You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

Frank J. Oteri, Editor and Publisher
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

The first orchestral music recording I ever bought was a used flea market LP of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, a great American classic by an émigré who believed that musical composition could not be taught. But I, like many others, have learned so much from that piece.

I largely consider myself a self-taught composer. While I studied music theory and performance on various instruments from when I was nine years old, I only studied musical composition “officially” for one semester as an undergraduate at Columbia University and those sessions were pretty informal – I never wrote anything I was “assigned”. Yet my musical perceptions and tastes have been deeply influenced by many of my teachers, the non-musical ones as much as the musical ones. I still fondly remember my high school music teacher Lee Chernoff who suggested that I watch a PBS documentary about Philip Glass and track down recordings of music by Harry Partch. And it was my high school math teacher, Jim Murphy, who initially got me interested in ethnomusicology which has had the most profound and lasting influence on me musically.

In 2002, there is no general consensus about what constitutes the study of musical composition. We’ve decided to celebrate our third anniversary of NewMusicBox by exploring some of the possibilities. Breaking with our traditional conversation format for “In The First Person,” we offer instead a series of conversations between former and current composition students and their teachers spanning four generations, beginning with twelve-tone tonality pioneer George Perle talking with his former student, post-minimalist electronic composer Paul Lansky, followed by Lansky talking with his former student, progressive rock drummer/composer Virgil Moorefield at Princeton, and concluding with video excerpts from Moorefield’s own composition class at Northwestern University. Accompanying this chain of conversations is a HyperHistory about composition study in America by Bowling Green University professor Marilyn Shrude and a series of “Hymn & Fuguing Tune” comments about the pro and woes of being self-taught by a group six self-taught composers including Pulitzer finalist John Musto and Elizabeth Brown. And we ask you to describe the influence your teachers have had on your musical personality.

As an interesting counterpoint to our generational passing-the-torch discussion on teaching musical composition, Greg Sandow questions the very notion of progress in music, and Dean Suzuki regrets that humor has not been a more important part of our musical history. Our “In Print” section offers an extended excerpt of Curtis Roads’s exploration of MicroSound, and our SoundTracks section offers details and soundclips of 43 new recordings featuring new American music. Our News features and Hear&Now concert listings are now updated daily, so by the time you’re reading this and certainly since the time I’ve written this, there’s something new there!

Finally, to really celebrate three years of NewMusicBox, the highlight of my personal musical education, we’ve assembled a short video highlighting some of our favorite moments with Elliott Carter, Meredith Monk, Don Byron, Milton Babbitt, Tania León, Philip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, and the late Robert J. Lurtsema, including some never-before-seen footage. I hope you enjoy it and learn as much from it as we have!

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.