times higher that in the USA, but thousands. (If necessary, I can supply some numbers.)

    Anyway, if we ask what an American composers is, it is someone who is non-political, someone who is now part of an artistic tradition that has been politically suppressed for so long that it no longer has a history or tradition upon which to build political art. This has left American composers with almost no intellectual or technical capacity to create political art, and no public for it when they do.

    I know this isn’t quite the kind of answer Frank was looking for, but for me the question of what an American composer is goes much deeper than simply deciding if we should include pop and jazz. And I can’t help but notice that when we include elements of pop, we move our wider genre even closer to the all-encompassing world of the mass media and the extreme forms of global capitalism it represents.

    William Osborne

  9. Somebody

    You still have not addressed the slack issue of the AMC, MTC, and ACO or any other composer group. They are filled with slack, slack and more slack. If and when the get up an actually have cognitive effort- it is nothing but “celebrity-me-too-sugar”. The day you or Frank address the slack and politics of the above mentioned groups is the day I am going to shut-up. If I join any of the above groups tomorrow, nothing will happen to better my career, absolutely nothing. I was involved with a group of about 12 composers last year, we put on concerts, and we sat around and laughed about the slack and politics of the AMC, MTC, ACF, and the ACO. Yes, the ACO, l just wonder what the @#$% happens when you send them a score. Is there any transparency? Could some one please answer the question, what happens when you send a score to to ACO? Do they throw it in the trash? It doesn’t even look like its an orchestra anymore, it just does this music underground series, with electronic gadget hear there and everywhere. I am not going to stop complaining about this, I am going to be as nasty as I can be. I am not going to act like the poor old feel sorry for me unrecognized composer any more, not when these group slack about acting and proclaiming to our government that they serve composers, all the while, the simply serve “inside composers”.

    So, Mr. Kennedy, what do we do about these orchestras throwing scores in the trash? What do we do about board members giving themselves grants, what do we do about the slack and politics? You are on the board of AMC, organize, lead, express yourself, instead of hiding behind the corporate board gold brick!

  10. Somebody

    I am sorry if there are any spelling errors, I don’t have time to edit. I do compose, and it takes much of my time.

    Listen, I am sorry for being so passionate, but the behavior of composer organizations in this country needs to change from a serve the insider composers who have a quasi-celebrity status (fully manufactured) to serving all composers. This would mean meetings, true physical meetings, face to face everyone is equal meetings where hands are raised and issues are discussed. No more panels of experts, board members, CEOs, and celebrities. Now, I know lunatics like me are going to show up and bring up stuff that no one wants to hear, things that make celebrity composers uncomfortable, or everyone uncomfortable, but that is the world we live in, a world of expression. The current system is doing everything it can to suppress expression of the self to all, leaving a small handful of creeps on stage in charge of the finances. You can’t have democracy without meetings. Now, just to put things in perspective, corporate america despises democracy and is doing everything it can do destroy self expression. Disney, our world leader of entertainment doesn’t want us creating and expressing, they want us sitting in front of their vacuous amusement as consumers. Corporate America, Board Members, CEOs, do you see where I am going with this. Logo, logo, and more logo. I do understand that Ivy league schools train their students to set-up a logo, and push whatever material into it, and Bang on a Can, New Music Box, ACO, AMC… are no different. Set up a logo, stealth the service, set-up a board, start some fund raisers, raise the flag, and tell everyone how superior you are. It won’t work with artists. Composers are too smart. They know how to make their own soup, not go logo hunting for hottest brand of soup in the retail consumer market. Setting up Ms. Higdon as the bestest-ever-ever composer without any discussion of what a composer is facing today on New Music Box is nothing but logo promotion. We all want to express ourselves, the question is how on earth do we do it without suppression. And, from first hand experience, due to the opaqueness of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Ms. Higdon’s prominence of commissions for the third year, it has become about suppression, via toss the score in the trash.

    If you do go democratic, and set up meetings of composers, you need to set the chairs up so everyone can see each other, don’t make a large rectangle of chairs all facing a large table, with a podium in the middle for the expert to stand and bring bestest-ever-evers up to tell the rectangle of chairs how they can’t make soup as good as he or she can. The microphone should move around the room, perhaps with a referee.

    Leaders make leaders, leaders do not suppress other leaders. You do not destroy opportunity because of social or artistic incompetency. I do understand that when you open up opportunity for all, incompetency make creep its way it, and the answer to that is, so what! Because the alternative is destruction of opportunity to the point where incompetency is creeping its way in. The question is what kind of world do you want, corporate, or democratic?

    Now I have said this before, and I will say it again. I do not have anything against Frank. You are probably correct about his legacy. But, I do have a problem of what he has created himself as at the New Music Box, especially with what composer are facing today. One more time, he can sit at his desk and ponder, or he can bring chaps like Mr. Kennedy and have an open discussion about slack, politics, expert panels, grant scams, and insider behavior. I could care less about a definition of what a composer is or isn’t.

  11. John Kennedy

    I would really encourage you to look at other models of what composers do when they feel marginalized. Because, the institutions which frustrate you are never going to satisfy all composers in every way we hope for. One of the most amazing things going on in new music today is the incredible number of ensembles that young composers have started. Some of their organizations/ensembles have very activist agendas that go far beyond promoting their own work. Starting a not-for-profit, and devoting your energy to social causes and promoting other people’s music with no compensation, is a tremendous eye-opener on all of the issues involved in bringing new music to performance.

    The ACO has at their website a deadline coming up November 30 for their new music readings and commissions that you might consider. You can also check out their list of past winners, which looks to be about 75 composers, and decide if you think they are all a bunch of insiders.

    I would also suggest looking at amc.net and reviewing the lists of who has recently received grants from the AMC’s four chief grant programs: the composers who benefit directly (CAP) or indirectly (Copland Ensembles, Recording, and Live Music for Dance). I would hope the evidence there would be encouraging rather than discouraging.

    Umberto Eco wrote in his book “The Open Work” that “the avant-garde artist protests through their form”. I would suggest you read some Cage – it only gets better with repeat readings too. What was true for him seems to be true for every generation, but the details are just different. He had anger, as have many others before and since. Look at lives like his to find a way to get beyond that anger.

  12. William Osborne

    John, you mention the many new music ensembles young composers have founded, and add, “Some of their organizations/ensembles have very activist agendas that go far beyond promoting their own work.”

    If you have a moment, could you tell us who some of those groups are, and what sort of activism they are involved in? I am very interested, and it might also help answer Frank’s useful question.

    William Osborne

  13. Somebody

    Wait a minute, I am not talking about other composer organizations, the small ones that put on their own concerts, and the small new music groups. I am talking about the large NEA grant sucking ones. The umbrella ones. Who on earth said I felt marginalized? Mr. Kennedy, I am talking about the current behavior of the AMC, NMB, ACO, and ACF. They appear to be constructed as corporations, locked in place with logos and boards. Why don’t we focus on the board members and what they actually do. Why don’t we focus on the contest culture? Why don’t we talk about the new-music celebrities the groups are manufacturing. Why don’t we talk about our major orchestras throwing scores in the trash. Focus, focus, focus. Not on me, and me feelings of “marginalization”. Do you feel marginalized? That is such a strange term. I am expressing my thoughts for my sons grand children, who, I think are going to look back at this and say, “what on earth were they thinking, why did they treat their artist, composers, actors like this.” Could you just ask one question, do you think you can step out of the corporate board system and create something else, or perhaps think of something else?

