About That Zen-Like Appreciation for Everything

“Everything Is Best”

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.

“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

I was flattered, though somewhat amused, to read Kyle Gann’s claim the other day that I “pride myself on a Zenlike appreciation for every piece that’s ever come into existence, simply for existing.” If only listening could be so easy!

The truth is that when I listen to music, I’m constantly grappling with what I’m listening to, both with things that I know a priori that I am inclined to like, as well as things I might not like. For me personally, to approach it any other way seems like it would not be fair treatment toward the music and its makers (both the composers and the interpreters), and ultimately would also not be fair to anyone reading what I have to say about it. I also feel it would be unfair to myself as a listener, because I perceive the process of listening as a constant opportunity for learning and growth which eventually gets internalized in my own music-making. Admittedly, the potential of being influenced by so many different, and often contradictory, stylistic trajectories can be somewhat intimidating and sometimes paralyzing, but it also seems in keeping with the zeitgeist and hopefully might ultimately lead to a totalism which is, in fact, total.

I’ve said many times on these pages that if I don’t like something I hear, I do my best to resist the temptation of imposing my value judgment on it since my own personal likes and dislikes tell me more about myself than whatever it is I’m reacting to. I’ve yet to have an aesthetic epiphany with the music of Elton John. Does that make it bad music? Not for millions of people. Is my opinion more valid than theirs? Thinking so would be hubris, I feel.

There are many things I used to not like which now I deeply love. When I was a teenager, I hated the sound of rock vocals. Now I wouldn’t want to live in a world where I was not able to hear the inimitable timbres of Johnny Rotten, Kim Gordon, or Prince. Believe it or not, once upon a time I disliked Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. But I kept listening, and it is a work I now treasure.

Experiencing music, or anything else for that matter, with an open mind can result in a constantly changing perceptual landscape. Before last year I couldn’t stand olives. Every now and then I’d try one and couldn’t get past the unpleasant taste it left in my mouth. Now I avidly seek them out. Although I’m still not sure I’d settle for any piece of meat a butcher might want to sell me.

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28 thoughts on “About That Zen-Like Appreciation for Everything

  1. philmusic

    Frank, I know that anything is possible in music-anything. Also, I reject a sonic prejudice based merely on style alone. That said I do reserve the right to like and dislike as I please. Then again its never a style but perhaps particular practitioners of that style.

    I know myself and some of the reasons I like and dislike some ones music are not necessarily rational.

    In fact my opinions are informed by many unmusical factors including: personal interactions, snubs, high handedness, fair dealing, helpfulness or not, and sometimes (to my own disadvantage) just to prove my own independence.

    Finally I understand one important point-

    I can be wrong.

    Phil Fried, plunk’in the bass again

    Reply
  2. maestro58

    Frank,

    I admire your zen encompassing spirit and the lofty goals of trying to embrace the music / olives / meats that are offered to you. But, I must point out that there are people who try to push music of a certain time period or zeitgiest (Wagner for one, Webern for two, Boulez for three, etc…) down ones throat. It happened to me at the early age of 14, and continued to happen through my early 20s. I was in constant conflict with those people, who worse, thought themselves better because they embraced these “gods”. This music became punishment. Once a type of music is forced on you and you build a resentment to it, it is impossible to go back and “love it” (or even respect it.) Now there are others, who embrace this work and move beyond it who I enjoy — Esa Pekka Salonen and Thomas Ades — and some of their work I have learned to love. But for me, once the well is poisoned, I have to look for new sources of water.

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  3. William Osborne

    Kyle Gann: “All I’m asking you to do is dissociate the qualities complexity and quality. Complexity does not guarantee that a piece of music is great, nor does it guarantee that a piece of music is bad. Put that way, I don’t think even our friend Frank can disagree.”

