After a day of delays at O’Hare—which, by the way, seems to have the highest Starbucks-per-square-foot ratio in the Midwest—I’m happily ensconced in my ancestral homeland of Frederick, Maryland. Not much new music going on out here compared to Champaign-Urbana, but to be honest, I kind of needed a break anyway. It seems, however, that I can’t escape the contemporary music scene: Guess who else will be spending the holidays at home here in the DC area?
Tudor Dominik Maican.
Although my earlier concerns about Jay Greenberg were met with not-unfair accusations of sour grapes, I am only encouraged by everything I’ve read about Maican. Let me pull out a few quotes from the Washington Post article that may elucidate:
“Where does that soulfulness come from?” [Dumbarton Concerts director Connie] Zimmer said. “How does a kid who’s never had his heart broken have that poetry and soul to the music?”
“If you ask me why Beethoven is great, I’d give the same answer,” [Juilliard instructor Ira] Taxin said. “I’m not comparing Dominik to Beethoven, but the music translates immediately to the human experience. Dominik has the ability to do that. It’s a gift.”
Let’s talk about Beethoven for a moment. (FYI: If you want to piss off a 21st-century composer of complex, discursive music, comparing a conservative composer to Beethoven is your silver bullet.) One of the qualities we sometimes ascribe to Beethoven is the ability to address all the categories of human experience that were knowable in the composer’s day. Beethoven’s facility at describing and commenting upon these categories of experience leads us, quite naturally, to assume that he encountered them (most of them, at least) firsthand. Maican, on the other hand, obviously doesn’t have the same kind of mileage that Beethoven had: He’s seventeen years old, and by his own admission, his emotional music emerges not from emotional experiences but from the diligent study of preexisting emotional music.
As far as I’m concerned, this is proof: There is a formula for writing music that people find emotionally moving, and that formula, those conventions, can be internalized and reproduced with sufficient practice. None of us should be surprised by this, but we rarely see it illustrated so transparently. Maican’s success is conclusive evidence that a) the distinction between semblance of emotion (i.e. the historical gestures associated with certain feelings through years of symphony, opera, and film-score conditioning) and experientially ratified emotional commitment is absolutely real and that b) most people, even well-educated specialists, are unable to differentiate between the former and the latter. In other words, the affective, expressive content that’s supposedly the exclusive domain of tonal music can be analyzed, synthesized, and manufactured, and you don’t even need to bus senior citizens to Canada to get it cheaper: It can be brewed in a bathtub in Bethesda, a stone’s throw away from where I sit right now. It is not real. Maican should be commended for his mastery of persuasive tropes; I wish him the absolute best. The rest of us should be relieved, because what we’ve known all along has been confirmed: Those fans of affirmatory music being born every minute really are suckers.