    I will never send a score to a panel of “expert composers”, to be “read”, especially by the ACO. Are you going to send them a score? The last ACO concert I went to had dog whistles. I mean ear crunching @#$^& dog whistles, during a piece of music that sat flat and lifeless. It was a new music reading, the experts were supposed to assist this emerging composer, yet they sat like fools while the dog whistle went on, and on, and on, until the french hornists complained.

  14. William Osborne

    Craig, if you hold the topic down too tightly you can end up strangling dialog into silence. If you let people shuffle around a bit, you find comments that can slowly move things forward while giving them some room to maintain their dignity and all of that. I still hope John will answer my question. It might point to many things – especially solutions to the problems you are addressing.

    Anyway, I took your suggestion and looked at the ACF website. The organization is indeed astoundingly corporate in nature. The board is dominated by corporate people, the funders are almost entirely corporate, and the advisory board is full of the types of artists you describe as being essentially “logos” manufactured by a white, monied elite. I also looked at their event calendar for this month and did not see a single non-logo composer.

    All of them were very standard names – no new or lesser-known voices. One might argue that the programming seems based on attaining status by association for the organization itself.

    I also noticed that a significant number of the few composers on the board are very hardcore careerists – the types of “outgoing” composers who have worked very hard in extra-musical ways to build their careers. They are the type of business oriented composers who might make good board members, but also the kind of artists who might having trouble understanding composers who are more introverted, or less inclined to accept the white, corporate, monied status quo of classical music and all of the social and aesthetic issues that implies.

    But you are the one casting these very public complaints, so why are you not giving us a detailed analysis of what is wrong with the ACF and suggestions for how the problems could be corrected? How should things be organized? Can ACF be reformed? If not, what should replace it? There is so little NEA money that there still would be an enormous lack of funding even if these organizations weren’t sucking it up. And what will corporations ever understand about funding the arts, except that appropriately muzzled works add legitimacy to their depredations of the world? How will you lead the American public and its artists to understand that there are fundamental systemic problems with our entire arts funding structure?

    I think we all understand your complaints, Craig, and it is good that you state them, but what are your ideas for solutions, or possible approaches to finding solutions?

    William Osborne

  15. John Kennedy

    William, this brings us back to the very interesting discussion possibilities you raise above in asking “is the American composer non-political”? I wish others would join this discussion because it should be talked about. Frankly, while I agree with some of your generalities, exceptions abound and your statement that there is “almost no intellectual capacity” among Americans to produce political art is ridiculous. I really don’t see much politics in the work of successful Europeans either, or Aussies, or Japanese composers, and my own impression from interaction with non-American composers is that they can be as myopically wrapped up in music and their own personal success as anybody. I do see political music by Americans, and I have used government funding to present new American music that is “political”.

    As for the ensembles, my knowledge is incomplete, but if you start to see what goes on at Mr. Zorn’s The Stone, and with groups like Free Speech Zone, Yes is a World, the New Music Collective, Little Globe, etc, it seems there is plenty of “intellectual capacity” among American composers to think about music as agent for change.

  16. William Osborne

    Thank you for your comments, John. I can well understand how the generality that American new music has lost its intellectual capacity for creating political music might seem ridiculous, but as a larger historical trend, it is painfully true.

    You mention a few groups performing at John Zorn’s The Stone, but their obscurity is notable and illustrates my point. Obviously, just about anyone can write something political, but a *culture* of political art is something entirely different. And in comparison to the 30s, America has largely lost its cultural and intellectual capacity for this kind of art. This also deeply affects our profession and abilities as composers.

    First, political art requires an infrastructure to support it. There must be a spectrum of journals to cover, discuss and encourage political art; there must be theaters and concert halls to present it; there must be librettists and composers experienced in the creation of political art; and there must be a public with the political sophistication and experience to intelligently participate. Our country as a whole, and our composers (for the most part,) have largely lost this capacity – especially in comparison to Europe. Political culture cannot be pulled out of a hat, it develops over time.

    You are quite right that the political culture of European new music has weakened considerably, but it is still much more healthy than in the States. In fact, it is almost impossible for European new music to avoid politics, because it is almost entirely funded by governments. In Munich, for example, approximately 11% of the city’s budget is devoted to culture. This leads to an enormous amount of political debate around cultural politics, with corresponding reports and articles in the papers, magazines, State radio, and State television networks. Correspondingly, the public follows these debates closely, and the results deeply affect political careers. These political discussions are continued in the journals and festivals devoted to new music. There is nothing in the States that compares to this. We do not even have the infrastructure. (In fact, as your comments seem to illustrate, Americans are often not even aware of what they are lacking. I wouldn’t know either, if I hadn’t lived in Europe for the last 28 years.)

    I might also mention that Munich (pop. 1.2 million) also has close to 40 small private theaters that are deeply devoted to political theater. That sort of theatrical culture, especially in terms of the number of theaters, also does not exist in the States. In addition, the State and city run three large theaters that also often present very political works. And Europe’s infamous “Regietheater” in Opera is also often overtly and provocatively political. Similar productions would be quickly forbidden in any of the larger American opera houses as politically and/or morally offensive to the wealthy patrons who support them.

    Americans should realize that without an appropriate cultural infrastructure, the capacity for political art is lost.

    I hope this will make by perspective clearer, though I doubt we will ever fully agree, because my views as an expat are far outside the norm.

    I just deleted a couple paragraphs devoted to Santa Fe (where you live) and this topic, but I will save them for another time. Maybe we can chat when I am home in NM in the summers.

    William Osborne

  17. Somebody

    The first thing to do would be to recognize the unusual creation of these composer group boards. I mean, recognizing that for a group of composers, the CEO Board system paradigm will not serve or listen to individual composers or groups of composers. It cannot function as a patron of music creation. The next thing to do would be remove them or destroy the groups themselves and create a new group that functions as a democracy. This means the composers would meet, discuss topics, and vote. There would be no president, no board, and no assets. In fact there would be little use for money except to meet and vote. But, this idea is so far removed from any coordinated effort at present, because it seems so unusual and even laughable to our current system.

    The first thing I was looking for was a bit of introspection, but all I get is individuals like Harold, and Mr. Kennedy telling me how angry I am. It is very insightful to me, when board members behave this way, to point the topic in the direction of an emotion layer, reducing the topic to simple banter, all the while the questions of integrity are completely ignored as still Mr. Kennedy has not answered a single question. I cannot get a single response without him sighting how angry and upset I am. William, what you have sighted about the ACF is very accurate. The board of the ACF is probably the most suspicous. Now bite them, talk it up, don’t let Frank ponder what a composer is or isn’t, demand answers for how these groups manifested themselves and fully manufactured celebrity status for a small select group of “composers”. A composer cannot push a logo, it just isn’t art, yet that is what they teach in Ivy League schools. I mean, just check out Sequitur, it is one giant logo. Express yourself, tell them all how ridiculas the whole thing is.

    The first “to do” I had was focusing Frank on bring these issues to light. But, it is like there is no one there, just this celebrity who is to busy for any of this “nobody” stuff.

  18. William Osborne

    Craig, even though it seems strange and fraught with potential problems, I like your idea of composers governing their own profession in small, regional, non-hierarchal, egalitarian roundtables. If the groups were small and regional, it might prevent the totalizing factions and manufactured status that have plagued our profession for so long. Unfortunately, there is a huge distance between this idea and developing something that could actually be put into practice – especially in terms of funding and performances.

