Saturday, February 09, 2008

Over at his blog, Ron Silliman has begun answering a questionnaire "intended to “inform discussion and debate at a Poetry Foundation-Aspen Institute conference' sometime in the future. It is very straightforward with six open-ended questions."

Thinking a similarly serious consideration of another neglected area might be useful, I'm prompted to invent a similar process re. the composition of music:

1. What is your connection with music (read, write, teach, buy recordings and scores, publish, etc.)?

I have composed music since the early 1950s, and began listening to it much earlier. Looking back, I seem to have listened to the landscape — having grown up as much in the country as in cities — as one listens to music. My first "real" job was running the music programming at KPFA, the Berkeley noncommercial radio station; by then, I'd already been giving recorder lessons to make an occasional dollar. I taught music (20th-century music history, Beethoven, John Cage) at Mills College for fifteen years, and I reviewed music for a daily newspaper, the old Oakland Trib une, at about the same time, 1973-1987.

2. What are the most pressing needs of music and the music community?

A) of music: first, to be allowed to sound; second, to be given its due as a basic and central component of human expression, more basic than verbal language even, more central than politics or economics. As such, music -- as both a process and a literature -- must be taught, both formally in the schools and informally in the home and the community.

Silliman writes "I am not at all certain that any MFA program should admit a student who cannot name a minimum of 100 books of contemporary poetry – published in the past 25 years – and say a little about each." Similarly, any college graduate should be familiar with a basic canon of music, and that canon should be carefully considered to include the past century, and music of other cultures.

B) of the music community: first, to be acknowledged, perhaps even to be created. To my ear the strongest pieces composed in the last thirty years have been those that are aware of the widest world of music: vernacular music, commercial music, "world music," and the leading edge of the music of the twentieth century. I wrote about such a piece the other day, Steven Mackey's Indigenous Instruments. Such music contributes to the coherent accumulation of repertory, an accumulation comparable to the great storehouses of literature and painting and sculpture and architecture. Those are pretty well taken for granted among the cultural observers of our society; the musical repertory is not. When considered at all it tends to be shamefully constricted: to recent commercial music, or to an absurdly narrow area of European history.

(Think of a society whose libraries and bookstores contented themselves with only those texts written in German between 1725 and 1900, and a few plays from the Italian theater of the nineteenth century!)

For an individual musician to develop and maintain this kind of broad awareness is rare and difficult and certainly unrewarding; for a number of such musicians to become acquainted, to discuss individual discoveries and common interests -- that is virtually unheard-of. Of course there are faculties and new-music organizations, chamber-music groups and orchestras: but generalized "music communities" are few and far between.
They exist, though; they exist in the blogosphere. I've only recently begun to understand the range of this community, through a few blogs which, web-like, lead occasionally to others:
Renewable Music
Boring Like a Drill (I particularly like his "Please Mister Please" compendium)
listen (new to me)
aworks (ditto)
Nico Muhly's blog, self-promotional but why not? Interesting beyond that…
Of Sound Mind, which actually gets into the practical mechanics of music
Roger Bourland
Sequenza 21/, a forum which in fact constitutes the kind of "musical community" that can exist on the blogosphere
Soho the dog
Tears of a clownsilly (the recent entry on Boulez and combover alone is worth the trip!)
New Music Reblog which is just what the name implies, a sort of digest of individual blogs, a form I've yet to investigate

and, finally,

blognoggle, which bills itself as "Shadowing the Top 100 Classical Music Blogs" and is therefore useful as a locus of such eveen though the emphasis seems to be on what is sometimes called dead white men's music.
The flu has struck, and I probably won't get around to finishing this before Tuesday.

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