Surf’s Up

About this time of year, I begin to notice the weather. I watch pictures of snowdrifts and freezing rain play across my television screen and am reminded again how lucky I am to live in Northern California in December. I remember all of my years spent in “lake affect” weather back East, and I think about how I will not have to put on gloves, boots, and a hat and go scrape off the ice on my windshield today in order to go out for milk and coffee. Even though there is “frost” in California (hey, it got down in to the 30s this week) and sometimes I look desperately through my drawers for all those sweaters I parted with years ago, I still bless my lucky stars that I live in the land of sunshine. Sure, it’s also the land of wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, and numerous other natural disasters, but I can count on practically perfect weather, most of the time. One could almost become complacent. Really, why worry? It’s time (again) to go outside for a walk, or a hike, or a bike ride. Maybe today I should try rock climbing? Or surfing? Or hang-gliding? Work can wait. I really don’t need to be practicing.

Sometimes I wonder if all those past years of snow and dreariness simply provided a good excuse to stay inside and practice? Perhaps all that gray weather made me a better pianist? Probably it honed my work ethic, and it definitely refined my neuroses. I often wonder how California has changed me? I do find it hard to play Rachmaninov any more in the face of so much sunshine.

And so I ask the question: Is there a different musical ethos between the West Coast and the East Coast that has to do with the natural environment? Are people really getting more work done in New York or Ohio because they are forced to stay inside? Do your surroundings affect your music and/or your performance? Perhaps you work harder in more adverse climates? Work less in more temperate climates? (Is anyone really getting any work done in Hawaii?). From my perspective, I think it might be true, but I’m not sure it’s important.

As we used to say in Rochester: There’s winter-and there’s the 4th of July. You haven’t seen the color gray until you’ve lived in western New York. As we say in California: Dude, surf’s up! Get out there!

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33 thoughts on “Surf’s Up

  1. sarahcahill

    West Coast/East Coast
    Hi Teresa- Once again, a very interesting topic for your column. I guess people work differently in different climates, but personally, I don’t think our pleasant Bay Area weather makes us complacent at all. In “real” winters, I get depressed from the dark and cold and bare trees, and sick from switching from steam heat to the chill outside. It’s distracting just to try to keep warm. Here, everything is green and in bloom, and I love practising the piano in this atmosphere. The number of productive composers and musicians in the Bay Area testifies to the fact that our climate inspires us not to surf, but to do our work.

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  2. teresa

    Hi Sarah,

    Generally I agree with you…. of course, there are many fabulous composers and performers in the Bay area (and other sunny climates) but I still wonder if it changes what we play and how we think about music?

    Lou Harrison found the pace of NY to be overwhelming, and then discovered his voice in a western environment that supported new ideas and a blend of different cultures in a decidedly more relaxed environment. Yet, his music was not thought highly of at first because it was “too California”, which opinion came from an established New York sensibility that was decidedly “uptown” in it’s attitude.

    I think there might be a difference in work habits between the two coasts, but I am not saying that one is more important than the other–only that they are different. I think the “laid back” environment of California influences lots of what we do… some good, some not so good. (sounds like it is definitely good for you : )

    For me, the long dark winter days of my past definitely influenced my practice schedule, because there wasn’t much else to do. And, I really do find it hard to play Rachmaninov in a sunny climate, but that might just be my personality : ) I have adapted to this wonderful weather, and I don’t miss the snow at all. And without the snow… no Rachmaninov preludes.

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  3. Chris Becker

    “Is there a different musical ethos between the West Coast and the East Coast that has to do with the natural environment?”

    How about the Southern U.S.? You read NMBx and a handful of other “new music” blogs and it’s like no one South of the Ohio River composes music…come ON y’all. Break that east coast west coast paradigm!!!

    And as you get closer to New Orleans, the U.S. has that whole Caribbean element happening…I survived three summers in New Orleans without A/C. Previous I lived in Ohio and dealt with my ceiling caving in thanks to a frozen pipe in the middle of Winter. I’m grateful to have lived those two extremes…

    New Yorkers, check out Charlie Rose tonight and his interview with Brad Pitt re: his Make It Right project which seeks to build 150 new environmentally friendly homes in the Ninth Ward in the next two years…

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  4. mdwcomposer

    I’ve felt similar, Teresa. I can’t put my finger on all the ways the difference affects me, but even after living on the west coast for decades, it still seems to affect my artistic habits.

    By chance, I remembered something I’d read not too long ago. This may not say anything other than others have had the same thoughts, but I thought I’d share what, to me anyway, is an interesting tangent.

    In writing about the old “Monkey Block” of San Francisco around the turn of the 20th century, and the artists / bohemians who occupied it, Watkins & Olmstead, in their Mirror of the Dream, note that authors Mary Austin, Frank Norris, Gelette Burgess and even Mark Twain “had to flee the city in order accomplish work of more than passing merit”.

    They then quote a passage from Gertrude Atherton’s novel Ancestors (1907),where character Philip Stone, a failed painter, remarks:

    San Francisco breeds all sorts. A few are born with a drop of iron in their souls. They resist the climate, and the enchantment of the easy luxurious semi-idle life you can command out here on next to nothing, and clear out . . . they must get out. . . San Francisco is a disease.

    Probably a little harsh. But I’m not sure those lines would have been written about New York or Boston. Maybe they could have been written about New Orleans.

    Your thoughts also echoed back vaguely to your Colony Envy column: when confronted by no distractions (no phone, no internet access, no friends to see, no cat to feed) it has some similarities to bad weather / hostile environment: oh well, nothing else to do, might as well practice (or compose) for a few more hours. Conversely, when it’s nice outside (especially when it’s really nice here in SF), I have this nagging guilt that I ought to be out enjoying it, because it won’t be nice tomorrow, the fog will roll in. Or tomorrow the sun will go nova and it will be the end of life on earth as we know it. Or at least I’ll need a nap.

