I spent the beginning of this month at the John Donald Robb Composer’s Symposium. This annual event at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque always includes an intriguingly eclectic array of music reflecting both regional creativity and a cross-section of current national trends.
George Lewis was the “headline” composer at the symposium, and on several occasions he performed alongside flutist Nicole Mitchell, who also performed some of her compositions with the UNM big band. Mitchell’s pieces conveyed a beautifully imaginative approach to form, and hearing Lewis’s mind engage with computer interactivity was an illumination. Equally illuminating were conversations with him about how discrimination in music education becomes institutionalized. One of the points he made was that in the academy, though everyone is engaged in the same curriculum, some students have more “access to information” than others. In other words, the private conversations outside of class, the one-on-one talks in which mentors and colleagues pass on critically important information, are not the same for everyone. The access to networking that enables careers to be built, for example, may be granted selectively, and often to those with similar cultural or academic backgrounds to their teachers.
On a personal note, the Hoffmann-Goldstein Duo performed my composition O Star Spangled Stripes, which they requested in 2005 and have played numerous times since. For the first time I have experienced an ensemble refining their performance of my music over many years. What a gift, to actually hear an interpretation that has had the benefit of time and experience to season it. In the rehearsal prior to the concert they continued to ask questions, and we made a slight change to their approach that put a new sheen on the performance that night. While I am not comparing my music to Beethoven’s, this experience reminded me of those incredibly polished performances we so often hear of his chamber music, because after so many interpretations over so many years, the work is in such a different place than a completely new work.
My congratulations to symposium director Chris Shultis and the faculty and students at UNM for creating an event that allowed for such a diversity of musics, and a diversity of ideas, to blend and to be heard.