When the stage lights go up, the windows go down, and the fans go off, before long the concert hall becomes a fiery crucible more suited to doing Bikram yoga or baking a pizza. Invariably, this makes the musical experience more intense than it would otherwise be.
The Rite of Spring serves as a kind of signpost, marking the boundary between the traditional and the avant-garde, and I have the feeling that it will always be there. Musical borders are changing all the time, but Stravinsky may have staked out that territory for good.
This week I’ve been consumed by preparations for Trees and Branches, a concert I’ve wanted to do in some form for years now. For me, the legacy of John Cage’s ideas is even more fascinating than his music. Everyone seems to learn a different lesson from Cage, making the shape of that legacy vast, diverse, and constantly changing. I imagine it as a forest of trees and branches emerging from Cage’s sonic landscapes, radiating off in countless directions.
In the world of concert music, performance and composition are regarded as elite professions that demand decades of highly specialized training. What it would be like if we were a little more welcoming to others outside of the profession, not just as audience members but as potential creators?
Many of John Cage’s scores seem to allow performers a degree of freedom that often leads to interpretations that, by the composer’s own admission, do not reflect the spirit of the work. This is a problem of both attitude and notation. If we are to continue or reconstruct the tradition, we must look to the one performer in particular who defined and was defined by the performance practice of Cage’s music – the pianist, composer, and electronic musician David Tudor.
Learning the rules before breaking them can breed a certain timidity of thought, and it can actually teach students to mistrust their ears and instincts, which may be telling them something contrary to what the rules are saying.
It’s all fine and good to make music for its own sake, but that’s not quite enough for me, and I don’t think it should be enough.
Whenever I’m asked to elucidate my creative process, it occurs to me that the vast majority of what I’ve learned is nothing remotely deep or profound, and in many cases it doesn’t even seem applicable to anyone else.
With the future of Sibelius in question, I’ve been thinking about my issues with the notation software that’s currently available. While I know there are a variety of existing options out there, I’ve been having more fun imagining hypothetical alternatives.
For a while it seemed to me like every successful composer was telling the same story about their working habits—get up early in the morning, maybe have breakfast, then write music for several hours straight. It’s funny how this pattern used to feel like a prison to me, and now it feels like a vacation.