        — Mark Winges

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  5. Alex Shapiro

    I love Mark’s last sentences; I often think the same thing. Life’s short: eat dessert first :-)

    So here’s a slightly different take on this, just from my own experience (given that try as I may, I can’t seem to have anyone else’s). When I was choosing music schools for my undergrad composition studies back around 1980, I was pretty certain that I’d stay in Manhattan where I grew up. But I also strongly considered attending UC Santa Barbara because there was a composer on faculty with whom I was interested in studying.

    UCSB has got to be one of the most stunningly located campuses in the country, clinging to the endless Pacific coastline and to the sunshine of which Teresa lovingly writes. I gazed over and over at the catalog, mesmerized.
    I opted to stay in Manhattan for school.
    At the time, I was convinced that indeed, I’d end up spending too much of my time hangin’ 10 instead of rowin’ 12 (!). But of course, NYC offers as many alluring distractions as any other place, sunny or not, especially in the days of still-very-affordable standing room and nosebleed section tickets at Lincoln Center and Carnegie, and jazz clubs that let me stay for two sets for the price of a beer. Not to mention the dance clubs! Hey, it was the ’80s.

    Fast forward twenty years, and there I am, living right on the beach in sunny Malibu which, in the occasional moments when it is not ablaze, is also a contender for the Most Gorgeous Coastline award. But although I made full use of the spectacular natural environment, I was also amazingly productive in every aspect of my music life. My beautiful surroundings fed my inner spirit and the result was a very happy and balanced life.

    Fast forward a tad more, to 2007. I write this from yet another award contender: San Juan Island, floating off the upper left hand corner of the U.S.. I moved here to an even more remote and very rural life, knowing how well I do with a daily routine that’s drenched in the distractions nature reliably offers, from wild animals to wild winds. Oh, and it’s pretty sunny here much of the time– we get less than half the amount of rain as NYC or Seattle due to the Olympic mountains to the southwest that shield us. But still, despite this bucolic setting that looks somewhat like a cross between a Rousseau painting and the set of a Disney animated film (see my blog for proof), I slave away, happily. Yes, I go outside and play and explore. Some weeks a little more than others, depending on the looming deadline du jour. But I think for many creative people, the sunshine or the endless opportunities to play hooky don’t take us away from our work, but instead, they take us to ourselves and thus, to our art.

    None of us are just musicians; we’re humans with a myriad of interests. I think regardless of where we live, it’s good to think of our lives as vessels: the more we fill them up, the more we have to pour out. Since being an artist means being an emotional communicator, I want to be filled to overflowing. I love distractions! I think that’s where the music comes from :-).

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  6. dalgas

    I know America is supposed to be this place with no tradition, all Johnny-Latecomers. I still, though, can’t shake the feeling that in the East (Northeast, more precisely) you “inherit” something, whereas in the West (& elsewhere) we’ve all had to “make it up as we go” a little. Not even the largest, most important universities or conservatories out west have managed to set any real kind of “bar” (or are they hoops?), in the same way that some Northeastern institutions have.

    Steve Layton

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  7. William Osborne

    The Northeastern cultural establishment is quite Eurocentric. In NYC, European culture is almost romanticized. The West Coast does not have such a strong connection to Europe. And as might be expected, Asian influences are much more predominant. Over 60% of the students at UC Riverside, for example, are Asian-American. The architecture, cuisine, and spiritual atmosphere of California are all clearly Asian-influenced in ways that we now more or less take for granted. The Beats were strongly based on the West Coast, and were deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophies. I think one can trace the origins of those trends at least as far back as the 1930s. The foundations the Beats laid for the work of John Cage has still not been adequately explored.

    The West Coast removal from Europe also strongly affects classical music, because there is hardly a more Eurocentric art. One example is that even though California has numerous world-class universities, it does not have any music performance departments that would rival the Northeastern conservatories, or the big state university programs like Indiana, Michigan, or North Texas. I suppose USC might come the closest. And Cal State Northridge has a fairly good program, but they still do not have the influence or power these other schools do.

    I think the West Coast removal from European culture, and its focus on entertainment industries, has also allowed California a dominate status in computer music.

    California also has a far stronger Latin culture. It was first settled by Spain, which still deeply shapes the culture to this day, and makes the Germanocentric character of classical music seem out of place.

    Brahms and palms trees also don’t work that well together. California is in many respects a sort of Asian/Mediteranian-American culture (though this is not to overlook its almost terminal case of red-white-and-blue honkitis – ranging from Orange County, to Ronald Regan, to Arnold Schwarzenegger.) Climate really does make a difference. You might want to read “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond (1997), professor of geography and physiology at UCLA.

    And speaking of biases, just imagine if three of the principle bloggers and the Editor of NMB were based in San Francisco instead of NYC. How different things would be. When will we get NYC off our backs? Everything outside of Manhattan is just something to be spotted with “Radar.”

    Sorry, I’m doing my best to stay out of here. :-)

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  8. jchang4

    Speaking very generally, I do get the sense that there is a certain measure of elitism to the east that you don’t really find in the west, which I think is more attributable to the European connections or lack thereof (as William Osborne says) than differing weather patterns (not to say that this issue is what Teresa was originally addressing), and that this regional difference colors the trends in music that makes us have discussions about east vs west. It also seems like easterners tend to look down on westerners, whereas westerners seem pretty much neutral about easterners… or, at least I think westerners seem friendlier. Perhaps I mean more specifically New York vs California. I remember reading this in the LA Times: “‘Now that we have to go outside to smoke like Californians,’ the New York Observer said, mourning the proliferation of bare toes across Gotham, ‘do we have to give up and dress like them, too?’” And, I can’t imagine such sentiments as expressed by Randy: “FJO, you’ve finally gone popular culture; you’re just like everybody else now” to hold as a general Californian attitude, though I’m not surprised to hear it from a New Yorker.

