Saturday, December 4, 2010

More on Morrison

Just a couple of things:

1. I added a photograph to John Morrison's Wikipedia site. (Check it out: Article)

2. At my composition lesson with Dr. Morrison last week, I asked him if he felt it was possible to re-interest young audiences in classical music. He grinned and said, "Of course! But it won't be by playing them Bach and Beethoven; it will be by playing Cage and Ligeti. I honestly believe that it is through new music that the average population can come to understand classical music. You perform a Mozart piece for a bunch of inner-city youth, and they'll be like, 'Yeah, that's boring.' But play them some Varese, and classical music is suddenly cool and amazing. Modern music is often discounted because so-called 'classical enthusiasts' only know one way to analyze it. The untrained ear, in some ways, is the more intelligent and open of the two. We should never insult the intelligence of any listener; they already know more than they think they do about classical music."

What a fascinating idea! I then asked Dr. Morrison where he felt like the future of classical music is headed in general. I was curious to see how he'd respond. I wondered if he'd agree with Cook or Hewett or if he'd have an entirely unique position of his own. Here's what he said:

"The era of common practice is gone. In order to understand why, we have to understand what spawned a common practice in the first place. It developed under very specific conditions in a part of Europe that was self-contained and limited by geography, language, and culture. The world we live in today will never be that isolated again; technology alone will see to that. And what was the one major invention of Western classical music's common practice? Harmony. Counterpoint had existed previously; the common practice simply defined the way that individual lines could and could not overlap. Harmony, then, became the common musical language of that area of the world at that time. Since our musical community now includes the entire world and all human cultures, what is our shared language? It is the language of sound itself. We also need to realize that common practice principles reflected the hierarchy of the times (they developed during a period of great change including the formation of a middle class). Modern society no longer espouses such hierarchal distinctions, and we, more or less, realize that all people are 'equal' in their potential. We certainly aren't free from prejudice yet, but I think it's safe to say that this is a non-hierchal age. So what is the only element of music that doesn't rely on hierarchy--that really hasn't yet been fully explored? Timbre. It's the only element, in fact, that is large enough and uncharted enough to suggest a new world of musical possibilities. Timbre is the one structural element that can tie together all pieces from the earliest days of Western classical music to the most diverse and experimental pieces of the 21st century. Timbre is the future of classical composition."

1 comment:

Dave B. said...

Erica, this is fascinating stuff. Nice picture too (though you should get one with him smiling)! It's really interesting what Professor Morrison says about the untrained ear being more receptive. One of my teachers once told me, "The better the musician, the stronger the opinions." Maybe there's a dark side to this, in that we (all as well-trained musicians) tend to like narrow genres of music and perhaps miss being open to other things.

Also I'm curious, as a composer, do you have any ideas for a system of representing timbre? The more I think about our standard system of notation, the more it bothers me that our ancestors seem to have overlooked such an important and essential feature of musical expression. We can easily represent pitch, dynamics, and rhythm (to an extent) but not timbre. I think this inadequacy was realized by many late Romantic composers, who often wrote phrases such as "Gentle, but not too soft." Please let me know what you think!