Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Study Questions for Hewett, "Music: Healing the Rift"

1.      Although Hewett examines the entire musical realm, he defines his discourse in terms of Western classical music. Why?
2.     Why is the term “world music” a misnomer?
3.     What does Hewett see as a reason for the “unhealthily hermetic character” of modern music?
4.     Why does Hewett see as ironic the attempt by modernists like Boulez to rebuild the musical realm?

Chapter 1  Depths and Shallows
  1. Historically, in what regard has its social function been an important component of music’s identity?
  2. When music began to be transported from one location to another, what new formal aspect was created?
  3. As the Age of Sentiment shifted criteria from taste to sincerity, how were musical forms affected? The notion of “pretty”?
  4. What was lost as certain features of music became highlighted for particular attention?
  5. What ironies are suggested when Couperin is accepted into the canon while Liszt in not?
  6. Is all folk music admired?
  7. What is the artistic response to a middle class that does not want to be highbrow all the time?
  8. “In traditional societies, music cannot be a matter of personal choice.” Why?
  9. Enumerate other ways in which our Western conception of music differs from that of traditional societies.
Chapter 2  Words, Words, Words
  1. In what regard is music “cultural fly-paper”?
  2. As music evolved from a public to a private endeavor, what changes did it undergo? Conversely, what changes emerged in the public music experience?
  3. Characterize Stravinsky’s and Schoenberg’s opposing concepts of music’s content.  Which 19th-century figures would agree with one or the other of the two composers?
  4. How did composers and promoters respond to music’s becoming, increasingly, the province of professionals?
  5. How did 19th-century musical trends develop in the 20th century? 
Chapter 3  Things Fall Apart
  1. How has classical music historically viewed the musical Other? In what regard is this view more complex that the view held by tradition musical cultures?
  2. In addition to a gloomy Viennese mainstream, suggest a second vein in which modern music developed in the 1920s.
  3. Before Western music embraces a novelty, it customarily neutralizes it. Which musical cultures was Western music able to embrace readily?  Which cultures, conversely, proved problematic? For what reasons?
  4. As we read in Levine, “mass culture” poses problems for modern music. How was jazz regarded, positively and negatively, in the first decades of the 20th century?
  5. Hewett suggests an underlying cultural agenda behind Schoenberg’s 12-tone system. What is it? Why is his point curiously valid?
  6. What qualities in Balkan folk music allowed Bartók to constitute his later compositions in a wholly different light?
  7. In retrospect, what salient characteristic dominates the music of the 20th century’s giants?
Chapter 4  Multiplicities
  1. How did fascism and Stalinism respond to the modern?
  2. How did mid-century composers respond to the absence of a simple, agreed-upon ordering of music?
  3. How do middle-class audiences frequently respond to compositions that lack melody, harmony, tempo, or form?
  4. What is the ironic result of the cult of “pure” music?
  5. How do composers like Carter and Ligeti manage, in some regard, to make their music a collective experience?
  6. How is Boulez’s highly mathematical system problematic in a way that Schoenberg’s is not?
  7. How does one best describe the institutional unity shared by the highly personal constructions of modern composers? How does this differ from 19th-century Vienna, for example?
  8. What danger do we court in our neutrality? 
Chapter 5  Text, Body, Machines  Depths and Shallows
  1. Explain the distinction that Hewett makes between craft and technology in modern music. 
  2. In the first half of the 19th century, sincerity and simplicity were acceptable modes of musical discourse. What spectre arose in the second half of the century? With what unfortunate and enduring results?
  3. What key elements of classical music composition does electronic music eliminate? What “metaphysical duality” is lost as a result?
  4. How does a score differ from a blueprint?
  5. In their attitudes towards the score, how do contemporary composers and performers differ from their counterparts who worked before the end of the 18th century?
  6. The increased fetishization of the score has what result on performance?
  7. What expressive need does the violence of modern music serve? What is its opposite?
  8. Why did most mid-20th-century composers ultimately abandon attempts at styles of notation that gave performers more choice?
  9. In what respects are the solutions of John Cage, Luciano Berio, and others, problematic?
  10. How have some composers attempted to reconfigure the relationship between text, performance, and audience? With what result?
Chapter 6  Authenticities
  1. In its futile attempt to reconstitute a historical unity, what result has modern music achieved instead?
  2. In what respects have the paradigms of modern music changed in the past 30 years? What are some characteristics of the recently new plurality?
  3. Since so few specifics characterize the bulk of modern music, is it sufficient for it merely to aspire to seriousness?
  4. What traps make authenticity a slippery criterion?
  5. What contradictions inhere in discussions of the authenticity of world music?  Jazz? Baroque and classic repertoire?
  6. When composers scrupulously avoid expressivity, what ironic result ensues?
  7. When obliquity becomes a composer’s goal, what dangers lurk? 
Chapter 7  Expression Makes a Comeback
  1. What reasons does Hewett offer for spending more time on modernist music than on neo-tonal music?
  2. At the start of the modern era, when tonality was seen to be not a law of nature but a convention, what changes occurred in its status within a composer’s available choices? With what results?
  3. How does Hewett characterize sentimentality? How does minimalism avoid genuine sentimentality?
  4. Hewett describes the music of several American composers. Which are you moved to investigate? Why?
  5. How does Hewett distinguish between discourse and gesture?
  6. What lay behind the 19th-century dream of a music without conventions? As modernism strove to realize that dream, what new conventions did it create?
  7. What characterizes modernism’s fraught relationship with the past? 
Chapter 8  The New Naivety
  1. In modernism’s continuing dialogue with the past, what form of memory produces a deep discomfort?
  2. What other processes tinge the “desire to re-enter a lost paradise” that characterizes the new tonality?
  3. Repeated patterns, and references to tonality, make possible un-classical classical composers. For all that they reject, what do they still desire?
  4. What function did the “web of allusion” serve during the period of common practice?
  5. What does Hewett see as the result of a musical discourse consisting solely of evocations?
  6. How have the sampler and the fader affected modern music? 
Chapter 9  Rediscovering Music
  1. When it seeks public funding, what double bind does classical music encounter?
  2. When music loses its social function and becomes an autonomous realm, how do performers and listeners then participate?
  3. How is modern music faring in its strenuous efforts to maintain the integrity of its realm and not be taken over by expressivity, evocation, words, and images?
  4. Discuss the two parodic inversions that music has undergone in the past decade?
  5. What is the unspoken assumption of their music that composers fail to question? Why is this dangerous?
  6. Why does Hewett feel that Western classical music offers the last best hope for the future of music? How do you evaluate his reasons for denying comparable status to one or another of the rival claimants for musical “depth”.
  7. How is Hewett able to state that classical music is both historical and contemporary?
  8. Within the concept that music only serves us well when we submit to it, what advantages does classical music hold over other musical practices?
  9. What results will ensue if and when we are able to make musical culture active again rather than passive?
  10. What advantages are there to being musically bilingual? Why does Hewett embrace this condition?
  11. Hewett invokes Leonardo and Jung to suggest an essential component that is missing from our contemporary experience of music. What is that component?  How are we to compensate for its lack?