    I am a victim of stereotypical thinking! Save me!

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  9. randy

    Actually, the quote attributed to me isn’t exact, but the sentiment behind it is: Frank, given all his very unique obsessions, finally found something he likes which also happens to be mainstream. It kind of floored me. And now to make you feel better jchang4, I doubt native New Yorkers claim me as a citizen quite yet. I grew up in Southern California and lived in the Bay Area for many years. I assure you that I don’t look down my nose on the west coast. If anything—especially during the winter—most of the time I’m just plain envious.

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  10. Chris Becker

    Rereading the initial post I noticed a focus on “getting work done” i.e. are people in the East getting more work done than people in the West?

    There is a healthy attitude toward work and pleasure in New Orleans that I do miss since relocating to NYC. In fact, I might suggest that New Orleans is actually way more European than the East Coast in its attitude towards and the value its people places on the time we spend with others, good food and indigenous culture (and how people celebrate it). And of course you have the wonderful combination of African, Caribbean, Spanish, French, German, Irish and Vietnamese architecture, food and music that hits you pretty much every day down there…even now in the post-Katrina landscape.

    And to stay on point, yes, the weather has a lot to do with placing a value on just sloooooooooooooowing down and experiencing the moment once in awhile. And yes this attitude has birthed some wonderful creative music.

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  11. William Osborne

    Teresa’s commentary might point to something a little deeper than the weather. One might also consider the uniformity that has evolved in our culture over the last 50 years. And more specifically, to what extent has this uniformity been created by mass markets and the types of international business models they create – including the music industry.

    Many Americans have seen how corporate-owned strip malls and Wal-Marts have deeply affected their cities and towns. The old downtown areas are abandoned as customers move to “big box” corporate businesses on the edge of town. Even local restaurants and cafes have been largely replaced with chains like Applebees or Starbucks. Communal identity and autonomy, which are an important part of cultural expression, are replaced with a relatively isomorphic corporatism.

    Americans have simply gone along with these changes, but Europeans struggle to maintain a different model. Most cities and towns have thousand year histories that are reflected in the architectural and other cultural treasures of their various municipal centers. They employ zoning laws and other regulations, as well as public education, to protect their cities from the Wal-Martization that would be caused by embracing American-styled corporatism. Europeans have large department stores and the occasional K-Mart, but their influence is kept within balance. They would consider the losses to their cultural identity caused by corporate uniformity to be too great.

    Europeans see Hollywood and America’s massive music industry in a similar way. They feel these institutions standardize culture into mass markets that reduce communal identity. Far from making music even more commercial, the European response has been to create a balance with public arts funding. They generally administer this arts funding locally, and not from a remote Federal organization such as the NEA. Europeans try to avoid being only the recipients of mass culture; they express themselves according to their autonomous, local needs and prerogatives.

    Is the concentration of America’s cultural activity in New York City used to legitimize the centralized corporate interests that reside there? Are we conditioned by the predominance of New York City’s culture to accept the loss of local autonomy and identity? If that is happening, whose interests does it serve?

    To what extent do organizations like the American Music Center, Meet the Composer, and the American Composers Forum represent a similar centralization of culture in an increasingly corporatized culture? How can these problems be solved? What are the larger regional divisions of American cultural identity?

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  12. sarahcahill

    corporatization
    That’s true, new music is getting to be like one big Starbuck’s! Where is Craig Bakalian when we need him?

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  13. William Osborne

    It’s hard to miss your irony, Sarah, but I think a case in point might illustrate the problems that exist. Take a regional culture like Santa Fe, New Mexico, a cultural center in my home state. It is know for its wonderful indigenous cultures, mainly Hispanic and Native American. It also has a long history as an artist’s colony. It was exactly these characteristics that caused it to become so overrun by people, largely from the coasts, that the local culture has been all but destroyed. The locals who shaped the culture can hardly afford to live there, and worse, the culture has become so commoditized that Santa Fe’s identity has been severely damaged. The cheesiness of most of what is now offered on the Santa Fe Plaza, for example, almost boggles the mind.

    This situation also damages the lives of local musicians. The well-known Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is essentially a summer home for the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Festival. The musicians are imported and have a bit of summer fun in an “exotic and colorful” place, while the local musicians are treated as if they are inferior, when in fact, they are not. Same story with the Santa Fe Opera and its six week season. The orchestra is almost entirely imported, even though the New Mexico Symphony has many musicians who would be excellent for the jobs. This cultural poverty leads to only a few logoized artists being supported. The result is a form of cultural uniformity.

    If people had richer cultural lives where they lived (including even New York City,) they wouldn’t overrun the few places that do have culture. It’s bad enough when this gentrification happens in the artistic areas of cities, but when it works to damage or destroy entire local cultures, the problem is even more severe. Surely I hardly need to explain how this disregard for local cultures is illustrated by the neglect shown in rebuilding New Orleans. This is happening because Americans have so little regard for the local nature of culture. (And this is to say nothing of the neglect that caused the destruction of an entire major city in the first place.)

    There are so many cities where there could be lively new music scenes that have to content themselves with nothing more than something like one small new music festival per year put on by the local university, even though these regions often many very good composers who deserve better support. Albuquerque, for example, has 500,000 people, but only has one new music festival a year. Any European city that size would have a host of year-round activities, including an opera house, a state radio, and a radio orchestra, all with official mandates to regularly present new music.

    Do you think the situation in the States is OK, Sarah? Surely not, so why the short, sarcastic quip, when there is so much to be discussed and explored if we want to solve these problems? You do OK with your circle there in the Bay Area. It’s like you are saying I got mine, so to hell with the rest of you.

