E Pluribus Pluribus
Recent posts from David Smooke and Joelle Zigman have considered the value of “musical locavorism,” to borrow the title of David’s contribution; the consumption, that is, of locally produced music. Having inhabited several quite different musical locales in recent years—Champaign-Urbana, London, and the Twin Cities—this topic is always in the middle of my mind.
When I moved to Minneapolis in 2007, I was eager to explore this thriving musical climate. The Twin Cities are remarkably rich in composers per capita; the American Composers’ Forum was at one time the Minnesota Composers’ Forum, an organization begun by recent Peabody Medal recipient, University of Minnesota alumna, and bona fide local celebrity Libby Larsen. It’s indisputable that local music is very precious to Minnesotans. My hypothesis is that it has to do with the Lutheran belief that music is an essential means to galvanize a community. (This belief is so Lutheran that it actually goes back to Martin Luther himself, who was huge on music.) Obviously the Twin Cities is a very diverse area and probably isn’t principally Lutheran anymore—my congressman, Keith Ellison, is Muslim—but this still seems to be the prevailing mission of concert music here.
Supporting local music—a practice often coincident with supporting new music and supporting live music—is a social good insofar as it strengthens local economies and asserts that the arts deserve a place on the public agenda. This goes without saying. But I want to fish the following claim out of Joelle’s very admirable and impassioned piece for further investigation:
“One of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, things about music is its ability to unite people: whether as a nation, for a cause, or as a small community.” (emphasis mine)
Allow me to reformulate and abbreviate this sentiment with a small change:
“One of the most powerful uses for music is to unite people.”
You have to respect the Twin Cities music leaders—composers, conductors, performers, patrons, ACF brass—who have built such a flourishing scene here, a genuine contemporary music system (as opposed to the contemporary music situations that characterize most other parts of the country). But, in part because of the very slightly politically suspect shadow cast by the quote above, I have to say I don’t feel entirely at home in the Twin Cities concert music world. The scene is a briskly prancing gift horse into whose whinnying mouth I just can’t help but look.
If we were to zoom out a bit, however, we’d see that there is no “the scene”: The world-class performances that take place at Orchestra Hall and the Ordway (performances which, by the way, feature music by composers from local to international) are to be celebrated, of course, but so are the enigmatic noise sets in hidden warehouse spaces, the many Hmong and Somali hip-hop events, the odd robot band, and the modest efforts of our own CMW, to name but a few. Although some of these scenes can survive the open waters of the media market without institutional and state support better than others, they’re all equally local.
I don’t want to be united. That’s not why I listen. But the plurality of musical activity here in the Twin Cities is such that I don’t have to be—it affords me the opportunity to encounter many and varied disunities. A locale that can make such a boast about its music culture is really on to something, and that’s one reason why I’m proud to support local music in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.