I am not surprised when protest organizers contact me asking for musicians to play at their protests; I am less surprised still when I hear that it was the music that elicited the loudest response and the most action.
Using extramusical models and precise planning works for some people but not everyone. I generally feel, however, that academic study of composition places emphasis on this methodology.
Where is the line between motivating someone and abusing them? Will the movie Whiplash make young jazz musicians think that all you need to do to become the next Bird is work really hard, get yelled at, and practice till you bleed? Is this portrayal of the teacher-student dynamic helpful or harmful?
When we perform with care for the holistic audience experience as well as care for the composer’s works, we can create a “social act” that is akin to magic.
Too often we live only by a temporal, horizontal axis in which we over-analyze, live within our heads, and lose connection with the earth and with our bodies. Being in touch with silence reinforces access to our inner selves and serves to reinvigorate connections with the earth and our identities.
We as musicians have a responsibility to respond to the world around us, to give the people a song to raise their spirits and fuel the fight in their hearts.
Few of these works can be experienced in their entirety, but that is partly the point; they act as a corrective to our uniquely modern assumption that—given advances in travel, communications, and media technology—we can know the whole world.
I recently saw a huge banner on the side of one of Tallinn’s major shopping centers promoting an upcoming concert by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir featuring works by Carlo Gesualdo, Salvatore Sciarrino, György Ligeti, J.S. Bach, and a premiere by Helena Tulve. I have a hard time imagining a similar advertisement hanging on the Prudential Center in Boston.
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It is absolutely reductive to think of music being solely either for the performer or for the audience. This is a both/and situation because we all get something different out of it. We are all there to play our own parts.