    Another aspect of this problem is indeed the uniformity it creates, even in classical new music. Only a few composers end up being supported, and only in a few of the largest cities. Only they are recorded, published, and broadcast, with the result that the music in other regions of the country is not heard and thus neglected. Only these few centralized composers are thought to represent new music. This does create a kind of uniformity, especially in terms of regional expression. Are we to believe this is adequate for the cultural life of an entire nation?

    I should spell-out many other aspects of the problem, but it is late here in Europe, and with the food poisoning I am suffering, I have no heart to go on. Maybe I will get up in the morning and find some sort of intelligent and helpful response. Or no…maybe not when even leaders in the field have attitudes like Sarah seems to have. It looks like its going to be a long haul. It’s as if there is a small clique that can’t look beyond its own success and support to realize that the larger picture of our country shows some real problems that need to be solved. If the AMC, MTC, and ACF were here addressing these issues, I wouldn’t be saying anything, and I wouldn’t need to. But their absence and silence is notable.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  14. sarahcahill

    Santa Fe
    I’m sorry, William- You’re right, sarcasm is not the right response. But I’m astonished that when you talk about Santa Fe and Albuquerque, you don’t mention Santa Fe New Music, one of the most adventurous and dynamic new music organizations in the country, run by John Kennedy. Their series this year includes Henry Brant, Ingram Marshall, Guy Klucevsek, Piotr Szewczyk, Kaija Saariaho, and a lot more. There’s also the Outpost and the O’Keeffe Museum, where Aki Takahashi just played a Morton Feldman concert. And when I was there last year, Morton Subotnik was featured at the College of Santa Fe. So things don’t seem so dire there. I agree with you that changes have to be made, but we also need to appreciate all that we have.

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  15. William Osborne

    I guess that is exactly the point, Sarah. Santa Fe is an artists colony and has one of the best scenes in the country. And yet it is still nothing musicians can even remotely live from. Virtually without exception, they are living by doing non-musical jobs. It is hard to appreciate the few performance opportunities you have, when the situation is still so dire that it prevents you from actually working and living as an artist. If this is happening even in Santa Fe, imagine what is going on in the rest of the heartlands!

    I might also note the irony in the list of composers you mention being performed in Santa Fe. Not one is really local. I love Kaija Saariaho’s music, for example, but with her career she hardly needs a performance in Santa Fe. She also had an opera done at the Santa Fe Opera. And another Finn, Magnus Lindberg, was performed by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (because he was also featured by the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society which is pretty much the same organization.) These are great composers, but why such a “logoized” approach to new music? Maybe the local composers should grab for their rifles.

    Speaking of performing American music, the Camerata Variabile (a new music group in Basel, Switzerland near where I live) has devoted its entire season of five concerts to American new music. You can see the program here:

    http://www.cameratavariabile.ch/home.html

    Forget Santa Fe. Move to Basel.

    Basel only has 165,529 inhabitants, and yet has a year round opera house, a radio orchestra, a world famous school for early music, and a very active new music scene. Camerata Variabile just performed one of my works. I spoke a good deal with the musicians. They all said they were able to live as free-lancers in this small city. In fact, at this time of year they are working almost day and night due to all the Christmas gigs.

    By contrast, the base pay for the first chairs of the New Mexico Symphony is about $15,000 a year. Even after years of work, they salary hardly raises. The tutti strings are paid from 5 to 7 thousand a year. And this for a state population of 1.8 million. Almost every player in the NM Symphony has a day job. Nevertheless, the first chair players are excellent, and mostly grads of our most famous music schools. They usually win their positions over about 60 other applicants. All of that for a salary a bus driver or auto mechanic wouldn’t even consider.

    But I wouldn’t want to leave without commending John Kennedy for his wonderful new music series in Santa Fe. Remember those musicians there trying to live in a city where the average costs for a house are now about half a million dollars, and in the poorest state in America. I hope the rich folks and their New York musicians are having a fun and exotic time. Sorry, but don’t we deserve to be angry?

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  16. William Osborne

    Teresa, you mentioned what it must be like for musicians in Hawaii. This news just in from a local paper:

    “About 65 full-time musicians, as well as part-timers and other staff members, were told late last week that the Honolulu Symphony Society did not have enough money to meet its $60,000 biweekly payroll.” The musicians, who are among the lowest-paid in the American orchestra business, say they will continue to play.”

    Nice Christmas bonus. And as for cultural uniformity and the loss of regional identity, this passage might be relevant:

    “The move to other venues around town to accommodate a months-long visiting engagement of “The Lion King” musical, caused the symphony to suffer higher costs and reduced revenues at the same time it was increasing musicians’ pay and trying to upgrade the orchestra’s financial base.”

    The whole article is here:

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2007/Dec/16/ln/hawaii712160362.html

    William Osborne

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  17. rtanaka

    I was born and raised in Hawaii so maybe I can chime in for a few things. Thanks for the statistics William, but I think the issue is much broader than what can be measured by the health of classical music in that particular region.

    Hawaii is probably the most racially and culturally integrated places in the world. A lot of my friends were of mixed ethnicity, many of them to the point where they couldn’t really articulate what exactly they were — there were simply no labels that could be applied to them. Having left there for my schooling and work I think I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more — people are generally pretty nice and fairly laid back, and the quality of life is fairly high if you consider that to be important. There’s the idea of the “ohana” spirit, which basically means to treat everyone you meet as if they were family.

