Articles by Colin Holter
My better half and I sometimes play the Roman Numeral Game when recorded music is playing—film credits, grocery shopping, and so on. In this simple diversion, we hold up a number of fingers indicating the appropriate Roman numerals corresponding to the harmony that’s happening at the moment in the music.
The birthday piece has to be one of the nicer rituals in the world of contemporary composition. No matter how much this cruel colosseum makes us snipe and claw each other over scraps from an already stingy patronage when we ought to be allies rather than competitors, the birthday concert gives us permission to salute unreservedly, together, a composer we admire.
Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching several classes in music theory and rock history, but I’ll be preparing in a few months for an entirely new teaching experience: I’ll be running a course on American experimental music between 1910 and 1945 for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Minnesota, a continuing education program with a “focus on active learning in dynamic and respectful environments.”
Audiences who haven’t read as much Barthes as we have expect to encounter a unique and expressive subjectivity, and when they learn that a piece they really dug was churned out by a machine—perhaps they envision a dot-matrix printer chirping out the score minutes before the concert—they feel like suckers.
In the wake of some recent writing on the topic of suburban composition, I’m moved to reconsider the humble “tape” piece in a new light: Rather than a squandering of live-audience attention and a breach of the social contract, the fixed-media piece could represent a kind of home listening (and, more importantly, a relationship to and imaginary of the work-object) that—while maybe not genuinely “new”—is in some ways no less psychologically expansive than concert listening.
Having passed my eyes over a number of Brahms’s chamber pieces in the last week or two, I have a rather uninsightful observation to make: Dude loved “dolce.” This expression marking is ubiquitous in the sonatas and intermezzi I’ve been dealing with; it’s almost like he wanted to coat the music in some kind of glaze, then roll it in confectioners’ sugar.
I’d like to think that the political music that I try to write now—and that the colleagues I admire most succeed in writing—strives to dismantle ideological motors rather than to rev them up.
How should the last 120 years of Western concert music be periodized? There are a number of reasons why this is an issue of importance, but the most urgent (from where I sit as an educator-in-training, at least) is that it bears directly on the structuring of music curricula in universities.
There’s a succinctness that an artfully programmed short concert can enjoy, encouraging a kind of concentration that longer concerts are likelier to strain.
There seem to be two issues chiefly at stake here: first, control (over who has the scores, who can perform them, etc.); second, monetization.