    No, almost no one would disagree, but then he goes on about it for a few thousand words (while somewhat unfairly pillorying Frank with hyperbolic, bi-polar, straw man representations of his views.) Does it say something about the new music scene, especially among academics such as Kyle, that they really do need to write so many words explaining something that is obvious? Why have generalizations such as complex=bad or complex=good or Frank=bad or Downtown=good (the latter noted with a certain irony) set in motion so much musical orthodoxy, especially among the Northeastern new music academic establishment — including, ironically, many of Kyle’s own deeply partisan views that are hardly covered up with a few carefully calculated caveats?

    On the other hand, his argument that arguments about music can be valuable is true. Where would we be without the often bi-polar observations in his many writings (e.g. downtown = better than uptown, even if I am not allowed to say that anymore)?

    William Osborne (fearing the wrath of the old, and young, downtown hit squads)

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  4. philmusic

    I was forced to love Boulez

    I had to do what Mama says

    Or she made me wear a Fez

    I had to listen to Boulez

    I tried to make my big escape

    I had a boat out by the cape

    But Mom was in much better shape

    I had to listen tied with tape!

    The records snapped and popped

    This was no teen-age record hop!

    I couldn’t make the music stop

    Mom was a “new music cop”

    Why did I ever move to France?

    Was it coincidence by chance?

    That I should take it on the lam

    from the agents of IRCAM!

    Now I’ve learned to handle Mom

    and I do it with aplomb.

    So I take a different tack

    and complain behind her back!


    Phil Fried–sorry

    Reply
  5. Lisa X

    Kyle does give a bit of advice that seems very true.

    “What does this portend for the would-be composer of complex, opaque music? Of course he is free to write what he wants, keeping aware that as the amount of complex, opaque music in the world grows, the time available for the dramatic needs of his own contribution shrink in proportion. He is content, of course – naturally! – to settle for a very small, very serious audience.”

    In other words, it is difficult to carve a career path with complex music. Fair enough. The same is probably true in many professions.

    The inclination of large populations to actively avoid complex ideas seems problematic. I encourage work that attempts to resist this crude impulse. Simplicity does not need any help from us.

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  6. mryan

    And
    Lisa X, notice he did say “complex, opaque” – meaning difficult to see through. Something can be complex and easily understood (transparent?). Complexity in itself is not a virtue. I shudder to mention that Bach is often complex, but not opaque, and he still garners a mighty following.

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  7. rtanaka

    Does it say something about the new music scene, especially among academics such as Kyle, that they really do need to write so many words explaining something that is obvious?

    Yes they do, and in a lot of ways that’s kind of why I admire Kyle’s writings because he’s saying the things that need to be said from a position where it may actually have an impact. I think “the obvious” thing Kyle is pointing out (which if you’ve been out of school for any period of time quickly becomes a reality) is that a very large part of academia’s concerns lies with status and ideologies, and reward systems are created around these structures. This is not necessarily good or bad, but just how the way things are. But there is a widespread denial of these types of transactions to preseve an image of metiocracy that’s non-existent, in a lot of cases. This is misleading and unfair toward students who come to institutions generally expecting some sort of fair exchange while they’re there.

    People like different kinds of things based on their background and personal taste. I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that this is a bad thing. But investigating the whys of likes and dislikes, I feel, is the one of the most important things a musician can ask themselves. This was sorely lacking at least within my education, which I had to remedy through my study of philosophy and history. I think that students are missing out on a holistic picture of the world by being forced to over-specialize.

    As Kyle’s post states, talks within academic institutions often tends to be overly technical — people can articulate the mechanics and structures of musical works but often not of its significance. Interval vector <2, 3, 4> combined with pitch-class <1, 3> processed through the equation sin /…etc. etc. Ok, that’s very complex and everything, but what is it doing? What does it mean?

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  8. philmusic

    “..that as the amount of complex, opaque music in the world grows, the time available for the dramatic needs of his own contribution shrink in proportion…”

    Nonsense.

    There is always room at the top!