    This is contrasted by what we call the “mainland” attitude, which tends to be competition based and motivations based on individual prestege — companies will often import people from the mainland States for management and administrative positions, and this is often a source of conflict in the workplace. Unfortunately a lot of this is also very prevalant in classical musics, old or new. Being that my training was mostly in classical, I used to lament at the fact that there was so very little interest in the medium, but in recent years I think I’ve come to understand why the music tends to fair so poorly in my hometown. Quite simply, the music doesn’t really meet the needs or the interests of its audience, so it is not surprising that it doesn’t do very well there.

    The people in Hawaii, even for the “fine art” patrons, are generally more interested in indigenous musics, which is, I think, more reflective of the population anyway. My schooling in composition was very much Eurocentric — I don’t regret having gone through the process since I think it gives me a better perspective on things, but one cannot really help but feel that a lot of things tends to get excluded when your training becomes so focused toward something so alien to what’s happening in your surroundings. I’ve noticed that the world music concerts around LA tend to do very well, because its taylored toward an appreciative audience which makes it much easier to acquire and justify funding.

    But, speaking of music in general, I think this is a problem that we’re all going to have to face. Americans in general seem to like to “think big”, what with the voter turnout being much higher on the national level than the local level, even though the latter almost always has a more immediate and direct impact on our daily lives. Instead what we have now is what you’ve described — the allocation of resources and culture highly concentrated among a select few, with the rest of the world getting little to nothing. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating system because there doesn’t seem to be too many people interested in evening out the distribution of power — everyone wants to be at the “top” of things, and tend to take a make it or break it attitude. I know lots of people who take pride in this sort of approach, but its a lot of unnecessary suffering, in my opinion.

    Fortunately it seems that because of the internet and globalization, things are becoming more decentralized. A lot of the companies and institutions which had a fairly strong grip on the cultural climate (both in the commercial and in the “fine arts”) are gradually losing their monopolies. For some this might seem like the “end” of classical music, but I think its really only the end of it as we know it — I believe that we are in a transitory stage right now, moving towards something different that we haven’t quite figured out yet. You figure that the internet has only been around for maybe two decades at most, and less than 10 in terms of its widespread usage…from a historical perspective that’s not very long at all.

    The Europeans do some things very well (like socialized healthcare and such) but I think that its much easier for them to create cultural support because their population tends to be more homogenized. America’s diverse population would require an approach much more specific and localized in order for it to be successful. Unfortunately until the government gets its act together, capitalism will probably be what fills in this void for now.

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  18. William Osborne

    Interesting ideas and arguments, Ryan. You might also consider how musical tastes develop. In Hawaii, as in New Mexico, there are indigenous peoples who have very strong and living cultural roots. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t also end up liking classical music too. For years, the first trumpet of the Bavarian State Radio Orchestra in Munich (probably among the top ten orchestras in the world) was a friend of mine, a Navajo from the Laguna Pueblo about 60 miles west of Albuquerque.

    Our society is such a melting pot, that most Americans, even those with fairly strong ethnic roots, often do not have community inherited musical tastes. I would like to see some statistical studies that might prove or disprove this. A recent multinational study has shown that an appreciation for classical music is NOT strongly influenced by class, and that education and intelligence are far stronger determinants. For more details see:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1501119/story.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=10483596&ref=rss

    Through education we inevitably enculturate people. To what extent should we enculturate them with classical music – or at least give them enough exposure so that they can make reasonable decisions about how much they like it? Have our postmodern ideals (which now have a thoughtlessly faddish character) unnecessarily marginalized classical music? If China, for example, is currently producing a great deal of appreciation for Western classical music (that has also produced a wave of extremely gifted artists,) why should we have doubts about giving our own children good educations in the same? We may not be as close to classical music as Germans or Italians, but we are certainly a lot closer to it than the Chinese. Classical music is part of the cultural heritage of every American, regardless of their skin color.

    And one other observations seems important. The Europeans have learned that without education and public funding for the arts, the appreciation for classical music diminishes rapidly. It cannot be situated in an unmitigated form of capitalism. The UK recently instituted a massive classical music program for it students. The reasoning is that in post-industrial service economies, it is exactly the sorts of creativity engendered by the “high” arts that will produce the most successful societies.

    Of course, when one speaks this way, people might get the idea you’re one of those Harold-Bloom-styled nut jobs, but the issues are much more complicated than that, and certainly not easily reduced to some sort of left- or rightwing political perspective.
    Interesting ideas and arguments, Ryan. You might also consider how musical tastes develop. In Hawaii, as in New Mexico, there are indigenous peoples who have very strong and living cultural roots. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t also end up liking classical music too. For years, the first trumpet of the Bavarian State Radio Orchestra in Munich (probably among the top ten orchestras in the world) was a friend of mine, a Navajo from the Laguna Pueblo about 60 miles west of Albuquerque.

    Our society is such a melting pot, that most Americans, even those with fairly strong ethnic roots, often do not have community inherited musical tastes. I would like to see some statistical studies that might prove or disprove this. A recent multinational study has shown that an appreciation for classical music is NOT strongly influenced by class, and that education and intelligence are far stronger determinants. For more details see:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1501119/story.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=10483596&ref=rss

    Through education we inevitably enculturate people. To what extent should we enculturate them with classical music – or at least give them enough exposure so that they can make reasonable decisions about how much they like it? Have our postmodern ideals (which now have a thoughtlessly faddish character) unnecessarily marginalized classical music? If China, for example, is currently producing a great deal of appreciation for Western classical music (that has also produced a wave of extremely gifted artists,) why should we have doubts about giving our own children good educations in the same? We may not be as close to classical music as Germans or Italians, but we are certainly a lot closer to it than the Chinese. Classical music is part of the cultural heritage of every American, regardless of their skin color.

    And one other observations seems important. The Europeans have learned that without education and public funding for the arts, the appreciation for classical music diminishes rapidly. It cannot be situated in an unmitigated form of capitalism. The UK recently instituted a massive classical music program for it students. The reasoning is that in post-industrial service economies, it is exactly the sorts of creativity engendered by the arts that will produce the most successful societies. Again, be very cautious with your studies of neo-liberal economics. Many of its ideas are already completely disproven.