    Culture is by its very nature local, and this should shape how we organize arts support. MTC is strongly rooted in New York City, and ACF is strongly rooted in Minneapolis. They will never fully understand the cultural needs of the public and artists in places like Tulsa, Toledo, Albuquerque, Spokane, Missoula, or Little Rock. The problem is that we do not have local sources of funding in America, which leads to centralized organizations that are inherently out of touch with the local nature of culture.

    There might be some good reasons why Frank has remained silent. If all of the things you say are true, he would lose his job if he became too radical — too “anti-celebrity” and too “anti-corporate” to use your terms. I also disagree with John who says Frank doesn’t hear issues of “politics, privilege and power” in music. The carefully planned balance in who is featured on NMB shows that he has thought about these things very carefully. (Even if that balance lies within the confines of the manufactured celebrity culture you suggest exists.)

    And finally, I am not at all ready to “bite” ACF, because my observations are only based on a very superficial perusal of their website. There might be a lot I don’t know or understand. Things are clearly not all they should be, but until we have a lot more information and analysis we might need to reserve some of our judgments. There is no greater force for change than open eyes and minds.

    William Osborne

  19. JHigdon

    Craig wrote: I will never send a score to a panel of “expert composers”, to be “read”, especially by the ACO. Are you going to send them a score? The last ACO concert I went to had dog whistles. I mean ear crunching @#$^& dog whistles, during a piece of music that sat flat and lifeless. It was a new music reading, the experts were supposed to assist this emerging composer, yet they sat like fools while the dog whistle went on, and on, and on, until the french hornists complained

    Craig, I was at that concert, and there were plenty of people complaining about the dog whistles, both in the reading and the concert itself. And I know that you are aware of that, because if you were in fact in the audience, you heard quite a few folks complaining about it!

    And I know, as is public knowledge available to ALL, that both AMC and ACF do have open public meetings annually.

    And I have yet to see any school anywhere mention the word “Logo” in any manner while educating students (or for that matter, the word “coporate”.

    And the NEA gives precious little money anymore to anyone.

    No one is making you submit scores anywhere, and believe it or not, there’s no conspiracy on any level aimed at you.

    The folks at any new music or arts organization, do so with the truest of intent and with a desire to help. They’re doing everything they can to assist as many folks as possible, with real heart and the sincerest of intentions. No one deserves your vitrole, and since you feel that you have real issues with all of these organizations, just don’t partake in any of these programs. It’s that simple. The truth is the most transparent thing of all!

  20. Somebody

    So you were there, to hear the dog whistles piercing away. Yes, indeed I was there. It went on until a percussionist and French Hornist complained. Then, finally the conductor conceeded. But it went on for a long time, aproximately 20 minutes. That is the way I remember it.

    I don’t think you get the gist of the logo issue that has been raised during these posts. I am not going to explain it again. However, if you are who I think you are, it may be worth it. The AMC, ACF, MTC, ACO and NMB have created a manufactured culture, branded it with a logo, and incorporated it with boards and CEOs. It won’t work with composers. I am looking at the NMB logo as I type, it is supposed to encompass a way of being, and represent a board. The NMB has been pushing celebrity composers because that is what corporations do, they manufacture culture. I wasn’t talking about schools and logos.

    I have already announced to these posting that I am indeed passionate [vitriol or whatever, like Mr. Metzer calls me a lunatic] about the stopping incorporation of the composer world, and stopping the manufacturing of new music celebrities. And, you are correct, I have stopped sending scores to most of these organizations. I do not understand how that lends itself to transparency. Mr. Kennedy requested I get on the band wagon and send a score to the ACO contest. His request was an attempt to convince me of the integrity of these board operated things.

    Now, if you are who I think you are, would you like to enlighted this post board, make transparent, of the what happens when a composer sends a score to the Philadelphia Orchestra? And, what exactly does one need to do to get a score performed by them? How do they judge the score, at the same time tossing it the trash.

  21. Colin Holter

    Brad Pitt = celebrity
    Angelina Jolie’s lower lip = celebrity
    Jennifer Higdon = not a celebrity

    The material stakes of new music are low. The social stakes, on the other hand, cbakalian, are higher than you might imagine. The respondents on NewMusicBox have been far more patient with you than you deserve. You are clearly not ready to assume a place in normal human civilization. Until you’re ready to start behaving like a grown-up, I will wish you an eternity of dog whistles and professional frustration.

  22. Somebody

    Mr. Holter, name calling is far from grown up. You really need to think just a bit more, I mean, could you at least try to make a better argument than name calling and wishes of professional frustration. You can vilify me all you want, you can play all the dog whistles you want, you can wish me all the professional harm, and I will still ask these questions about how our “new music” world is functioning. So, do you know how the Philadelphia Orchestra picks a composer? Is it open to any composer? Even better, do you know how the ACO picks a composer for its new music readings, amoungst a pile of scores, find the one with the dog whistles? I do not think any one on this list, post, NMB has answered that question.

    Are you honestly attempting to convince me that our field has no new music celebrities and that the ACO, ACF, AMC, and MTC does not promote them and create them? Patient enough with me, I am not sorry about this in any way, I have been patient enough with these retched composer groups and their illustrious board members and presidents. It is time for something better than the ACO, ACF, AMC and MTC!

  23. andy

    This stream is beginning to resemble French television: a lot of very cogent points, passionately but repeatedly expressed with no end in sight. I think at this point it’s probably worth acknowledging that there’s no manichean divide between the various positions being taken. It’s no secret that there’s an establishment that rewards certain kinds of composers and not others; that political connections can yield major careers; that funding agencies can be extraordinarily fickle, chasing after the latest trend in an effort to appear relevant, socially conscious, etc.; that the omnipresent pressures of American capitalism have led to a Faustian embrace of branding among composers and ensembles (a stroll through the CMA catalog is particularly noxious in this regard).

    It’s also no secret that there are myriad creative responses to these sad, shallow realities of our all-too-human field. Composers of all descriptions do meaningful, inspired work with enthusiastic audiences, outside of the concert music mainstream; both performers and composers form new ensembles at an astonishing pace, giving concerts wherever they can and commissioning other composers whose music they’re excited about; agencies like AMC and MTC, whatever the flaws in their organizational structures, provide opportunities for composers in far-flung parts of the country whose work would otherwise have remained inaudible to the national community; the Philadelphia Orchestra notwithstanding, many orchestras around the country are breaking their death-embrace with the past and are actively commissioning new works and working toward a new relationship with their audiences (this last is happening much too slowly, and in fits and starts, but it is happening, particularly at the regional level).

    That these two realities co-exist should not be surprising to anyone; the one in no way precludes the other. And the fact that someone at some time may have gotten a grant under suspicious circumstances in no way invalidates all the other valuable work done by agencies that try to redress the woeful lack of comprehension and support we face as artists working in these United States.

    The worst thing we can do to ourselves is to engage in ad hominem attacks on each other that are predicated on false assumptions about what the “other” represents. Most of us haven’t the first idea of what actually motivates another, whether an individual or an organization. Where we know of an abuse, not merely the appearance of one, then we ought to speak out. Otherwise we should confine ourselves to writing our best music and bringing it in any way we can to an audience that needs it. This is the only truly honest thing an artist can do.

  24. William Osborne

    Jennifer, it is very gracious and courageous of you to join us. Luminaries seldom participate here, and especially those who are women.

    I think the broader cultural meanings and concepts surrounding “logo” creation could be very valuable to music schools in courses studying contemporary culture and music sociology. The Canadian journalist, Naomi Klein, has written an excellent book on the topic: “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies”, first published by Knopf Canada in January 2000. The book has become an international bestseller. It deals with the negative effects of brand-oriented corporate activity, and various methods people have taken in order to try and fight back. It examines the effects of corporate logo creation on culture stemming back to the 1950s.