    Phil Fried

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  9. William Osborne

    … a very large part of academia’s concerns lies with status and ideologies, and reward systems are created around these structures.

    I think there might be a level to this problem deeper than status. Status is a central part of virtually every profession (and most human relationships,) but not all professions are as conformist as classical music. From their first day at school, visual artists are taught the importance of individuality in artistic expression, but musicians are usually taught from the outset to act like a bunch of herd animals, squatting and jumping according to how some absolute authority figure waves his arms. Classical musicians are conditioned to be brow beaten. This general ethos also strongly influences composers, because it shapes the overall atmosphere of what classical music is. Follow the Maestro, whether HE be a conductor, a honcho composer, or an important musicologist/critic.

    There is thus a bit of irony in this statement: …I admire Kyle’s writings because he’s saying the things that need to be said from a position where it may actually have an impact.

    Yes, let’s once again turn to an authority figure in New York City (and even one known for his highly partisan views) and rush like a bunch of lemmings off the cliff. By all means, don’t think for yourself. And do not under any circumstances consider that it might be best to just tell New York and its gurus to go to hell. Do not for a second believe you and your colleagues could develop your own, genuinely rich and autonomous regional culture. After all, musicians are to conform to what the Maestros say. Jawohl, Herr General Musikdirektor! What a Germanic art we practice.

    This ethos of conformity also deeply affects musical academia through its tenure practices. Individualists are eliminated, and those who conform pass. Musical academia is to an astounding degree, by its very nature, a society of conformists. (One might even say sniveling conformists.)

    This musical herd instinct is also why the Up- and Downtown ideologues often tried to colonize the schools where they worked. All other views were not let in, and often even pushed out or marginalized if they were already there. This legacy affects some of our most important schools to this day.

    That kind of pedagogical orthodoxy is deeply destructive, because it is very rare, even on the graduate level, that composers have found their own artistic identity. They need to explore a wide range of ideas, and yet they end up in schools with a relatively monolithic block of professors whose rule is our-way-or-the-highway.

    Fortunately, I noticed, starting mostly in the early 90s, how these attempts at colonization began to fail. People had gotten sick of the old orthodoxies, which basically died because of the debilitating effects of their own intellectual incest. Things are not as bad as they used to be, but you can still count on classical musicians, including composers, being more conformist than many other kinds of artists.

    William Osborne

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  10. rtanaka

    Well, I’m not as idealistic as you, William. What I like about Kyle’s writings, even though I might not agree with him on everything, are that he takes each perspective into consideration and gives them a fair hearing before creating an argument. He does seem to have an eclectic taste in music (uses some examples of Miles Davis as a critique of classical music, for example) but finds himself having to work within the academic environment simply because it’s what we have at the moment.

    Believe me, I’ve met my share of ideologues in academia before, and it’s pretty disappointing when you find that some of them are filling student’s ears with half-truths and whitewashed narratives of history which can often be easily debunked by a quick trip to the library. But there are a few people working within the system who are genuine about what they do, and I think this needs to be acknowledged as well. Kyle at least seems to be self-aware of the problems that exist within his area of work.

    Years of doing philosophical discourse has taught me that for a singificant exchange of ideas to occur, you have to at least prove that you understand where your “opponent” is coming from, then argue with them on their own terms. Given New York’s influence and infrastructures, it’s not something you can simply discount and tell them to “fuck off”. This is the same attitude that caused a lot of the modernists to mindlessly reject tonality and popular culture, which created a void in understanding of those mediums in recent years.

    Reply
  11. William Osborne

    …for a singificant exchange of ideas to occur, you have to at least prove that you understand where your “opponent” is coming from, then argue with them on their own terms. Given New York’s influence and infrastructures, it’s not something you can simply discount and tell them to “fuck off”.

    Given that NY has dominated American musical thought for at least 70 years or so, and especially musical academia, we are definitely arguing with them on their own terms. In fact, most other areas of the country don’t even have “their own terms,” and that is exactly the point.