    William Osborne

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  19. William Osborne

    Sorry for the unfortunate duplication in the above post. I hope it is clear where the repeition starts and ends.

    W.O.

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  20. rtanaka

    Yes, the European tradition is not to be discounted — again, it does do certain things very well and I think this should be acknowledged. The world we live in today is largely Western-based, so I think that having a good understanding of it I think would be a service to one’s own self. How does education translate into appreciation, however?

    I had a wonderful media studies professor back in my undergrad where we analyzed popular cultural films like Independence Day, 28 Days Later, Star Wars, etc. She was very outspoken and had a field day deconstructing the implications behind the films. Now I know some people who would firmly object to showing anything even remotely related to pop culture, but the class was definitely a learning experience and the students as a whole were very responsive to her lectures. She showed a lot of good films but also a lot of medeocre and bad films as well, and used them as material to critique and address broader social issues. I thought that this approach was very smart — regardless if you agreed with her or not, at least you felt your presence was being acknowledged.

    Classical music might need a bit more of this type of approach…the reason why the medium doesn’t fair so well is because I don’t think people really see what it really has to do with anything they’re doing. And I’m afraid to say, half the time I think they are right. So as musicians we either have to be better advocates of our medium, or on the other hand, as composers, write works that deal with problems and solutions that people care about. This is a fairly difficult thing especially in the States where there’s a huge amount of diversity in demographic and in interests, which are currently melding together as well. Where does one direct their efforts?

    Reply
  21. Colin Holter

    Anyway.

    Vis à vis the east coast-west coast dichotomy: It’s reductive, and we all know that; Chris Becker cites the South as a third cultural area (albeit one that seems to be the site of less new music per square foot), and I’d add the upper and lower Midwest (culturally distinct in my book). I’ve never been to the mountain west, so I won’t presume. My experience has been that the biggest difference in the arts scene between Minneapolis and the Atlantic corridor (and, I assume, large cities on the West Coast) is that a network of wealthy music-loving donors who commission new works seems to be alive and well in MN. There might be such a thing in New York or L.A., but if there’s one in Baltimore, say, I’m not aware of it. This kind of patronage culture seems very unusual, and it bears heavily on the kind of music that gets written and performed. N.B.: I’m new, so I may be misinterpreting the situation.

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  22. William Osborne

    Ryan asks some interesting questions. How does music education translate into appreciation? And how is this problem solved, especially given the diverse demographic in the United States where people have so many different tastes and goals in life.

    I think that education translates to appreciation through doing. Kids learn to love music by making music. Music appreciation classes alone don’t work well. It is important to tell children about music and have them listen to recordings, but the ultimate goal of music appreciation classes should be to get as many kids as possible into school bands, orchestras, and choirs. People who have been through these programs invariably have a fuller appreciation of music, regardless of how their musical tastes ultimately develop.

    There are places in the country where this is well-known, such as the Midwest and Texas. Some of the Texan school districts have school music programs that are incredible – huge bands, private instrumental instruction as part of the regular school curriculum, and fanatic competition between district and state-wide school systems for the best bands and soloists. These programs formulate the backbone of America’s musical accomplishment.

    One also has to develop parent organizations to back up the school’s music programs. A family orientation is important, because children need places at home to practice, and help in maintaining practice routines. Often parents need help and training in how to organize home-life around music-making. These parent groups also help raise money for instruments, lessons, band uniforms, trips to competitions, etc. The poorer the neighborhood, the more important it is to develop programs for families.

    And most importantly, we must understand that ultimately classical music isn’t about a specific literature or way of making music. It is about striving for transcendent ideals through sound. What does the Rite of Spring have to do with the St. Matthew Passion? They are united only by a transcendent aspiration toward profound artistic expression.

    Children in a band can learn to strive for high ideals in artistic expression regardless of what kinds of music they play, ranging from Percy Granger to Duke Ellington. We shouldn’t get too hung up on superficial postmodern ideas that Korean- or African American children are only supposed to like certain ethnic forms of music. The idea is almost racist. It’s like my Navajo friend who as a kid didn’t mind singing traditional chants, but for some odd reason got stuck on the Haydn trumpet concerto.

    In our school programs, our goal is not only to give children basic and essential musical skills, but an understanding that music can reflect the deepest aspects of what it means to be a human. In fact, kids instinctively know that. Just put a shiny cornet, glistening flute, thunderous drum, and resonate violin in their hands and you will see it before your eyes (and hear it in all of the utterly abandoned squawking, honking, banging, and scraping.)

    Musical expression is an inherent and fundamental human need. No one needs to teach kids to appreciate music, and if they start playing instruments in school bands and orchestras, classical music will not be far away. Music education just tells them it is OK to have those feelings and enthusiasms for music. It shows them how to develop those aspirations. Knowledge helps us hear and see. A good number of kids playing instruments will begin to see the value of classical music – assuming we don’t stand in the way with hip ideologies over-extended to the ridiculous.

    Another part of creating appreciation is to establish local performing arts organizations that are a part of communal pride and identity. I learned this watching Europeans. Their regional orchestras and opera houses are often not all that great, but they much prefer hearing their own local groups rather than traveling to a bigger city. One of the deepest functions of music is the expression of community. If it doesn’t express community, people will have trouble identifying with it. It deeply affects children when the see that classical music is an active and living part of their community’s pride and identity. Harlem should be one of the great cultural centers of the world, and that should include an orchestra and an opera house. In fact, they would proably completely turn our ears around.

