Looking and Listening for America
Thanks to funding from the European Union, a group of staff members from various music information centers is traveling to other countries as part of a cultural exchange. We hope these exchanges will lead to ongoing collaborations between the various centers, ultimately resulting in greater opportunities for composers from the countries of each of the participating centers. So for the next week and a half we are hosting Aleksandra Jagiello-Skupinska, a musicologist who is a staff member from the Polish Music Information Center.
Aleksandra arrived from Warsaw on Friday and stayed awake for nearly 23 hours straight in order to attend a concert of the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. She heard the music of five very different composers based in five different cities around the United States: Clint Needham, Keeril Makan, Gregory Spears, Kamran Ince, and Fred Ho. It was a great introduction to the new music scene. Tonight we’ll be attending two concerts—a program hosted by WNYC-FM’s John Schaefer at the World Financial Center featuring Morton Feldman’s classic Rothko Chapel and a gig by the legendary jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club. It’s Sheila’s 80th birthday—what better way to celebrate!
But, of course, despite New York City’s ongoing plethora of cultural offerings there is a lot to explore all over the United States. Although budgetary and time constraints unfortunately will not allow her to travel to Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay-area, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta, or Pittsburgh (which all rank high on my must-visit list and all have exciting new music scenes), we’ve cooked up a mad plan for her to visit both Boston and Washington, D.C. this coming weekend. Two of my other favorite U.S. cities—Philadelphia and Baltimore—are along that route, but that’s probably overkill.
But no matter what she does, she will inevitably get only a very small taste of what is going on here. Unlike smaller and more homogenous countries, the United States of America is a vast sprawl both in terms of its geography and the variety of its music scenes. Indeed this diversity is perhaps America’s greatest cultural asset and strength, but it also makes our culture difficult to define and digest. If you were on the look out for new music and only had a week and a half to explore the United States, where would you go?