    We should communicate, but perhaps it’s time to move on. Given the situation, it might in fact be worthwhile to simply forget New York, at least for a time. I think it could be quite healthy.

    William Osborne

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  12. pgblu

    This ethos of conformity also deeply affects musical academia through its tenure practices. Individualists are eliminated, and those who conform pass. Musical academia is to an astounding degree, by its very nature, a society of conformists. (One might even say sniveling conformists.)

    (1) Is it a conformity to the ideals present in the given institution or a conformity to ideals that span all of academia? In the former case, I don’t have too much of a problem with it, since every institution sort of ‘stands for’ something and cannot be everything to everyone. In the latter case, I agree that would be a problem, but I don’t see it being the case.

    (2) Is it a problem with the tenure system itself, and if so, what would you like to have instead? What system is guaranteed to make things more diverse?

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  13. William Osborne

    These are excellent questions. I wish I had good answers.

    I think conformity can take both forms you mention, one confined to specific institutions, and the other spanning large segments of academia. Especially during the heyday of the Up- and Downtown dichotomies, schools often focused the aesthetics of one group or the other. Some examples would be Mills College and Cal Arts (Downtown) and Columbia and Jullliard as Uptown/East Cost. There were exceptions in these departments, of course, but the rule generally holds I think. There were other schools that also had relatively monolithic philosophies outside the Up-Down norm, like Penn with its move toward pedagogy based on traditional style studies which almost inevitably leaned toward neo-romanticism.

    There are clearly benefits if schools focus on particular styles or approaches. Like minds can combine and sometimes the sum is greater than the parts. Penn and Mills probably would not have achieved so much if their approaches had been more diverse. On the other hand, most students, even at the graduate level, aren’t yet ready to pursue a narrowly defined style of music, or even a narrowly defined pedagogical approach. A big price can be paid by monolithic methods of teaching.

    I think the issue might also depend on the size of the school. Mills for example, only has about 1200 students. There are simply not enough faculty positions to cover a wide range of styles. On the other hand, Cal Arts has about 16 composition professors, and I have noticed that they are indeed branching out a bit stylistically.

    Unfortunately, the problems of conformity are also seen in academia as a whole, and that problem might be even more serious. Take for example Kyle’s article explaining that complexity cannot be judged in itself — that it can be either good or bad. Normally, such an obvious idea would not even need to be mentioned, but academia seems to follow fads until they become mechanical, mindless, and finally absurd.

    In the 80s, folks like Bang On A Can began performing “simpler” music derived from pop sources. A pomo fad was set in motion that has now become so mindless its ridiculous. Some guru in NYC makes a pronouncement or writes a piece with a new idea that catches on, and the lemmings begin their march for the cliffs. Instead of setting their own course, universities all to often simply march in step. And if they don’t, they and their students can be punished for it by not being accepted by the larger academic musical community.

    Perhaps computer music would be a good example. These days, a laptop is thousands of times more powerful the old Columbia-Princeton or the West German State Radio studios of old. There are countless valid ways of making music with computers that could be very creative. And yet an academic computer music composer is almost obligated to be a MAX/MSP or SuperCollider specialist. I reviewed the ICMC 2000 in Berlin for both MusikTexte and Music Works. I heard the same piece, so to speak, about 50 times. MAX and SC are very flexible programs, but composing with “patches” can create aesthetic and epistemological biases that incline music toward certain kinds of sounds and effects. Washes of sonic material made by stuttering loops of granulated sound shaped by glissing, modulated timbre were ubiquitous, as were improvised, real-time spatializations at the mixing board. The academic lemmings were on the march. There were probably composers who applied who took a different track, but they were not invited.

    Another example of conformity might be that it is very difficult for composers to establish big careers if they do not write orchestra music – and these days, in a rather traditional vein. Many composers dislike orchestras for many reasons and on many different levels. Why should orchestral music define such a strong norm for success?