    If we lead children in these ways, a good percentage will become supporters of intelligent music-making, which would, of course, include classical.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  23. William Osborne

    I just took at look at the latest AMC Composer Assistance Program Awards which are listed here:

    http://amc.net/grants/capawards.asp

    As their website notes, “The American Music Center has awarded a total of $33,555 to 27 American composers residing in 11 states and ranging in age from 27 to 67 through the autumn round of its Composer Assistance Program.”

    I added up some numbers. Of the 27 awards, 17 were given to composers in the Northeast, or 62%. Over a quarter of the 27 grants went to one state alone, New York. Only four of the 27 grants (14%) were outside of the usual East/West coastal paradigm, North Dakota, Texas, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Only one was given to a composer in a non-coastal mainland state, North Dakota (3%).

    In fact, the North Dakota grant was the only one to a state without a coast. Is there something about oceans that produce musical superiority?

    Seven of the recipients were women, or 25%. It should be 50%, but all things considered, 25% is progress.

    Can someone provide us with a list of judges? It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between the geographic distribution of the awards and the residencies of the judges. The site does not list the amount of cash given to individuals. It would be interesting to also analyze the numbers to see where most of the money actually went. It would also be interesting to compare the distribution to where the composers studied.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  24. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    I’ve been following this, and just wanted to add a few small bits.

    I’m in Vermont. This may seem like East Coast to those elsewhere in the huge US land mass, but it might as well be any cold northern tier state — and it’s about as alien to New York as you can imagine. New Yorkers (composers and visitors) come here, but few actually live the life, which is strenuous. In the fall (it just started being winter) we’ve had nearly 30 inches of snow and temps at 6 below F. When I first came here 30 years ago, it might as well have been Siberia for all the contact with any city — not New York, not Boston, not Montreal. It’s not just apparent proximity that makes a difference, but access, weather, mountains, and how much of the sense of geography one internalizes, and how different the style of living actually is. I bet it’s far more alien to New York than San Francisco is. Cities are cities.

    As for the CAP grants, I (non-city, non-coastal) received a substantial one in 2004. The rules make it difficult — there has to be a need and an imminent performance, and of course an application from a composer. The CAP grants are not well-publicized, and the New York-centrism of the AMC is very, very far from being overcome. And how could it, when hundreds of composers are a subway ride away? The AMC was very kind to Kalvos & Damian in our radio show days, and twice hosted our New York interviews there. It’s not some sort of megalith, though. and it is very expensive. That’s why a big city with an enduring artistic history can support it, complain though one might. I wonder if one of those great midwest donors would fund an AMC move to, say, Minneapolis or Santa Fe? And how it would fare over time?

    Dennis

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  25. rtanaka

    I guess my idea was that perhaps a good way to approach the problem would be to start with ideas people can relate to. My mother, for instance, administrates a experimental high school where the classroom walls were largely broken down and things were done in a more “open” atmosphere. The philosophy of the school was to start the kids with learning relevant, practical skills (like personal finances and doing job applications) first, then move onto other things from there. I think schooling should be more about getting students interested in learning in a very general sense, since if that attitude can be instilled then they will enrich themselves on their own toward whatever interests they might harbor. If you can’t convince them to learn willingly, then in the long run its really not going to change much, I think.

    So talking and discussing about popular culture is fair game, I think, even though it was once a hugely unpopular idea within the art world. Even if the work itself is so-so, there’s always room to discuss it in terms of the context of its creation, economics, history of style, etc. many of which can be taught in a very tangible way. My experiences has been that with an enthusiastic teacher these things can be made exciting even to an uninitiated student.

    From personal experience, I sort of started with electronic, ambient, and film musics, sort of got interested in Stravinsky and the minimalists after some recommendations, then worked my way backwards toward the classical canon. Appreciation of Mozart and the like didn’t come until a few years after I seriously started studying classical music. But, I did this all on my own will, with most of the work being done outside of school, because I just found it to be interesting. Having that “entry point” where my interests coincided with the content of the class was very important, though, because it gave me a way into the medium.

    The big difference between LA and a city like Manhattan, though, is its concentration. LA is way spread out over a vast region compared to NY — I think this geography is very reflective of many of the ideas and approaches to art as well. They’re both fairly diverse places, but the way the city is organized is very different. From the things I’ve heard, I think other cities tend to have an easier time creating patronage networks just because everything is just closer together.

    Driving in LA is like performing a late-Cage work (where he was born) — awkward intersections of roads, sometimes the signs mean something, sometimes they don’t, sometimes it’s unclear or is misleading, and you often end up going in circles or getting lost. Sometimes I think that the city hasn’t quite gotten out of the “wild west” mindset…back in the day it was the gold rush, nowadays its Hollywood. Just by the roads, you can tell that nothing about that city was centrally-planned. On the other hand, the roads of Manhattan is very orderly, evenly laid out, very logical. East-Coast serialism? Okay, maybe I’m reading into it too much at this point.

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  26. William Osborne

    There is also the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music. Its mission and organizational structure is very similar to the AMC’s. See:

    http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/music/MACCM/index.html

    If the AMC wanted to try for a little more regional diversity, perhaps it could try to form closer working relationships with organizations like the MACCM. Or maybe they want to keep the AMC a sort of NYC thing.

    Don’t know. Just a thought.

    William Osborne

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  27. William Osborne

    Concerning music appreciation, Ryan mentions that a “good way to approach the problem would be to start with ideas people can relate to.”

    True enough. Put a shiny slide trombone in the hands of a kid and you will quickly see some very enthusiastic and noisy “relating.” Anyway, in that vein, here is one of my very favorite YouTube videos. Adorable and very funny:

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  28. MarkNGrant

    As their website notes, “The American Music Center has awarded a total of $33,555 to 27 American composers residing in 11 states and ranging in age from 27 to 67 through the autumn round of its Composer Assistance Program”….
    I added up some numbers. Of the 27 awards, 17 were given to composers in the Northeast, or 62%. Over a quarter of the 27 grants went to one state alone, New York. Only four of the 27 grants (14%) were outside of the usual East/West coastal paradigm….