    Wiki has a good article about the book here:


    Follow especially the link for “culture jamming.” And for historical perspective, see also the link about the Situationist International of the 1960s and its cultural and artistic activities. Knowledge of these movements and Klein’s book are almost essential for a fuller understanding of postmodern culture.

    I think those involved in arts funding might also be interested in Klein’s book, if for no other reason than to better understand the broader cultural, social, political, and economic climate in which you are working.

    William Osborne

  25. Somebody

    Mr. Oy
    Okay Mr. Oy, don’t bring up problems with a system unless you or I are sure that there is really a problem. Given the current opaqueness of the board system, how can we be certain? I am not even sure of how they get elected to board positions, let alon what they are doning? You are asking me to stay quiet because “we” all know that we don’t live in a perfect world. Mr. Oy, how does the Philadelphia Orchestra pick a composer to commision? What does the Philadelphia Orchestra do with a composer’s score when it receives it, unsolicited or solicited? What does the ACO do? Why does it appear that the ACO, AMC, MTC, and ACF are manufacturing new music celebrities? Sure, you can reduce my arguments to polemic for your convience, but can you answer these questions? Can you?

  26. JHigdon

    I am thrilled to not have to fit into any celebrity category. The truth to me is Firemen=celebrity; those who are putting their lives on the line=celebrity. Those individuals who work long and hard to make kids safe…that’s where the label should be. There are too many real issues out in the world be worrying about who is a celebrity (and that term changes daily according to whom you ask) But life is better for the non-celebrity artist.

    That dog whistle again…occured twice in a wonderful piece, for about 15 seconds out of an 11 minute work (that was the total time…I just took at look at the score). The piece worked well (maybe not to your aesthetic, but it was very unique, and for most listeners, engaging).

    I can also tell you, from personal experience, the ACO gets PILES and PILES of scores. In the hundreds…the last time I looked at these, there were about 300 scores. And a group of composers slowly works over them for 3-5 days, choosing a chunk of them to go to the next round. From there, others go through them. THEY ALL GET LOOKED AT AND DULY CONSIDERED. It ain’t perfect, but it does work on some level. I did an article for NMB back in 2004, called “Is There Such Thing As Grant Music?” It gives a breakdown of how a panel works, including how much time an average panelist has to look at a pile of 400 scores.

    In terms of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I’m assuming you are meaning my 3 works coming up on this season…how did they happen? The conductor of the Royal Scottish Orchestra is coming to Philly and he requested doing my work, “blue cathedral”, which apparently he has performed in other places. The administration said yes (there is always a lot of going back and forth-like a negotiation, to figure who gets to conduct what in a certain year).

    For “The Singing Rooms” and “Concerto 4-3”, soloists who have had associations with Eschenbach and the artistic administrator, came to the orchestra and asked if a commission could be written for them by me. This didn’t happen at the same time (months apart), and I at first told them that maybe they should get another composer to write one of the works, but both soloists/ensembles wanted me to write it (they gave a myriad of reasons)…so here we are. I’m completing the 2nd concerto today.

    How I ever got picked out of a large group of composers to write the Concerto for Orchestra for 2002, I’ll never know. I didn’t even know I was being considered, and I was certainly the completely unknown individual in the group. So I can’t answer that question. But I do know that the orchestra had sent for alot of scores from publishing houses. I just got a call one day, where the person on the other end asked if had anything for orchestra.

    I don’t know what happens to scores that go to any orchestra’s offices. I suspect that the conductors have heard some works on recordings, liked them, and programmed them (this is what has happened to “blue catheral”). It comes down to the conductor and soloists involved in a program…they have a back and forth about what would fit on the program, in character, numbers of instruments used, and length. For the soloists, they have a list that they give to the orchestra…say they’re working on the Rouse Flute Concerto…well, they say, we haven’t had a flute concerto on the program in a long time, and we really like Carol Wincenc’s playing style. They realize that Rouse’s music got everyone excited a while back when we did his violin concerto…so why not program this flute thing? But the good news is, slowly but surely, more new music is getting programmed on orchestra concerts…a good thing for all.

    Andy’s points are accurate and succinct!

    And William, thank you for the welcome…I’ve read the Kline book (it was required reading by a board). An interesting book indeed.

    Jennifer Higdon

  27. William Osborne

    Even if everything is in order with organizations granting funds for new music (which probably seems unlikely to many,) more transparency and easily accessible information about them would be helpful. We need a comparative study of these organizations listing the budgets, how much went to their operating costs, how much went to composers, listings of the boards over the last 20 years or so, a similar listing of the judges used to evaluate scores year by year, listings of all grant recipients with the amounts received, charts showing the sources of funding (governmental, foundations, corporations, private, etc.), charts showing the comparative make-up of the boards (composers, performers, corporate executives, music administrators, etc.), charts showing the regional distribution of the grants, and charts showing the regional distribution of board members and jury judges.

    And even if it were complex, we need comparative charts based on the musical styles of board members, juries, and grantees. The study could include numbers for board members who also received grants, both during their tenure or within a certain number of years afterwards. Comparative numbers could also be provided for teachers who are board or jury members who awarded their current or former students grants. Comparative summations could be made of each organizations rule’s (if any) for ensuring impartiality and objectivity among jury judges and board members. A summation could be given for how each organization selects its board.

    To insure impartiality, the study would need to be made by investigators who have few connections to the new music world. It wouldn’t be helpful if the study looked like the new music world and its favorites patting themselves on the back. There is no doubt that composers would find a comprehensive, impartial study very interesting and useful.

    One part of the divide I think Andy forgot to mention is that those who have received a number of grants seem to feel these organizations are in good order, while those who have not received grants are critical. With more objective information it would be easier to develop unbiased views and resolve these conflicts. It might also help the organizations function better.

    Unfortunately, none of this resolves the problem that America’s system of privately funding the arts is inherently flawed. The United States is the only country in the world with such a radical and isolated system. Even a cursory view of the cultural climate in Europe illustrates how much better an effective system of public funding is. Germany, for example, has 23 times more full-time, year-round orchestras per capita than the United States. Germany has 80 full-time, year-round opera houses, while the US doesn’t have any – zero! Even the Met only has a seven month season. For a lengthy comparison of the American and European systems see my article, “Marketplace of Ideas: A Personal Commentary on European and American Arts Funding” at:


    One last thought. Many arts administrators have a biased interest in maintaining America’s deeply flawed system, because they have developed their careers, expertise, and status around working with private funding. To some extent, we have a broken system with a vested interest in replicating itself.

    William Osborne

  28. Somebody

    We do see things differently, and that is okay. Last year I finished a symphonic score, a set of variations based on the spiritual “Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child” and a friend of mine pointed me to a Philadelphia based new music reading by the ACO. I went to the web site, downloaded the form, and was quickly struck by the fact that Philadelphia composers (teachers) were to adjudicate Philadelphia composers (emerging). I was a bit concerned about nepotism, so I called the ACO. I talked about how it was going to be handled. I asked them how many scores were sent in for the contest. The figure was below 25. They extended the contest deadline. I never sent my variations in, because I just don’t trust them. But that is not the point. The point is, given the low number of scores, and your description of 300 scores, I am genuinely confused.

    Asthetics and judgements aside, do you feel there are other composers in the Philadelphia area that could be given premiers by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Given the fact that you do not know how the PO selects scores, and your scores have been selected, does this raise questions in your mind?

    There is a big difference from looking at a score and audiating how the score will sound. What is dully considered?