    This conformity might also come back to tenure practices. Composers who stand outside the norms of academia have less chances of being tenured.

    Maybe schools should consider hiring and tenuring computer music composers of a different stripes. Maybe they should consider composers deeply attached to their region and who explore and express its special characteristics, whether the NYC gurus (or the computer music gurus in California) are doing something else or not.

    More tolerances for genuine mavericks (instead of phony, run-with-the-stylistic-herd mavericks) and a greater respect for regional diversity and cultural autonomy might help. It would also help if schools considered the idea that a diverse faculty might give students a broader understanding of music. This is a very big and very general problem. There is a LOT of room for varying observations and suggestions for solutions. What are your ideas?

    William Osborne

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  14. Lisa X

    William, I agree but also think that music doesn’t need any help from the campus. It is fine. Music survives, even thrives, in the harshest conditions. Has higher education helped jazz?

    And how far would you like the diversity to go? There wouldn’t be very much classical music at all on campus if musical diversity ever became a priority. A noble objective, but seriously, we are just not ready for that yet.

    Also, I have a hard time believing that classical music isn’t deeply rooted in and dependent on an immense program of conformity.

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  15. pgblu

    What are your ideas?

    Well, the things you say do come up a lot. I think the system is good the way it is, basically, but administrators, faculties, students, should read what you write here as a kind of ‘body-check’ and say to themselves: “Does this describe me/my institution?”

    If the answer is ‘yes,’ then those people and those schools should be aware that this ultimately affects the quality of students that they will be able to attract.

    On the other hand, most students, even at the graduate level, aren’t yet ready to pursue a narrowly defined style of music, or even a narrowly defined pedagogical approach. A big price can be paid by monolithic methods of teaching.

    If they’re not ready by the time of graduate school, then they’re not ready for graduate school. This is what grad admissions committees are for.

    Unfortunately, (now here is a real systemic problem) they often have a certain quota of students they need to accept, and there are sometimes not enough applicants that they feel are ready AND a good fit, then they do those applicants (and the school) a disservice by accepting them for the sake of those quotas (or b/c they need the warm body to teach/correct papers and exams). But it’s a fairly small price to pay, though; the students are adults, after all, and need to start making decisions about their lives.

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  16. William Osborne

    I’m a little exhausted from working all day and don’t have much time, so I can’t respond very fully. This sentence is very interesting: “If they’re not ready by the time of graduate school, then they’re not ready for graduate school. This is what grad admissions committees are for.”

    First, we need to remember that most of the really doctrinaire schools also subject their undergrads to the same monolithic perspectives. Are we also going to say 18 year-olds just out of high school should know which styles of contemporary classical they want to pursue? The narrow stylistic indoctrination of 18 year-olds show belies the argument that grad students are adults making informed choices. It is hard to avoid the impression that the narrowed perspectives might be serving the professors more than the students.

    And can we really say that grad students should already have formed their artistic identities? Many, if not most, composers did not enter college with the intention of becoming composers. In fact, it’s usually a pretty rare (and pompous) high schooler that declares to the world that he is going to be a classical composer. Most start out as performers and gradually move toward composing. Four years is barely enough time to learn even the basics about classical music, much less form an artistic identity.

    In Italy, it takes ten years to get a degree in composition. Select students can then attend one of the two elite academies in Sienna (L’Accademia di Chigiana) and Rome (L’Accademia di Santa Cecilia.) I find this more patient approach more sensible.

    Another consideration is that the cross-fertilization between styles is very enriching. I think most Master’s students would get a much more useful and creative sense of the possibilities of music if they were exposed to a wide range of musical philosophies, techniques, and ideas and assembled them into their own growing artistic identity. Perhaps as Doctoral work evolves, the specializations could gradually become more narrow.