    Alternately, William, one might note that the Fromm Music Foundation commissions appear scrupulously balanced in their national geographical distribution, and that New York-area composers get only a few of them each year. It would certainly be interesting to put this “geographical democracy” question to the test with the Koussevitsky, the Guggenheim, and other such prestige awards given to composers.

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  29. EvanJohnson


    I added up some numbers. Of the 27 awards, 17 were given to composers in the Northeast, or 62%. Over a quarter of the 27 grants went to one state alone, New York. Only four of the 27 grants (14%) were outside of the usual East/West coastal paradigm, North Dakota, Texas, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Only one was given to a composer in a non-coastal mainland state, North Dakota (3%).

    In fact, the North Dakota grant was the only one to a state without a coast. Is there something about oceans that produce musical superiority?

    Maybe there is. But surely you realize that all those numbers are meaningless without considering also the distribution of applications, which I strongly suspect is at least as geographically clustered as the results are. By themselves those numbers you relate are totally meaningless.

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  30. William Osborne

    “Totally meaningless,” eh?

    Actually, the numbers are obviously useful. If people from the heartlands aren’t applying we need to ask why. And that would already show one useful and meaningful aspect of the numbers. If the AMC is New York-centric, for example, it might bias how the awards are made known (such as word-of-mouth from colleague to colleague, teacher to student, performers to composers, the distribution of printed materials, etc.)

    Also, if there is a pattern of the awards going to certain regions, those in other areas might lose heart and not apply. They can end up not even paying attention to awards that circulate only in certain areas of the country. If someone in Nebraska gets an award, people in the area start paying attention. It encourages other composers in the area to apply.

    An active AMC community has to be built. Efforts could be made to encourage people to apply from the non-coastal states, such as sending printed advertising materials to university music departments. People identify with institutions in their own local areas, or institutions that at least reach out to them. I wonder if the AMC were based in Kansas or Louisiana if the participation might be different. Of course, it can’t be, so why not make a special effort to reach the heartlands and make the AMC a truly American institution.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  31. William Osborne

    Just one other thought. 86% of the awards went to states in the usual East/West coast paradigm. Only 1 of the 27 awards went to a mainland, non-coastal state. Shouldn’t we wonder a bit if states with huge populations like Illinois, especially with a major cultural center like Chicago, doesn’t get a single grant? Or Ohio, or Minnesota, or Florida? These are vast populations, bigger than most European countries. Meaningless numbers? We might also ask for whom are the numbers meaningless, and why?

    W.O.

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  32. Colin Holter

    If people from the heartlands aren’t applying we need to ask why.

    No we don’t. We don’t need to do anything. If you are curious to know why more applications are sent in from New York than from Kentucky, knock yourself out, and I’ll look forward to reading your findings.

    This is the internet era; you can criticize groups like the AMC for certain kinds of regional bias, but you can’t hold them responsible for not publicizing their opportunities to counteract some perceived geographic imbalance.

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  33. William Osborne

    Your absolutely right, Colin. We don’t need to do anything. The suggestion was only for those who might be interested.

    We do not know if people from the heartlands are not applying – though the hypothesis is plausible. The AMC could clarify that for us, but I seriously doubt they will. And we do not know why heartland composers aren’t applying, if they aren’t. I agree that the Internet might be adequate as publicity for the awards. The “perceived” problems represented by the imbalance represent cultural issues that run much deeper than mere publicity.

    The stated mission of the AMC is to further American music. The heartland states represent over 200 million people, and a very large number of composers. If the AMC is not interested in these regional imbalances, which are arguably harmful to American music in many different ways, I think they aren’t fully considering the implications of their mission. That’s not to say they aren’t interested, or that they don’t already have their hands full. It’s just an explanation of my view about why they (and we) might consider the imbalance and its possible solutions.

    The imbalance is an issue I am not much involved with, so I am not interested in any sort of tenacious debate about administration – though I realize some will feel discomforted by the numbers. Insights, analysis, and consideration of ideas and solutions are what I find appealing, especially when presented with open minds. Even the reactions themselves are quite interesting, especially when placed in the context of the correspondent’s possible biases, mine included.

    So here are a few questions. Why should a quarter of the awards go to just one state, New York? Why concentrate so much new music in one city, while others have so little new music?

    Culture has a long history of serving as a form of “soft power.” In Europe, for example, aristocrats long controlled cultural patronage. From the crown of Charlemagne to the Versailles Palace of the Sun King to the literature glorifying British colonialism, the purpose of European art was often to celebrate, justify, and strengthen the power and authority of people who thought themselves the recipients of a God-given superiority. In the 19th century, these concepts of genetic, aristocratic superiority were appropriated by the bourgeoisie and transformed into theories of racial supremacy and cultural nationalism. (Remnants of these cultural views remain to this day, as manifested in institutions such as the Vienna Philharmonic.)

    Do we see similar uses of culture as soft power in America today? Does the concentration of culture in New York City serve to legitimize its sometimes questionable cultural and financial hegemony, both nationally and internationally? Are artists merely benign bystanders? Do they have any choice about how they or their art are used, or abused, for the creation of soft power? Why does this soft power generate symbolic counter-reactions such as 9/11? How do we situate ourselves as artists in a world where culture is often used to legitmize power that is often less than moral?

    Or is there nothing wrong with New York’s hegemony, including its concentration of culture? Should one even be concerned about the polticial exploitation of art? These are the questions that interest me, though I realize they might only appeal to few, and will probably not be addressed in a forum like this.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply

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