  29. William Osborne

    Craig asked why the Philadelphia Orchestra is performing three works by Jennifer this season. One reason might be that the orchestra has a close and historic relationship with the Curtis Institute where Jennifer teaches. If we accept that culture is by nature local, then it might even be more local than a megopolis like Philadelphia. Maybe there is actually a sort of Rittenhouse Square cultural community shaped by Curtis, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the surrounding community. Can we say that is wrong?

    I think we might have some serious concerns about race and class when a wealthy, white community like Rittenhouse Square, with its massive financial resources, culturally turns in upon itself, but isn’t there also a logic to the Philadelphia Orchestra having a close relationship with Curtis composers?

    We should demand accountability from funders and artistic communities, but doesn’t the inherent indefinability of art also require us to maintain a distanced irony about the folly and foibles of cultural expression, its strange little communities, arbitrary biases, insularity, and yes, even dog whistles?

    I think funders should operate with absolute transparency. When they do, that allows them to admit that the aesthetic lines they draw aren’t really straight, and that by necessity they must always be somewhat subjective and arbitrary when deciding who to fund.

    Isn’t it a bit like the music of Mozart, that sense of profound folly it creates exactly because the music is so transparently perfect in structure and phrasing? Only perfect honesty allows for the true folly of art. The Philadelphia Orchestra was probably not completely transparent or honest about its bias for Curtis composers. Has this created some unintended dissonance?

    The real problem is that we are so under-funded as a profession that we end up like a bunch of skeletally starved primates fighting over one little banana. If there were more money to go around, it would be a lot easier to accept the inherent folly of culture with all of its bewildering arbitrariness.

    Anyway, that is another side of the argument, though I still appreciate some of the criticisms raised here. (But gosh, Craig, you need to brush up on your English. It’s even worse then mine. :-) )

    William Osborne

  30. Somebody

    Yes, I know. My English is horrible. My parents did not speak English when I was a child and well into my teen years. All around me was English, and I wasn’t to speak Armenian so I would assimilate. So, I have this born in America persona, yet my use of language is really poor. I will try to do better. Perhaps I will get my wife to edit!?! And, now my parents speak English. It is typos too. Sorry.

  31. JHigdon

    Since there seems to be no end in sight as to the misunderstandings and inaccuracies which are now cropping up in this session of responses, let me say this and leave it at that….

    Craig, the 300 applicants I was refering to was in reference to ACO’s annual national call (I think I made this mistake because if you’ll notice at the bottom of my posting, I typed that up at 3:30am…burning the midnight oil composing).

    You are correct: The local competition (which was local because of funding restrictions) had around 25.

    Non of the local teachers did the judging for the local competition…it was actually done in NYC by someone there.

    William, I don’t remember which board was involved in the Logo reading. It was sent to the members and if I remember correctly, up to the members to read.

    All of the info that William spoke about in his “we need the facts” (i.e. operating costs, lists of judges, awardees, etc) is available. No one seems to take the time to inquire and it would certainly take a lot of work, but in order for any organization to receive the funding that they do from grant organizations, this information is required to be available.

    And William, your hypothesizing concerning the Philadelphia Orchestra/Curtis/Rittenhouse observation is quite off the mark. The first work of mine being done this year at the orchestra was chosen by a French conductor, that I don’t know; the orchestra did not pick the work. The 2 other works were commissioned by Philly and 4 other orchestras who already had on their schedule, these soloists. Both Jennifer Koh (who I’ve written for before) and Time for Three (the other “soloist”) each made a special request for a commission, if other orchestras could be brought on board to lower costs. Several orchestras signed on and so the commissions developed into a reality (the Koh commission has been in development since around 1999 or 2000…so it takes a long time to find ways to make these things happen). But the works were not submitted with the idea that they might be programmed…they’ve been designed to fit the programs for which they were commissioned (and no one was more suprised than I that they commissioned 2 works from the same composer…I inquired upon their first mentioning Time for Three, if it wouldn’t be better to get another composer, but the group had asked for me…I’m not sure why.)

    I’m off to try to finish the Time for Three piece, today.

    Good composing to all! -Jennifer Higdon

  32. William Osborne

    Thank for your thoughts, Jennifer. It is very interesting that as a composer at Curtis you might be outside the school’s tradition of close relationships with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I would find that unfortunate. On the other hand, it is truly a happy coincidence that Philly is doing three of your works this season.

    You say that the information and analysis we need about funding organizations is available. That is not true. First, even if the basic information could be found, it would require a lot of extremely difficult research and investigation. Much of the information, if available, would be very obscure. And second, the needed analysis I suggest (e.g. comparison charts between the various organizations; charts showing the regional distribution of board members and grants, juries, and grantees; relationships between students and teachers in the granting process; and the variety and evolution of musical styles supported over the last couple decades) simply does not exist. Your comment is thus very misleading.

    It is also unfortunate that you can’t recall which board asked its members to read Naomi Klein’s “No Logo.” It is such an interesting and astounding statement –and one with so many implications– that one would like some documentation.

    I noticed, for example, that one of the Board Members at Meet the Composer is Joseph Walker, a senior advisor for General Motors. Klein’s book is a devastating attack on corporate America, so why would MTC suggest he read such a book? The website of the American Composers Forum is down at the moment, but I noticed earlier that there were many large corporations among their funders. Ironically, they were all listed on the website along with their corporate “logos.” What would those funders think if the ACF were asking Board members to read “No Logo”? Perhaps you can see why your comment is so interesting.

    Klein notes that corporations often consider the power of their logo more important than the quality of their products. Michael Jordan’s 1992 salary for endorsing Nike products, for instance, was more than for the entire 30,000-strong Indonesian workforce employed making them. For documentation see this BBC review of the book:


    How does our culture’s orientation toward logos affects new music? Does it create an imbalance by moving too much activity toward a small group of known “name-brand” composers? Do they often receive more commissions than they can complete with a high standard, while lesser-known composers with work just as good or better might be neglected? Does this corporate orientation create a bias toward centrailized national forms of funding that neglects the local nature of culture? If these problems exists, how could they be solved?

    William Osborne

  33. Somebody

    I am finding what Ms. Higdon is saying difficult to believe or trust. The mere fact that she is dominating (as a composer) the Philadelphia Orchestra and its affiliations smacks of absolute static corruption, while countless professional composers in the Philadelphia area go without any connection to the PO. This corruption is shrouded in mystery because no one knows how the PO and its affiliate chamber music groups are selecting works, especially new music. Ms. Higdon is proclaiming that she doesn’t know how she was selected. A nobody like me can only guess that it has to do with private funding. I can only guess that if I knew someone or was connected to someone who was contributing large sums of money to the PO, I would be considered.

    Final words. Your final words? What I find extremely egocentric is the fact that Ms. Higdon seems to be defending these manufacture-a-composer behaviors. No matter what William or I write, she still finds the current system with integrity. Statements like, “They just called me up and asked if I have written anything for orchestra” are truly suspicious and hard to believe.

    About the “conspiracy” accusation, just because I am criticizing the absurd non-profit composers groups doesn’t mean I think there is a conspiracy against me. I am far from any belief in a conspiracy. I think most of them are to stupid to even conspire, hence dog whistles that last “10 seconds”. 10 seconds that seems like an eternity. Out of 25 scores, the one with the dog whistles was the choice?

    First it is 300 scores at a reading contest, the now it is 25. Mr. Geller told me that the local Philadelphia composition teachers were reviewing the scores. Now, you tell me that “somebody” in NYC reviewed them. It sounds like the ACO and insider composers like yourself are just making this crap up as you go along.