    There is no question that American new music over the last 40 years has suffered terribly from mindless orthodoxies. I think one of the contributing factors has been our educational system. Professors often used departments for their own ends and not those of their students. Colleagues were selected who shared the same narrow perspectives and the students were expected to parrot the professors’ believes and styles.

    I hardly even need to mention the names of some of these institutions and the lineage of professors involved. You only need look at the radical, mid-life stylistic changes some of these students later made to see that their artistic identities were not really formed before they began the process of “grad school indoctrination.” Many of the serialists spent 15 or 20 years being serialist parrots before they realized they wanted to write more tonally oriented music. In fact, where are all those grad students from the 70s who were completed immersed in serialism? They should be at the height of their serialist careers, but hardly any of them are still writing in that style. How much richer their careers might have been if they had be exposed to a wider range of ideas and views.

    Well, ironically, that’s my perspective, but as I said before, I think here too there is room for many views, and that a wide perspective of comments would be beneficial. As I mentioned, it can also be very beneficial when grad schools specialize. Mills College would probably be a good example. There are probably several others.

    “Lisa X,” I have some thoughts about jazz and academia I will write later. I’m beat.)

    William Osborne

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  17. pgblu

    I don’t think that undergraduates should get the ‘monolith’ treatment (nor do I even think that’s an apt metaphor). But undergraduates also don’t need experts quite as much as graduate students do. I would only consider myself an expert in a handful of areas of music, but I certainly know enough about the other areas that I can give an undergraduate a very rich experience of music’s possibilities (or at least do my share in that regard). I wouldn’t have the confidence to say the same thing with respect to graduate-level students.

    People need not go into graduate school right after their undergrad experience. I didn’t. They should go when they are ready. I stand by my claim that graduate school is for those who have sufficient breadth and are ready to become more focussed. This certainly doesn’t have to mean becoming narrow-minded.

    I don’t see how deciding to become a composer during high school is anything but heartening. Such people frequently change their minds later anyway. I’ve wanted to be a composer since as long as I can remember. Does that make me too posh? I wish that was just as typical as someone deciding early on to become a doctor.

    In fact, many of the things you blame on the tenure system or on academic ivory towerism or other university-level ills would be a lot less prevalent if they were solved during secondary school. The isolation of difficult music (classical, avant-garde, non-Western, free jazz, etc.) would be a lot less palpable if people were exposed to it as a facet of [their] culture much earlier. I think on that point we can agree. It’s just that I would start there in solving the problem, rather than looking to blame higher ed. Higher ed should get involved on that end, and already is, to a great extent — the more the better, though! No reason grad students should feel like they’re above going into this or that high school classroom and getting their hands a little dirty. Everyone learns.

    This is so far off the topic, my apologies. As you were.

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  18. colin holter

    Unfortunately, (now here is a real systemic problem) they often have a certain quota of students they need to accept, and there are sometimes not enough applicants that they feel are ready AND a good fit, then they do those applicants (and the school) a disservice by accepting them for the sake of those quotas (or b/c they need the warm body to teach/correct papers and exams). But it’s a fairly small price to pay, though; the students are adults, after all, and need to start making decisions about their lives.

    I think it’s a big problem, and a bigger price than should have to be paid. Universities should not be in the business of swindling grad students out of the best years of their lives, even if there’s a “caveat emptor” sign outside. You and I have seen some of the same data on this one; perhaps we have a fundamental disagreement that goes beyond university administration.

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  19. pgblu

    Colin, admissions quotas are motivated by economic, not academic, considerations. I have no idea how to solve that problem. Unless we let the State take over all educational institutions. Then it might as well take over any number of other things. Frankly, I’m all for it, but nobody listens to me.

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  20. Chris Becker

    “In Italy, it takes ten years to get a degree in composition. Select students can then attend one of the two elite academies in Sienna (L’Accademia di Chigiana) and Rome (L’Accademia di Santa Cecilia.) I find this more patient approach more sensible.”

