I was half serious last week when I suggested that universities swap their composition textbooks for The Complete Idiot’s Guide® To Music Composition. Not to belabor the point, but I found the following response to my musings interesting:
…in the same way that idiots guide to rocket science hasn’t produced a new Werner Von Braun, I doubt the idiots guide to music composition is going to produce a new Morton Feldman.
I couldn’t disagree more with what is implied here. I was privileged enough to grow up in a non-musical household. Music wasn’t something engaged in at home or with other family members. That said, I began composing rather young—and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. It’s embarrassing, perhaps, but I’ll admit to actually liking some of the stuff I created before I became cognizant of the term “music theory,” even to this day. In my blissful unawareness, I made some brash decisions as to harmony and counterpoint—the aggregate of which I can’t seem to emulate after many years of musical training. (Think along the lines of those brilliant sparks of naïveté exuded by some Christian Wolff compositions—how does he do it?)
In my book, a composer doesn’t need to navigate through the Ivory Tower in order to rise to the stature of a Morton Feldman—to suggest that such credentials are required to make art is a ridiculous notion. It was Feldman himself who recounted the story of how, when he first showed John Cage a string quartet he had written and Cage asked how it was put together, he responded, to Cage’s delight, “I don’t know how I made it.” More often than not, going beyond knowledge is required to make great art. Seems to me that those with less education to begin with have a shortcut to their creative zone if they are confident enough to tap into it.