    And finally, the statement from the Jan Wilson sums up this “conspiracy”,

    I can give you a couple of perspectives on this because in addition to
    my work at the League I’m also a professional mezzo. Sending my press
    kit and CD to orchestras, without any kind of personal connection to an
    individual at the orchestra, is usually not fruitful and I can pretty
    much be assured that my press kit will be tossed in the trash. It’s an
    unfortunate thing but orchestras receive literally thousands of CDs and
    press kits from both soloists and composers each year.

    What I want to know is, if Jan’s statement is true, how on earth does anyone get an opportunity? She is basically telling me, I must know someone at the administration level of an orchestra. Now that is manufactured culture. As my Armenian ancestors use to say, “the rich help the rich and the poor help the poor”, translates to perhaps what Andy is saying, the insiders help the insiders, and so screw the outsiders, sometimes the insiders do a good job. Yes, Andy, you are so correct, isn’t it just great the way it is, oy…

  34. EvanJohnson

    Am I the only one reading this thread, with an increasing sense of bemusement, whose main reaction is a desire to hear this dog-whistle piece?

    (And if it’s by the guy I think it’s by, he was a passing acquaintance of mine and is a really interesting and skilled composer.)

  35. William Osborne

    I too find this discussion bemusing – even if classical music is going to the dogs. The ironies here are often screaming (mine too,) but not nearly as hilarious as the irony in Mark Grant’s review of the new book by Alex Ross.

    Craig, even if problems exist with how American orchestras choose new works, it’s not “corruption.” That would imply some sort of malicious intent, which I don’t think exists. It’s great that the Philadelphia Orchestra plays Jennifer’s music. She deserves it, and she has worked very hard to achieve her status. Many other orchestral composers in Philadelphia should also be performed, but there is a lack of orchestras and funding. Jennifer is not to blame for that.

    Once again, let’s look to Europe for a comparison. In most of Central and Northern Europe, almost every city with more than about 500,000 people has a State Radio Orchestra with the official mandate to perform and record a new music concert on average about every six to eight weeks. The concerts are often broadcast live.

    Munich, with a population of 1.2 million, has six year-round, full-time professional orchestras, and two opera houses. The large opera house, the Munich State Opera, performs up to eight performances a week – every night and two on Sunday. So many services are required that they have to rotate the musicians, so the State Opera Orchestra has 140 members. Basically, it is two orchestras rolled into one, so the city actually has the equivalent of seven full-time orchestras. Berlin has three opera houses. Vienna has two, and so on.

    Philadelphia (pop 1.4 million) is slightly larger than Munich. Imagine if it had six or seven full-time, year-round orchestras, and at least one with the official mission to perform and record a concert of new orchestra works every six to eight weeks. Imagine if Philadelphia had two full-time, year-round opera houses. In reality, the Philadelphia Opera has the equivalent of about a six to eight week season if you add up the number of performances.

    I would say Europe’s public funding system is even more plagued with cronyism than the system in America, but with so many more concerts, the effects aren’t as devastating. The American problems are systemic, and not due to corruption.

    William Osborne

  36. rtanaka

    Maybe this video might not be too popular on this site, but here it is anyway:
    The Economics of Modernism

    I disagree with some of the negative views he has about government involvement, but the crux of the argument that he makes is pretty interesting — that modernism was in itself a movement backwards toward the older days of the patronage system, as a reaction toward the negative effects of market forces. It sort of makes sense in a way, especially since most of the music education one recieves in schools as a composer (in my experience, anyway) seems to be heavily biased toward the aesthetics of the Frankfurt School. This seems especially true for private schools where its means of subsistence is largely reliant on private donations.

    Seems like nowadays there’s more conflation between private, public, and commercial funding (though it would seem like a lot of people would rather be caught dead before being associated with the last one) and the aesthetics of the music itself seem to be reflecting this phenomenon through its eclecticism. I’ve been doing a lot of research on this lately so hopefully some answers might turn out in the process.

  37. Somebody

    Okay, she deserves to have her music played! How on earth is she doing it when scores are thrown in the trash? Are you buying the story, “One day they just called me and asked for orchestra scores.”? Are you really buying that story?

    In my best efforst to keep my opinions to myself, the dob whistle pieces was bad. It sat dead, lifeless, without any invention or narration. But, that is only my opinion. But, why dog whistles. Why? Why are scores with ear piercing dog whistles?

  38. William Osborne

    Thank you for the very interesting and informative post, Randy. The video is very interesting because it shows how elements of the American right are appropriating postmodernism for their own purposes. In its simplest terms, the general strategy is to define the commercialization of “high” culture (including classical music) as “cool”. This would reinforce the far right’s belief that the marketplace should be the arbiter governing virtually all human activity.

    The Ludwig von Mises Institute (which hosted the video you linked) describes their economic theories as the “Austrian School of Economics”, though in the States it is usually referred to as “The Chicago School.” Its principle proponent was Milton Friedman, who studied and later taught at the University of Chicago, where he acquired many of his views from another Austrian free-market economist named Friederich Hayek.)

    The technical economic term for Friedman’s extreme form of unregulated capitalism is “neo-liberalism” (though it has nothing to do with the usual American usage of the term liberal.) In a word, Friedman’s neo-liberal economics advocates that virtually all human enterprise should be privatized, including traditionally communal institutions such as public water systems, highways, electrical grids, public schools, social security systems, and to a considerable degree even the military. This system is, of course, deeply opposed to public funding of the arts.

    It is confusing to call Friedman’s economics the “Austrian School” because Austria, like all Western European countries, has been a social democracy since 1945. The Austrian government spends about 50% of the country’s GNP. (Like many European countries, Austria also spends more on its cultural budget than it does on its military.) Milton Frideman’s economics might better be called “The Austrian School of the 1890s.”

    One should also remember that American economic ideologues have consistently attempted to exploit BOTH modernism and postmodernism for their own political and cultural agendas. The CIA’s manipulation of modernist culture during the Cold War are a fascinating example. Our government wanted to promote modernism as a Western ideal opposed to the “Social Realism” of the East Block. The CIA went so far as to create phony front arts foundations and journals to support modernist art. The CIA’s agents also infiltrated the Boards of many of our major legitimate cultural institutions in order to shape cultural policy. Fances Stonor Saunders has written an excellent history of these activities entitled “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.” (The New York Press, 2000 – distributed by Norton.) There is a very detailed review of the book here:


    The CIA championed and secretly funded the careers of numerous modernist artists, such as Jackson Pollock and Kristof Penderski. Modernism was used as a symbol of individualism and freedom that could also legitimize the hegemonistic global capitalism advocated by America’s financial elite. It is sobering to realize that the CIA has had a considerable and carefully calculated influence on America’s postwar cultural identity and development.

    Now that capitalism has become global and the cold war is over, elite financial interests are naturally also appropriating and shaping the ideals of postmodernism for their own agendas – though I should hope less covertly than using the CIA. The video you link by the rightwing think tank, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is an example. As the speaker illustrates, the manufactured hippness of world music, and the commodification of “high culture” through cross-over genres, are a couple of the obvious ways the ideologies of global capitalism and postmodernism are being aligned.

    We also see the subtle influences of what might be termed “Chicago School Postmodernism” in global record companies that stress cross-genre eclecticism and a kind of iPod plastic wrapping of commercialized classical music. In itself, the popularization of classical music in the marketplace could be very beneficial, but the darker sides of postmodernism’s ideals could also lead to a neo-liberal vision of a radically commodified culture.