    Indeed. Patience and sensibility is my favorite Jane Austin book. It’s also the title of my favorite John Cage essay about the value of eating chalk in the classroom. But I think the degree should take 10 years plus 4 years in another country, 2 years of outer space exploration, and at least one semester as a residential assistant in an on campus living facility (or as a cook in a homeless shelter). Composition students should also know how to birth small farm animals, build their own small aircraft, and eventually develop the ability to teleport from one room to another ala the X-man character Nightcrawler.

    It is only then that the parchment shall be bestowed upon the youth decreeing thy ist a composer!!! God speed!!!

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  21. Chris Becker

    I’m not necessarily disagreeing with anything being said or debated here. But has anyone in this thread acknowledged the profound emotional and spiritual changes that we can experience during our time in college and/or grad school? People have this capacity for change and growth – and institutions and instructors that recognize this may take a chance on a student who on paper (and in performance) isn’t an ideal first year music student.

    Coming up on 40, I’ve seen my friends an colleagues (some of whom teach at music conservatories – one of whom is now the dean of the conservatory I attended) undergo profound shifts in their behavior and attitudes in the classroom and on the bandstand. And I think this is relevant to your discussion (if I’m following it correctly).

    A student may leave the conservatory environment before they graduate and develop a long and healthy musical career as a result. Or they may end up back where they began. Composers make plans, God laughs.

    I am adding these thoughts to the thread from the perspective of someone who started college as a composition major (yes, that’s what I declared as my major from day one) and in the ensuing years experienced a breadth of life experiences – both in and out of the classroom – that have shaped me into the artist that I am today. Maybe some of these experiences and their results are quantifiable and can become a part of a cirriculum. But often they are just crazy things that “happen”, and an institution and its instructors (I like saying that) can only offer some guidance in navigating such experiences.

    I can be more specific if asked, but I think this might be clear enough.

    Hope this is helpful. Sorry for the lunacy above!

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  22. colin holter

    I have no idea how to solve that problem.

    It’s not incumbent on you to have one! My feeling is that the problem lies as much in recruitment as enrollment – if every school had a much larger applicant pool, they’d have to settle for fewer ill-fitting students. Vigorous headhunting might help alleviate the “labor gap” in grad programs.

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  23. Chris Becker

    “…if every school had a much larger applicant pool, they’d have to settle for fewer ill-fitting students.”

    Not to belabor my points, but I and many of my friends and colleagues might have been described at various points in our academic careers as “ill fitting.”

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  24. colin holter

    Not to belabor my points, but I and many of my friends and colleagues might have been described at various points in our academic careers as “ill fitting.”

    Maybe you would have been a perfect fit somewhere else, though. The fact that a student who needs a rigorously organized graduate program with lots of supervision might not do well at the University of Minnesota (my current digs) doesn’t represent a value judgment about the student or the school – it just reflects the various needs that students of composition bring with them when they pursue advanced degrees. I think active recruiting can take advantage of these distinctions to ameliorate the “market failures” of grad admissions.

    I don’t know why I’m saying all this now – I could totally jack it for my post next week. . .

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  25. Chris Becker

    “Maybe you would have been a perfect fit somewhere else, though. ”

    But I can’t imagine now what it would have been like for me to have attended any other school! I mean, I’m still close to my composition teacher who is now the Dean of that conservatory, one of the professors there just did a gig with my band here in NYC last weekend…

    I’m speaking more conceptually here – not really addressing the practical issues you’re bringing up which are important. So I’ll bow out again for awhile and see where this goes. It’s very interesting (to me anyway).

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  26. rtanaka

    I think a lot of the problems lie in how the school is advertised — nowadays “diversity” has become a marketing buzzword so the term has largely lost its meaning. Pretty much every school touts that its campus is “diverse”, but never mentions of its specifics of styles and aesthetics which describes how it is diverse. There are different levels and kinds of diversity, but since there’s only so much an organization can do to be inclusive, it will always be limited in scope. If the schools were a little bit more upfront about their aesthetics (instead of trying to pass themselves off as an institution of quasi-omnipotence) I think there would be less disappointments and problems overall. And let’s face it, really — with a few exceptions, most art grads would say that they’ve found their education to be somewhat disappointing.