The Future of Sound

At the Audio Engineering Society Convention last weekend, the keynote speaker discussed how he envisions recording technology evolving between now and the year 2050.  John La Grou, the founder and CEO of Millennia Music and Media Systems, predicts that recording and playback technology will become highly advanced and transformative.  This makes sense based on the rapid development in these fields over the last few decades.  If La Grou’s predictions are accurate, it could be both good and bad news for classical musicians. 

La Grou believes that microphones will not be necessary by the year 2050, as music will be virtual and electronic.    Speakers will become less important due to the development of headphones to provide “spherical audio”.  The listeners will be encompassed by the sound and their “spatial resolution within the headphone bubble will match reality”.  La Grou believes that these things will provide incredible creative opportunities.  Following his presentation, he said, “ I see no technical reason why head-worn audio can’t eventually (2040+) convincingly emulate any acoustic space and any room monitor technique with lifelike precision”. 

This type of technology sounds like it would be great in certain scenarios.  For example, when I am on the bus or the train, I would love to have headphones that would allow me to become fully immersed in the music I am listening to.  However, can any type of technology really take the place of the value of a live performance?  I don’t think that any headphones could truly emulate the personal experience of being in a concert hall, or any other venue, with the musicians and other audience members living, breathing, and becoming part of the music around you.  I hope that the majority of the public will feel the same way, assuming that this type of life-like technology is indeed invented in the next few decades.  Improvements in recording technology could help promote classical music.  I hope that it encourages people to attend concerts and support live music instead of discouraging possible supporters by giving them a life-like experience anywhere that is convenient.   