    Another goal of Chicago School Postmodernism is to destroy Europe’s public funding of the arts. Classical music, and notions of “the common good,” are defined as old-fashioned, elitist, and square. Impotent classical music is to be rejuvenated by the virile world of rock and the market. Subsidized classical music in social democracies is equated with aristocratic patronage. This is an extreme irony in light of the cultural plutocracy created by the American system of arts funding. The patrician rituals of the wealthy at places like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center could hardly be more overt. One only need compare the wide demographic of Europe’s classical music public with the white, monied status quo that surrounds American classical music to see which system is elitist.

    When we read authors like Alex Ross (The New Yorker) or Greg Sandow (The Wall Street Journal), we should remember that these publications often represent very particular segments and viewpoints of a white, financial elite. There is so much more going on between and behind the lines of their writings about postmodernism than many people realize – perhaps even the authors themselves.

    William Osborne

  39. rtanaka

    It’s Ryan, not Randy. :o

    The government was originally conceived as a mediator between the “elite” and the general populace, and this, I think, is especially true in American politics. Of course the reality doesn’t always work out so smoothly, since a lot of politicians have been using it as a tool to further their own interests. Nonetheless it’s probably the only place where a dialogue between the two things can take place in very real terms so it will always be a necessary evil.

    It always bothered me that economics and politics hardly ever get talked about among new music circles, although doing more research into the matter (many of which have only come to light in the last few years) it’s starting to make some sense — the ideals that the modernists enspoused were often in direct conflict with the realities that were surrounding them, especially in regards to their own sustenance. Many of these artists were trying to proclaim their individuality while at the same time living off the patronage of various private and government sources. (The story of Ezra Pound trying to sucking up to Mussolini is an extreme example, but not all that unusual, in my opinion.) And of course the music sounds ugly, disjointed, and awkward, because on a lot of levels it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    Capitalism has its own sets of problems, and being around the LA area for a while I hear a lot of stories that makes me somewhat sympathetic to Adorno’s elitist, Euro-centric points of view. But like Paul Cantor said in the video, I find that a lot of the arguments thrown against popular culture tends to be more based on its production scheme rather than looking into the content itself. If there’s a pop song singing about making the world a better place, how can you argue against such a thing as corrupting the culture? Cantor is right in saying that a lot of the criticisms coming from the art music circles probably arise out of a simple matter of petty jealousy. There are problems in Hollywood like producers exploting musicians for their own means, but I think this also comes as a result of it creating its own brand of elitism based on its materialistic culture.

    I hardly ever hear composers talk about the content of anything nowadays. It’s always about technique, theories, methods, and exploration. Oh, that was an interesting sound. Oh, that was new. Using things like dog whistles just to create a novelty and controversy. What was the composer trying to say, though? I don’t hear anybody saying what an amazing, life-changing experience the music was for them, so I’m guessing it was either pretty bad or medeocre at best.

    The modernists have done a very good job eradicating the idea of content and understandability from the artistic process, and managed to paint a picture of the “misunderstood starving artist” into the general populace’s mind as a positive image. Hell, even my parents feel sorry for me on some level, I think. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it seems like the general consensus is that artists are supposed to starve, so audiences have a justification for not supporting the arts.

    The myth of it is totally untrue though, particularly among the more well-known modernists. If you read into the way these artists have lived their lives, you can see that they had the luxury to travel around and they recieved fairly generous support from various patronaged sources. They weren’t billionares, but by no means were they starving — they were living pretty good in fact.

    Nonetheless a lot of people play into this role, and I see a lot of well-educated, very wealthy people complain about how hard it is to do art. It so common to see a lot of “poor me” attitudes in a lot of artists nowadays and the sense of entitlement some people harbor of their audience is pretty amazing amazing in its own ways in its pure pretenciousness. I’d imagine a lot of it just comes from a general cluelessness about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

  40. Colin Holter

    Ryan, sometimes I think you and I live on different planets. Yours is full of pretentious, deluded composers who are entirely divorced from society, and mine is Earth.

    1. The use of a dog whistle in an instrumental piece is not especially controversial. A dog whistle is, after all, an instrument. It’s not like a piece for orchestra and arson or something.

    2. Nobody feels sorry for me, and nobody should. Obviously my preference is that my music will find an appreciative audience, but I’m prepared to toil in obscurity if it means writing the music I want to write, and no tears need be shed over that.

    3. The phenomenon of music is a shared responsibility. My job (and yours) is to make something meaningful and valuable; the audience’s job is to meet us halfway and work toward grasping its meaning and acknowledging its value. Remember, if the listener is always right, he isn’t a listener anymore–he’s a customer.

  41. rtanaka

    Dog whistles in itself isn’t controversial, but from the looks of it it’s probably a gesture done in novelty, which seems to be a pretty common thing nowadays. The reason why composers use idiomatic instruments is because it has a history behind them, rooted in its performance-practices. If you’re going to throw in something new, there better be a good reason for it.

    A mixture of ethnic and western instruments are interesting because of the cross-cultural implications that it brings up. Concertos usually serve as a soapbox for an individual voice. I don’t think its unreasonable to ask composers to have some idea of what purpose their orchestration is serving, or at least give some justification why the performers and audience should give a damn about what they’re doing. The idea that an artist should be accountable for their actions doesn’t really seem to exist in a lot of places because a lot of these institutions were made to actively protect them from the feedback system that the market provides. To me, a lot of composers aren’t meeting their “halfway point”.

    I would suggest watching the video because it’s full of factual information — maybe you might question Cantor’s interpretation, but the history in itself is already enough to make you question the things which arose out of that movement. Cantor paints a very broad picture of modernism and obviously overlooks a lot of exceptions, but if you look at the economics of how these people made a living there are obvious things which they were doing that directly contradict the rhetoric they enspoused. And you exactly highlighted my point about modernism’s success in turning the term “commercial” in itself into a bad word. Capitalism is just a method of exchange through currency and the concept itself is neutral — but its negativity is already assumed.

    Keep in mind that academia in itself (which if I remember, you have never been outside of) is a patronized source, usually heavily funded by wealthy donors and government support. In a lot of ways it’s one of the last remenants of the feudal system that exists in the modern world. There is nothing “grassroots” about it, so don’t trick yourself into believing it so.

    There are good and bad things about each way of doing things, so I’m not trying to be divisive here. There aer obviously very good composer working in academia, as well as in some of these institutionalized places. As with everyone else, I’m just looking for a bit more transparency.

  42. Somebody

    Hi William, I have done some research on the board of the American Symphony Orchestra League. It appears that Ms. Higdon is a “Director” at the American Symphony Orchestra League. This little fact was neglected during the explanation of “They just called me up and asked me for orchestra scores one day”. It is hard to say from the 990 Form for American Symphony Orchestra League who is a board member, and what a Director is, but she is listed on the 990 Form as a director. I honestly can’t stand this poop any more. It is depressing. Oh well, I started a French Horn Concerto today. At least I can compose.

    You can go to http://www.guidestar.org/ and check it out for yourself, but you have to register.

  43. William Osborne

    Ryan, I agree with much of what you say, and I think your examination of elitism in modernism is very valuable work. I hope you will be able to publish something we can read.

