It seems there are two ways to negotiate our complex, diverse, and global web of music-making: Either jockey the heck out of everything, as if it is all free gain, or retreat to the rooted, familial plane, and herd with your local community.
In this article, I want to expand quality into agency—a thing can only advocate for itself if it can speak. Quality means empowerment–and it requires care.
You and your librettist (and co-collaborator for most artistic things in your life) decide that the way around the non-performances and non-workshops of your work is to create a small opera company. This totally can be done, you think. You got this.
And then you do it.
To me, the weird division of labor between composing works and playing concerts puts musicians in a difficult position. Performers have become new music’s coerced mouthpiece of accountability. The student summer festival provides the clearest case study for this skewed power dynamic.
I admit I attempted composing for opera long ago as an undergraduate. I remember seeing the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Billy Budd in the late ’90s and then seeing their production of Peter Grimes in the early 2000s, and I was convinced I absolutely had to write an opera.
If one wants contemporary music to remain in the academy, how do we take its social behavior and make it contrarian, vital? How can we combat the characteristically academic forms of racism, sexism, and other discriminating obstacles to thought and speech? And if one wants to find it a new home, where can it go?
Pondering identity-protective cognition “is to stare into a kind of intellectual abyss.” Nevertheless, it is a task that seems particularly worthwhile from time to time if we, as artists, are to truly reflect the—inevitably social—human condition.
When I suggest to undergrads that they should take what is now called a “gap year,” the first question they blurt out is, “What will I do?”
“Get a job,” I say.
It seems like the entire audience problem debate stubbornly looks outward, asking questions about marketing, “outreach,” and accessibility, all the while carefully avoiding some seriously necessary self-examination. Instead of an audience problem, I think new music has a quality problem.
For as much as it stirs the pot when a “serious music” review mentions the soloist’s hem line, it turns out things get even more heated when pop goes under the cold lens of the theoretical magnifying glass.