Fear of a Philistine Planet
I just got back to my hometown of Frederick, Maryland, after a few days of apartment hunting in Minneapolis, where I’ll be moving in August. Although my attachment to central Maryland is very deep, I’m relieved that I’ve never been asked to contribute “Scene Scan: Frederick” to this magazine because (as I noted last week) even a modest word count would pose great difficulty: There just isn’t any new music here.
The Twin Cities, however, are notorious for hosting a bevy of festivals, ensembles, and organizations devoted to promoting contemporary music. What’s more, many of these opportunities seem to be located outside the academy, the environment in which most of my compositional experience has been sited. It’s a point of local pride: Minneapolis waitresses can cite statistics about the number of theatre seats and dollars of arts funding per capita.
It sounds like a happening town, but I have to confess a nagging fear: Once new music is taken out of the ivory tower, away from audiences who (ostensibly) have the prowess to put it in a meaningful context, one has to contend with the tastes of normal people. Of course, this is how it should be. Nevertheless, it’s always frightening to leave one’s comfort zone. I can’t speak from firsthand experience, but I’ve heard that the thriving new music scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul is actually very conservative—a consequence, I guess, of its “privatization.”
The future of new music as a product is hotly debated on this website. I think most of us would agree, however, that the most adventurous new music is simply not an appealing proposition to mainstream America. Maybe Minneapolis is radically different—I hope it is—but my experience has been that patrons of music in U.S. cities make their contributions (in part, at least) to legitimize their wealth, and their preference, by and large, is for affirmatory music.