Avenues of Discussion
When I was asked to take part in a “Social Networking for the Arts” seminar series out here in western New York last week, I needed to explain how I got involved in social networking in the first place. Before I became active on Facebook, Twitter, and [shudder] Myspace, I realized that it was through reading articles and getting involved in the comment discussion threads on the then relatively young online new music sites—Sequenza21 and NewMusicBox—that I slowly became aware of the community of composers, performers, and enthusiasts that were out there. At this point I was still a relative newcomer to the contemporary concert music scene and didn’t have a clue as to who was doing what, much less know anyone on a personal basis, and it didn’t take long to begin to recognize names that kept popping up in articles and in the comments sections. Over time, these online venues for shop-talk had allowed a former jazz arranger-film composer-conductor from the Midwest to get a fairly accurate picture of the issues and people that were spinning around in the world of contemporary composition here in the United States—and ultimately guided me to take on the current project of interviewing composers on which these columns I’m writing have been focused.
Having these ideas rattling around in my head already, I was pleasantly surprised to see Daniel Felsenfeld’s name as the curator of the re-emergent series of essays in the New York Times titled “The Score” this week. In his opening column, Daniel is seriously worried about the silence from composers in the national dialogue and, in his words, “It is not only that we composers lack a place at the cultural and political conversational table, but that most of those at said table hardly know we’re there.” That someone is talking in these terms is a great positive in any regard, but that they are able to make such statements and subsequently do something about the issues in one of the most widely read newspapers in the country is a healthy step in the right direction.
On the same day that I read Daniel’s column, I gave a masterclass to some composition students at Oklahoma City University where I had once taught. What surprised me was how savvy many of the students were to what was going on outside of their own region because of their access to NewMusicBox and Sequenza21—a change from the situation I remembered just five years previous. That these young composers were keeping tabs on current trends, artists, and issues in a place that is not widely considered a hotbed of contemporary classical music was extremely promising for the future of our artistic community, one which many times has had the tendency of leaving out a good portion of the country that resided outside of the few centers of activity.
All these events and ideas can be connected in this way: in order for us as an artistic community to take up Daniel’s call for a greater presence at the musical and cultural table in our country, we need to be aware of who and what our community is—not just in Brooklyn or on the North Side of Chicago or in New Haven, but throughout the country—and include as many as possible into this greatly needed cultural conversation. “The Score” is a welcome addition to that conversation that has up till now been held up primarily by NewMusicBox and Sequenza21. There is, of course, more room for discussion—the new video podcast series put out by graduate students at Michigan State called SoundNotion is a perfect example—and I can only hope that as more take part in these conversations, either in the existing venues or ones they make up themselves, we may yet find a place at the table.