    At the secondary school and undergrad levels, most students have no idea what they’re doing and no idea of what’s going on. (I know I didn’t.) Since for many students school is all they know, the rules and games of the system becomes their conception of the world. There is a responsibility on part of teachers to try to increase the student’s awareness beyond the borders of where they teach, otherwise there’s a danger of indoctorating students rather than teaching them what’s actually going on out there. The best of teachers I’ve had were all able to do this, though they seem to be rarer than they should be.

    School is a place to expand your mind, but at the same time, it should be a place where it removes mysticisms and makes the world seem a lot less scary. It seems there’s a tendency for some schools to treat itself like a church, as if it were a sanctuary of sort in order to shield itself from the real world…there’s really a kind of Messianic thing going on behind a lot of the performance practices of classical music.

    Reply
  27. philmusic

    I’m not sure I’m getting this new thread right but,

    America is a country (and I think the only one) where a career as a composer is not dependent on either academic standing or position.

    Its true that many of my performances involve the academy indirectly; some of my best friends are professors and independent/non college performance spaces are comparatively few.

    I won’t tell tails out of school about tails within it. My own experience there was singular, but much of academic life at that time seemed to be about personal ambition and the luck of choosing or being chosen by the “right” team.

    As a composer outside the academy the only pressure I feel is artistic.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  28. pgblu

    Yes, I know this thread has passed on now, but I wanted to add a postscript, from an interview with Umberto Eco. You may be surprised by what he says:

    AL/MC: Once you described contemporary universities as parking lots for youth, as places which camouflage modern society’s unemployment problem. Could you speak about this?

    Eco: Basically, it’s both a biological and social problem. Do you know what “neoteinia” is? Well, it’s the period during which an animal lives under parental protection: a cat, for example, has a neotanic period of about three months. The mother licks it, feeds it, protects it, but after three months the kitten has become a professional cat and goes out into the world to be a cat. In tribal society, neoteinia lasts around sixteen years, after which young men and women go through initiation rites. In our industrial world, the neotanic period is getting longer and longer. We have raised it to the age of thirty. It is even possible to find students in the neotanic phase when they’re forty. It was different for my generation. When we were about twenty-two years old, we had to leave the university and enter the real world. Prolonged university studies are not due to our society’s need for more highly educated people, because people can be trained by faster and more efficient methods. IBM can take someone without a college degree and teach him or her a computer language in six months. Such long periods in the university are not necessary. It seems to me that when a society accepts such an extended neoteinia, it does so out of self-defense. As long as you’re a student, you don’t compete in the job market. It is in this sense that universities are like parking lots, where young people are led to believe that they’re being educated, whereas in reality they’re kept there for convenience. Only a small percentage of the student population becomes erudite or scholarly. It seems clear to me that mass university education is a political solution that saves certain social costs. A thirty-year old person in the job market might have to be paid one hundred thousand dollars per year, while in the university he has a miserable unemployment compensation and, besides, he doesn’t represent a problem for the IRS.

    […]

    AL/MC: If parents and children, teachers and students, bureaucrats and the unemployed are all happy, there may be no problem …

    Eco: There are several ways to preserve youth; dyes, cosmetics, plastic surgery. There is also school. Why should I see forty-five year old women who want to write a thesis in my classes at Columbia University? They are never going to teach; they have eight children and a husband to take care of. If they like to study, let them spend the entire day in the library. The truth is that they are less fond of studying than they are of school. They want to be lifelong students; they want to have a father who shouts at them. University studies can be finished in four years; there is no reason for them to last fourteen.

    Reply

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