Monday, December 6, 2010

Added links, and thoughts on current compositional trends

Hi all,

I have added some more links to the Juventas Wiki page. They are pretty minor changes (a few more links to reviews and a couple of internal links to other Wikipedia pages) but I am hoping that it will slowly increase the credibility of the page. I also removed the "Orphan" tag, since the strict definition is that it applies to a page with three links or less. You can see the updated page here and the list of changes here.

My philosophizing for this week comes from an experience I had this past weekend. I did a recording session for a local music college (I don't want to name names here because it's really not important) who's students had taken an advanced composition course. The students' final project was to compose and orchestrate a short, original work. They were then given about 20 minutes with a pickup orchestra in a studio to record their work.

Many of the works were quite nice, however, they generally all followed very predictable patterns of melody, rhythm and harmony. In short, many of them were rather banal and formulaic. Hewett's comments regarding the "evocation" trend in contemporary tonal music came to mind (see p. 233). Out of 20 different works, only 2 struck me as somewhat original in style and presentation. I recorded from 10 AM to 4:30 PM (with breaks), but by the early afternoon I felt like I was recording the same piece over and over.

Incidentally, this contrasts to an almost absurd degree with the majority of my past experience with student works. During my undergraduate and graduate careers I performed many outlandish, bizarre and utterly strange pieces by university composition students. What struck me most is that during my college career, most student works I have performed fall starkly into one of two polar categories: 1) commercially-disposable, cliché music for mass media or 2) aggressively bizarre, experimental art music. Rarely have I ever found a middle ground between these extremes.

I mentioned this to one of the other horn players at the session and she agreed with my experience completely. The thing I'm now trying to figure out is, why? I understand that music is often composed with a specific purpose in mind (for a film, for a TV commercial, to be iconoclastic, or even to specifically avoid having a purpose) but it seems strange that the camps should be so sharply and widely divided. The few really memorable original works that I have played seem to straddle this gap. Why don't more composers seek a fusion rather than holding to one extreme or the other? Perhaps one of our resident composers will be able to shed more light on this for me.

Until tomorrow,

1 comment:

R. Michael Wahlquist said...

Sorry to intrude a comment, just wandered over here. As a young composer, I agree with you about the division of our new music into these two camps. The one side feels that they are betraying their audience by failing to be accessible, the other is afraid of compromising their artist ideals for the sake of a few ears. It is a perplexing dilemma that is under-addressed in the education of composers. My professors definitely lean towards the later, 'who cares if you listen' side, while many of my student peers lean towards the 'why can't it be pretty' side. Personally I would love to forge a path right down the middle. I feel like some composers, such as Per Norgard, Earle Brown or Lepo Sumera, have done just that in their much of their music.