    I would be very wary of think tanks centered around neoliberalism and the Chicago School of Economics. Neoliberalism is under massive attack because so many of its theories didn’t work. The increased dichotomies in the distribution of wealth in Latin America, and the havoc wreaked by the privatization of American power grids are just a couple of many examples. When 7 million New Yorkers suddenly have no electricity for about 24 hours and can’t even get home after work (as happened a couple years ago,) when they have no subways, no traffic because the stop lights don’t work, no air conditioning, no street lights in an extremely dangerous city, and no elevators in their sky scrapers, even the Chicago School folks on Wall Street notice its time to go back to the drawing board. And of course, since 1970 the wealth of the wealthy in the US has increased at three times the rate of the middle class. We also have more people living in poverty than at just about any time in our history. Your studies of the economics and sociology of music are important, but in the end you might find neoliberalism is a bit passé and out of date. You wouldn’t want to end up sitting on your horse backward.

    This problem is especially difficult, because neoliberals ended up sprinkling good ideas with a lot of ideological blindness. That is also why their theories have failed. Cantor notes that 19th century novelists were very productive (they wrote a lot of books) because that is how they made their living. He then points out how modernists like Pound and Joyce were not very productive (Joyce only wrote two novels) because patronage made them lazy and allowed their work to fall into elitist obscurantanism. That might be true, but he neglects to note that the vast majority of the 20th century’s great writers made decent livings from their writing. Writers like Joyce and Pound were rather the exception. He also overlooks that most of the 20th century’s great painters made good livings with their work – sometimes millions. His case that modernist art existed through patronage is very spotty.

    And he seems to think that the funding structures for the visual arts and literature are analogous to those for the performing arts, which is simply not true. The economic theories that govern a painter in his studio are very different from an opera house that has to employ 500 people.

    Our universities are definitely a patronage system for art, and I think this has created some serious problems, which I hope you will look at closely, but the new ethos among academia now reflects a more fashionable postmodern accessibility. Just look at how the faculty at the Ivy schools are changing. They all seem to want to hire neo-romantics and guys who play a little electric guitar. Their music is pretty accessible, in some cases almost populist, but they still can’t make a living with their art.

    (This neo-romantic movement at places like Penn goes all the way back to the 70s. I wonder if your thinking might be shaped by having studied at CalArts. It was, and perhaps still is, strongly rooted in a fairly hardcore modernist West Coast/Downtown tradition. On the other hand, the spirit of Disney has always been floating around there.)

    Unlike art, economics is science. Its theories are only valid if proven to be correct. Cantor’s observations of modernism cherry pick the facts. And the move of art music toward the marketplace has shown that it still can’t compete with the mass media. The vast majority of “classical” composers can still not make a living with their music regardless of how popular they try to be.

    Many postmodern theorists suggest that classical music should creatively accept the structures of the marketplace. Greg Sandow, for instance, correctly notes that even the fringes of the mass market, such as those occupied by indie rock, are enormous when compared to the classical market. He suggests that if artists can’t fit into America’s relatively unmitigated capitalist system, they are to be blamed, at least in part, for their lack of imagination and relevance.

    Unfortunately, this ignores the economic theories of fringe markets. More variation in the acceptance of musical styles exists in fringe markets, but the degree is generally proportional to the size of the audience. The more unusual the stance or music, the smaller the market. The financial viability of fringe markets thus depends on having a limited supply of artists and a specialized public for a particular view or aesthetic. In short, only a relatively small number of classical cross-over artists can make a living in the genre before the market becomes flooded.

    These observations illustrate why Cantor’s theory has proven wrong, and it is unlikely he will be able to correct it. Pointing to a few exceptions and cherry picked examples from history does not make a valid economic theory. And it is obviously disproven in practice.

    It is one thing to note that modernism was often elitist and that it was sometimes funded through forms of patronage, and another to conclude that returning “high” art to the marketplace will solve its economic and aesthetic problems.

    Anyway, all this aside, I think a close look at Naxos and its business practices might be interesting for your study. (I wrote this really fast. I hope it is readable.)

    William Osborne

  44. MarkNGrant

    The CIA championed and secretly funded the careers of numerous modernist artists, such as Jackson Pollock and Kristof Penderski. Modernism was used as a symbol of individualism and freedom that could also legitimize the hegemonistic global capitalism advocated by America’s financial elite. It is sobering to realize that the CIA has had a considerable and carefully calculated influence on America’s postwar cultural identity and development.

    In this context one should also recall the American music critic Henry Pleasants (1910-2000) who was the CIA’s intelligence chief in Bonn in the 1950s. Pleasants’ spy activities were not revealed until after his death. That he authored the notorious diatribe against modernism The Agony of Modern Music (1955) probably could be interpreted either to support or to disaffirm your thesis.

    Cantor notes that 19th century novelists were very productive (they wrote a lot of books) because that is how they made their living. He then points out how modernists like Pound and Joyce were not very productive (Joyce only wrote two novels) because patronage made them lazy and allowed their work to fall into elitist obscurantanism.

    I beg to differ. Pound, for one, was notably poroductive. Joyce wrote three novels (four if you count the early version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man entitled Stephen Hero) and his working processes were strictly byproducts of the creative exigencies of his muse. They had little to do with market forces of any kind. One might better apply that charge to Marcel Proust, who had a very generous annuity to live on while he wrote the multi-volume A la recherche du temps perdu.

  45. William Osborne

    I agree, Mark. Joyce and Pound were very productive, in my view. I was simply repeating Cantor’s argument about them to illustrate that even if it were true, they would still seem like isolated cases. It is hard to find an area of literature before the Second World War that didn’t have Pound’s influence as a colleague or critic. And Joyce’s last two novels were mammoth undertakings.

    The CIA program to further the modernists was covert. The anti-modernist articles of Henry Pleasants were probably not part of the program. It is quite possible he didn’t even know about it. Or perhaps his articles were intend as some sort of false alibi to cover the CIA’s tracks.

    I think there is still a lot of research to be done about how much influence the CIA program actually had. It is hard to judge, because in the arts the slightest forces can sometime avalanche into large effects without leaving much of a cause-and-effect trail.

    William Osborne

  46. rtanaka

    Thanks William for your comments. I don’t really share Cantor’s anti-goverment viewpoint, but I think he does bring up some issues that rarely get talked about in art. Coming from a science background myself (used to study engineering), I tend to have a penchant for factual knowledge and information based on empiricisms so I usually tend to sway towards analysis that has some practical angle to it. Economists tend to be fairly conservative as you say, so it’s to be taken with a grain of salt.

    My research topic deals with Transcendentalism in America and its relation to improvised (jazz and free) practices. Very early in the game (1842) Ralph Waldo Emerson sets up a dichotomy between Transcendentalism and Materialism as an Ideal vs. Real situation, clearly showing preference for the former. The Transcendentalists (which included figures like Hawthorne and Thoreau) greatly impacted Ives work, and subsequently, many of the American “Mavericks” that we know about during the 20th century.

    And it’s interesting because Emerson shows a clear distaste for capitalism because he believed that the progress that was coming about from the second industrial revolution was destroying the “American way of life”, rooted in nature and simplicity and all that. Similar sentiments can be all over the place among the American Modernists (including that of Cage), which show a kind of a nostalga toward the older days of doing things. Were they progressives, really?

    My research is still in its preliminary stages but I’ve already found all kinds of neat things, so it’s been pretty exciting. I’m lucky that I have a job at the library, otherwise none of this would’ve been possible.

  47. rtanaka

    Oh, I would recommend everyone reading William’s recommendation: “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.” if you haven’t already. It’s a great book that involves very recently done scholarship — lots of books and articles have been published following in its path already, dealing with different angles of the same topic. It’s been pretty slow to catch on but give a few years and it could quite possibly change the way music history is taught in the schools. Now that the Cold War is over (and with the establishment of the Freedom of Information Act) lots of new insights are coming out of what happened during that era.


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