Light Bulb



Colin Holter
Photo by Randy Nordschow

Four caucus meetings are taking place during NPAC (two down, two to go); these are the conference participants’ opportunities to voice our thoughts on the “challenges and opportunities” facing the arts in America today. When we assembled in smallish groups for the first of these caucuses, we began with a preliminary eight-point vision statement. After a few tweakings, most of these points seemed to gain widespread consensus. I found this list of goals for the future of the performing arts especially heartening in one particular respect: Most of these aspirations dealt with the packaging rather than the content of the art we produce.

A light bulb went on above my head some time ago regarding the way new music is made and promulgated in the US; NPAC has, so far, only increased its wattage. We don’t have to change anything about the way we write music–we just have to change the way we talk about it. I’m convinced that every bit of the ego, eccentricity, and bloody-mindedness that characterize our content can be retained without alienating a single listener as long as every drop of condescension, selfishness, and diva-hood is wrung out of our packaging. In fact, kowtowing to audience-development pressure in the way you compose may actually damage your work’s reception: Listeners, especially listeners under 65, can smell inauthenticity a mile away. Why do you think most baby boomers would rather shell out for a Springsteen concert than a lukewarm orchestral premiere by a composer commissioned on the basis of how few people his music will offend?

Be as esoteric as you want as long as you have the right touch when it comes to publicizing and describing your art. Easier said than done, of course—but that’s what I’m here at NPAC to learn.