As weeks go, this has been a pretty good one. In addition to some timely good news, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with the response I’ve received about an essay of mine that was published this week in the “The Score” series of The New York Times’ Op/Ed section. While I was relieved that the sentiments I was trying to get across seem to have resonated with quite a lot of folks already, a relatively small incident yesterday reminded me that our work as individuals and as a community is never done.
As I was discussing several different issues with a colleague who is affiliated with a regional NPR radio station, the topic of my radio show that had focused on living composers came up. I’ve been seriously looking into starting it back up in Western NY and was curious if the folks in their area might be interested. After informing me of who to speak to, my colleague thought about it for a second and incredulously asked “Really? An entire hour of new music?” Now keep in mind that this was not just anyone off the street; this was someone who worked at a classical radio station. And they were extremely suspicious of the idea of one hour of radio time that was dedicated to music of the past 10-15 years. In my essay I mention the importance of reaching the greater public through major media outlets, and it is still a challenge to convince many (not just my colleague) in the niche market of classical music radio that contemporary concert music is a viable and important ingredient in any programming construct.
I won’t dwell on the specifics of how most classical radio stations incorporate new music into their programming, or even blow the issue out into a larger context and include large ensemble programming as well. The fact that orchestras and radio stations—two of the most public music organizations in many areas of our society—are reticent to add a healthy dose of current music to their menus is a long-standing problem that has and will be discussed by others in many venues (including this one). I will point out, however, that the onus is on we composers, performers, professionals, and audiences to be ready to fight the stereotypes and misnomers that exist in our communities about new music when they present themselves. If we allow new music to be further subsumed through cultural erosion, it might only take a couple of generations to completely lose touch with not just one or two styles of music, but an entire art form. By doing the little things—nudging conductors to program more new works, requesting contemporary music at your local station, discovering and supporting your local composers and performers—then over time the holes that have formed in our art form may slowly begin to heal.