Monday, October 28, 2013

YouTube Streaming Service

According to the New York Times, YouTube plans to launch a paid music service this year to compete with Spotify and other streaming websites. The focus of the service will be mobile devices, since 40% of YouTube’s traffic this year has been from mobile users. This reflects the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets over traditional computers for recreational use.

The paid streaming service would solve a number of problems for both YouTube and the music industry: YouTube gains licenses to play more music and generate more traffic, while music companies and artists get paid for the use of their music. As of today, YouTube only has access to some official videos and songs for free. Unlicensed use of songs in user-uploaded videos (usually as background music) are sometimes silenced and sometimes not policed at all. Implementation of the streaming service would organize official content and encourage record companies to partner with YouTube.

All of this is good news for the music business, but will YouTube’s users stick around when asked to pay for previously free content? Most of YouTube’s users are of the younger generation, many of whom have little money to spare in a slow economy. Will this further restrict access to new music, both popular and classical? I feel that there is already a divide in music between socio-economic classes, and these wars between the supposedly greedy music industry and the fans that demand free music streaming live only serves to widen the gap. However, artists deserve to be paid for their work.

The music industry hasn’t caught up to the advancements in technology that currently allow people to copy CDs or share files instead of buying new music. Even at live shows, people can take videos of concerts and other events on carefully concealed smartphones and then upload them to the web for all to see. YouTube’s new service might be evidence that music business is attempting to embrace new technology instead of shying away and shutting everything down as it has in the past. But the streaming service still requires direct payment from users. In the age of the Internet, someone always finds a way to get out of paying for their entertainment.

Artists are Slaves of the Internet

Tim Kreider writes a brilliant article on artists who get requests to do work without compensation.  So often we are offered the award of "exposure" instead of money.  Kreider, as a writer, and us, as musicians, are easily put on the internet free of charge.  Recordings and videos are put on the internet to post and re-post.  In our society, our work is not considered as important or vital as other professions.  Even worse, people think we are doing what we love with money as a secondary aspect; therefore, it makes it acceptable to ask us to do it for zero dollars.  The biggest problem is that we think it is acceptable as well, and it makes it harder for colleagues in the same field.  Kreider also makes a valid point that in a society where we are judged by how well we do quantitatively, it is quite demoralizing to be asked to do something for free.

I agree with Kreider wholeheartedly that we have to say no to doing our work for free.  We spend countless hours in the practice room "doing work for free."  We have put in thousands and thousands of dollars to go to school.  Perhaps we even buy into the idea that we do what we love.  But that is not the case a hundred percent of the time.  I could even say that I am doing what I love perhaps one third or one quarter of the time after feelings of frustration, incompetence, repetitive exercises, and let's not forget the classes we are not too fond of taking.  What makes up for the other parts is the fact that what we love makes it worthwhile.  However, it is also being recognized that makes that performance worthwhile, and being paid is part of that recognition.

Certainly it is a lot harder to get exposure as a new artist in your 20's with no experience and nothing to show for your value.  There may be opportunities that really would be beneficial to our careers.  Perhaps you would love doing something so much it would be worthwhile to do it for free, especially for someone who really cannot afford to pay you.  It is, of course, up to our personal judgments and individual situations.  However, in this small world of classical musicians, or even any genre of musicians, it is vital that we stand our ground for each other and not just for ourselves.  It is most definitely a difficult route, but a worthwhile one.

Kreider's article:  Slaves of the Internet, Unite!

Who is to Blame?

I read the article “Strife Joins Minnesota Musicians in Concert” in New York Times Classical Music. It is about the dispute between Minnesota Orchestra management and its player. The seemingly successful orchestra will decline or disappear as a result of “ Labor Strike” . To me,  it's a sad story. So who is to blame?

