Monday, November 12, 2012

Playing Catch-up

When reading Hewett's Healing the Rift I found it disconcerting that I- a trained musician of eighteen years-would not be familiar with a number of composers mentioned in the text; many of whom were composers of the 1960's and beyond. I find this fact to be ironic since one would think that the most relevant work to today's musicians in training would be the work of their most recent contemporaries. Art is an expression of life; it is a network of experiences, explorations and discoveries from one generation to the next.  How can we understand our place in the world unless we understand where we came from? I dappled in composition for a few years and through my modern ears-sensitive to the rich diversity of ethnic cultures and sub-American cultures that my environment has to offer- I found myself drawn to the musical quality of speech in a variety of languages, in the gestures of Indian raga, and in the symbolism of Afro-Cuban dance forms.  In addition, frequent opportunities to experience Art as an outsider from the tradition has made me accustomed to less-subjective analysis and has given way to intellectually-driven musical experiments.  How has my recent exploration been supported by the conservatory? From within the performance department, it hasn't.  My only real exposure to similar ideas has been through the composition department and through my peers. Classes like The Future of Classical Music foster dialogue about modern musical thought in an abstract way and in a way that encourages individual action but we also need to be educated on what has been done, what is being done, what is the mass of Classical minds of today up to? My training to be a performer has only over-exposed me to the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. To make my point more clear, let me present this question: Why do we expect Classical performers to be relevant to contemporary audiences if those performers fail to be familiar with contemporary musical thought? Musicians are disconnected from the network that is Art.  Conservatories do not treat the musical language of the 1960's and beyond as a necessary component of a well-rounded musical education.  We are still performing the works of Mozart and Chopin from a 19th century point of view- because that's really where our musical education stops.

 That is not to say that there does not exist a strong emphasis on performing modern works; in fact, performance of modern works is strongly encouraged.  However, that encouragement to perform modern works seems unsupported by sufficient intellectual preparation.  We have courses on baroque performance practice and the song cycles of Schubert, for example. Yet, I find these courses redundant since the style of these periods are thoroughly covered within the performers private lessons.  What conservatory students really need is a survey course on the composers, inspirations of those composers, compositional techniques, and musical thought of the 1960's and forward. We need a lecture-series including innovative, contemporary composers as speakers, and not just for the composition department.  We need a more interactive forum that will fester with creativity and newness; and one which will provoke active engagement in the music rather than the customary passive complacency that comes with disciplined defining of antiquated styles and performance practices. Upon further research, I was amused to discover that many of the composers of the 1960's have already explored concepts which to me are new and unexplored.  Imagine the impact we would have on culture if we caught ourselves up to all that has been done; then we might have more originality and relevance when it comes to what's possible.

Some fundamental attributes of modern music that have been neglected by conservatories:
  • minimalism
  • conceptual music
  • fusions between western classical and the classical music of other nations.
  • relationships between music and other Art disciplines
  • music and politics
  • music and spirituality/mysticism 
  • I am sure there are a lot of more that I have yet to discover

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