One of the few things that most composers seem to agree on is that new music ought to be more inclusive and more welcoming to outsiders. Beyond that, however, there’s very little agreement on what this inclusiveness actually means. Is it simply to do with the framing and presentation of the music, or does it extend to the musical content itself? If so, what kind of music includes, and what kind excludes?
An effect of this–or maybe it’s a cause–is that practically everyone in new music feels excluded by somebody else. Overtly tonal composers, who might believe they are writing truly inclusive music, may feel that their work is unfairly dismissed as unserious. Meanwhile, more conceptually or experimentally minded composers may feel that their work is unfairly dismissed as too difficult or academic, while they try to grapple with more than a half-century of post-tonal developments. (Developments that tonal composers may ignore entirely.)
A full cataloging of the intricately nested and overlapping sets of perceived exclusions is way beyond the scope of this article. But the end result is predictable: nearly everyone feels like the victim of some kind of persecution, often while being completely oblivious to the persecutions they themselves are perpetrating.
The copious verbiage expended on these sorts of topics tends to wear me out, to the point where I am not even sure what the arguments are about. Consider Daniel Felsenfeld’s recent article trying to redeem the term “academic,” and Kyle Gann’s subsequent response. I start to wonder if the terms “academic” and “professional” are even useful at all, because no one ever seems to use the same definition twice. For example, the “professional tricks” Gann mentions in his article, I learned as “craft,” and they were definitely a part of my academic education.
In other words, both articles create a kind of dichotomy that doesn’t really resonate with me. Instead, these conversations seem to be more about personal experiences that have been amplified into generalizations. But this seems to be the norm these days, to create a mental framework in which you, the composer, are situated in opposition to a large, monolithic establishment that is out to deny you the recognition you deserve. We are all rebels now.