I believe the orchestra has been in great shape and the players are professional, to say the least, as is stated in this article that the concerts put on by the players has sold all the seats. It looks like the management is the issue: its financial status is in deep trouble, a debt of six million. They have to reduce the cost before its too late to cover, or as the management put out, “when we still have assets”. The assets are the salary of the players, which will be cut a great deal. Personally, I think the management did not have an option. If they do they would have already chosen.

So now we take a look at the players, first you can tell the are great musicians. They organized their own concert and made a great show. They refuse to take the cut because they believed that to be competitive the player has to have top salary. So it seems that both the management and the players are deadlocked and cannot agree on now. However, personally I side with the management, because first of all the debt is real and they have to face the reality and reduce the debt. However, as for the players they prefer to see the Orchestra disappear rather giving up a little payment which I did not side with. My heart goes especially to Osmo Vanska, the conductor. He devoted all his life to the profession and refuse to get involved in financial dispute.
Zhuying Li

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Justice Through Music

A Syrian-American composer Malek Jandali has made it his responsibility to better the lives of the Syrian children with classical music (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/25/malek-jandali-syrian-composer-music). His hometown, Homs, is one of the areas that have been affected the worst by the Syrian conflict. All of his music is related to his home country and recently described as politically charged, but now he attempts to create a positive change for Syria through his compositions. Jandali, also a human right activist, visited Syria last time in October 2012. There, he saw the conditions of the innocent children, victims of the war, and taught them how to play music.

Back in the United States, he was inspired to start a benefit concert tour named The Voice of the Free Syrian Children. The main message of the concerts is to spread awareness of the crisis to Western people; figuratively speaking, giving voice to the children of Syria. He chose to focus on the children to get as far as possible of the issues of religion and politics. Jandali himself has experienced the suppression of the government when openly criticizing the Syrian regime. But instead of deferring, he wrote anti-government odes. Jandali is hopeful about the future; he has already composed a new national anthem for the Syria that will emerge after the war ends.

The idea of bringing extra musical concerns to a concert performance is a great vehicle for raising awareness. Music can be a powerful tool in getting one’s point across. We as Western people may feel quite removed from what is happening in Syria. The concert experience will help us to attach emotion to the abstract idea of the Middle-Eastern conflict. This emotional connection will inspire the audiences, who are affected by his message, to seek education regarding the conflict. 

The Youtube Generation & Classical Music

Keeping with the recent trend of discussion involving classical music artists and Youtube, I came across an article written by two pianists I've been following since 2008, Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe. The two formed a piano duo while studying together at Julliard and Yale and began making music videos on Youtube of their duo repertoire -- much of which is arranged by the two of them. For example, in a four-hand arrangement of Schubert's Der Erlkönig, the Anderson/Roe duo created a mini horror film, which ends with the piano devouring its players. More recently, the two released a ten-episode music video of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for four-hands. In it, the two pianists can be seen throwing buckets of paint onto one another, playing a keyboard that's covered in millipedes, and attempting to play underwater.

Here's just the trailer for their Rite project:

The article explains the two's philosophy behind the creation of music videos, as opposed to solely being touring performers:
"Believe it or not, ‘classical’ music—with its drama and substance, colour and resonance—provides tremendous fodder for cinematic interpretation. If the songs of Lady Gaga can engender music videos filled with outrageously creative tableaux, just imagine what the variegated music of the classical idiom could inspire....Ultimately, we want to share the music we love with new audiences, audiences who otherwise might not listen to Brahms or Boulez. A single click could be an entry point to a transporting and even transformative soundverse."
One thing that seems to be a common thread in many of the articles I've read is the success of ensembles that have found ways of bringing young people and non-musicians into the concert hall. The Anderson/Roe duo has clearly found a way to do this by using the Youtube platform to garner popularity. (Right now, their Youtube channel has 41 videos and over 7 million views. Since the release of their first video in 2007, the two have embarked on two international tours.) Specifically for their non-musician audience, or their non-classical loving audience, these videos can serve as a gateway into exploring similar classical music and acquiring a taste of the styles of the great composers.

Regardless of whether we believe that classical music, itself, does not need visuals to enhance its substance, I personally feel that the duo is doing a wonderful thing. Not only have they created fans of their work, but they've opened up a realm of music to a large community of people that would have otherwise thought it irrelevant.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Classical Music as Crime Prevention and the Attitudes Behind It.

