Over the holiday this very interesting article landed in my Google Reader, which talks about the two literary worlds that have emerged in the U.S. A bit long, yet worthwhile read. Based on conversations with friends and colleagues in the writing world, I am guessing that they would agree with the ideas presented in this essay, which describes, “the system within which [a writer] earns (or aspires to earn) her living: MFA or NYC.”
But what’s remarked rarely if at all is the way that this balance has created, in effect, two literary cultures (or, more precisely, two literary fiction cultures) in the United States: one condensed in New York, the other spread across the diffuse network of provincial college towns that spans from Irvine, Calif., to Austin, Texas, to Ann Arbor, Mich., to Tallahassee, Fla. (with a kind of wormhole at the center, in Iowa City, into which one can step and reappear at the New Yorker offices on 42nd Street)… Each culture has its own canonical works and heroic figures; each has its own logic of social and professional advancement. Each affords its members certain aesthetic and personal freedoms while restricting others; each exerts its own subtle but powerful pressures on the work being produced.
There are some striking similarities to the world(s) of music here, don’t you think? Composers working within academic settings throughout the country, and composers working outside of academia (whether or not in big cities) tend to have very different musical world views and value systems. The events attended, the meetings scheduled, the nature of the work being created, the audiences for whom the music is composed, and the expectations about the future for that music are bound up in the creative/career context of the composer. There are conferences at which my colleagues who are professors have their works performed that make perfect sense for them, but that would not be especially beneficial for me as a composer working outside of academia. The divide can be seen on the pages of NewMusicBox, in the weekly Chatter posts of Frank J. Oteri, Colin Holter, David Smooke, Dan Visconti, and myself. This is not at all to pass judgment on any one world or another, only to suggest that we are not all on the same page, nor should we all be, at least in terms of personal and creative survival.
Of course there are exceptions—those shapeshifters able to travel easily between worlds, and flourish within both. The part of all this that concerns me is when a talented student finds herself becoming enveloped in an institutional setting when that is clearly not the best option for her. The advice being given about how to prepare for her future is specific to that world, and given the divide, the student may not have a clear idea of where to look for other options. This is where those shapeshifters come in handy (sometimes they take the form of visiting composers who swoop in, give a masterclass and are gone in a flash). My hope is that an open attitude towards each world can be developed/maintained so that at the very least, the young people trying to figure things out for themselves can see a complete picture of the musical landscapes in play.
One could take these idea even farther and note plenty of other divisions—orchestra, band, choral music, chamber music, computer music. What do you think of all this? What do you think this means, if anything, for the future of new music?