When I was growing up, I wanted to be a composer of Broadway musicals, which made my family extremely happy. Somewhere along the line I heard a piece of music for dried ice being heated up in frying pans, and my family’s dreams were permanently crushed. To this day relatives wistfully talk about how much they loved a musical I wrote when I was in high school—something I’m no longer terribly fond of. It has probably been more than a decade since any of my family members have attended a performance of my music.
Over the years, I frequently tried to get relatives to listen to music I was excited about. I bought them recordings. I took them to concerts. Most of the time, their reaction was complete bewilderment. An aunt of mine who is no longer living once conceded that there was something interesting about Alban Berg’s Lulu, although she preferred Les Miz. And my mother eventually learned the names John Cage and Philip Glass, although to this day she still tells me when Yanni is on television, thinking that he’s pretty much the same thing.
On some levels, I find this lack of musical connection somewhat troubling. There’s an old adage that says even if no one else likes what you’re doing, your mother will. In my case, I’m not so sure. What have your experiences been? What does your family think of the music that you compose, perform, or listen to?
If the music that is so central to us is something that not even our mothers can love, might there be something fundamentally wrong with what we’re doing? I’m certainly not advocating for composers of new music to suddenly do a volte-face and quit writing the music they believe in. Ultimately we have to create what we feel compelled to create, otherwise it’s insincere. But in order for the music we love to have a greater degree of relevance to the general populace, much more needs to be done. Until then, we should just keep trying. Mark Winges’s anecdote about his mother finally getting excited about a recording of his music during the Thanksgiving weekend (posted in response to my comments about the lack of appropriate Thanksgiving music) is extremely encouraging.