In Portland, Oregon, where I lived before Cambridge, they have implemented a crime prevention tactic that, apparently, has been spreading across many major cities.  They play classical music out of speakers at bus stops.  The police department reported that it reduced crime at those stops by 40%.  That last bit of information can be found in this article from Minneapolis City Pages, in which they reference Portland's use of the tactic:


I also found a separate article about the similar use of classical music in London.  That article is found here:


What I find interesting is the stark difference between the two articles in terms of their assumptions and surmises about why it works.  In the first article they suggest that classical music "soothes nerves and makes people less inclined to act out in criminal ways" or at least that it suggests a "culture of order."
The second article flat out says that the youth can't stand classical music and will flee from it if given the choice.  The same tactic is used toward the same ends, but the reasoning behind one use suggests that classical music has a lot to offer and there's good reason to envision a bright future for it, whereas the reasoning behind the other use basically assumes that classical music has little to no future, as it is despised by the new generation.
I'm personally not inclined to wholeheartedly agree with either stance but it is interesting just how much uncertainty there is as to what place classical has in our culture at this time.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Public Ownership for Minnesota?

In the face of continued stalemate between management and musicians, Minnesota’s government is working on a bill that would make the Minnesota Orchestra a publicly owned corporation. Theoretically, this would solve budget issues temporarily and would involve the public directly with funding the orchestra.

Even though this bill hasn’t become law, it appears to be the first new idea for a solution to the lockout since former director Osko Vänskä resigned a few weeks ago. When so many orchestras are involved in fights between privately-funded management and musicians, the concept of a publicly owned orchestra could solve many problems in the disconnect between public interest in the orchestra and the management of the orchestra’s budget. Instead of depending on private donors and tickets to stay afloat, any individuals or groups can choose to buy stock in the corporation. Hopefully this would represent more stable funding, and would also better reflect the public’s interest in the success of the orchestra.

The orchestra’s management would continue to exist, but would have more money in the budget to work with. This bill could jumpstart negotiations again, if management is receptive to the idea and if the bill passes. According to Phyllis Kahn, the author of the bill, the intent is to start the conversation, and not to declare that the bill is the perfect solution. Regardless, I think that public involvement is a step in the right direction, and this could become an example for failing orchestras across the country.

The Ongoing Saga

I was determined not to write a blog on this subject, as it has already been discussed in great detail.  However, the issue of sexism in music has continuously been a headline over the last few weeks.  Of course one could argue that this has never failed to be an issue in classical music, the problem really came to the surface a few weeks ago thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s offensive statements about woman conductors leading up to the closing concert at the Proms.  When I heard his comments, I was just confused as to how someone in this day and age could have such an old-fashioned point of view.   The conclusion I came to at that time was that Petrenko was so incredibly ignorant that it wasn’t a subject worth worrying about.  I didn’t think anyone else agreed with him, since I have never personally come across a colleague with any noticeable sexual bias. 

In recent weeks as more news has surfaced about other prominent members of the classical musical community sharing Petrenko’s views, it has become a more difficult topic to ignore.  The translation of Yuri Temirkanov’s statement made my blood boil.  “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength.  The essence of a woman is weakness.”  Bruno Mantovani’s comments are equally as frustrating.   Given his young age and his position as the director of the Paris Conservatory, his thoughts are significantly more concerning than Temirkanov’s.   

I could go on for hours about all of the things wrong with what these men have said, but fortunately I don’t need to, seeing as how many others have already covered it.  Anastasia Tsioulcas does a great job supporting her argument with a list of the successful, and strong woman, in today’s society.  Jessica Duchen compiled an incredibly long, encouraging list of prominent female conductors.  Alex Ross’s statement that “it would be more constructive for every male participant in this discussion to examine himself, his record, his biases, spoken or unspoken…Silent neglect can do just as much damage as open contempt” seems to have inspired many men and women to speak up as well.  Justin Davidson’s article raised many great points as he concluded that we should all be embarrassed by the sexist comments. 

As much as I don’t want to continue having this debate about woman conductors, I agree with all of the previously mentioned journalists that we must all take some level of responsibility in order to progress this aspect of classical music.  I am glad to see that so many people have already taken a positive stand on the issue.  After all, it is 2013.