We Need To Talk About New Music
I regret to say I missed the recent Minnesota Orchestra Future Classics concert; my fiancée (Well congratulations, Colin!—Why, thank you!) was laid up after the removal of several wisdom teeth last Friday, and I was on full-time gauze-and-mashed-bananas duty. Commenting on Future Classics has become an annual exercise for me: It’s always a welcome writing challenge to try to keep my thoughts corralled within NewMusicBox’s laudably upbeat editorial policy.
Why, though? We all want the same thing, right? As bloggers about and fans of contemporary music, we can do the most good by supporting the people and institutions that produce it, regardless of whatever internecine beefs we may harbor. In a world of finite resources, our noblest goal is to contribute to the rising of a tide that will elevate all boats. To paraphrase the very wise Doug Geers, we’re better off with virtually any particular arts organization in the world than we would be without it. Doesn’t matter whether you like it or not: Those who love new music, especially on the internet, are well-advised to tote the barges and lift the bales they’re confronted with, even if that means scrounging desperately to find something to admire.
As serious music people, however, we’re obliged to identify problems. On the face of it, this sounds like a destructive, negative mission statement, but au contraire: Without problems, we would have no solutions—and, worse yet, no more problems. Who cares if you think whatever it is is great? That’s the end of the conversation, not the beginning. Try on some critical distance; diagnose something. Have a question. I recognize that letting loose with a rip-roaring polemic is fun, but funner yet is saying something true and then assessing why and whether it really is.
It might not be possible for a single person to serve both of these masters faithfully, but it’s materially essential that both be served. I guess it’s for every netizen to decide how to negotiate them: Speaking for myself, the past five and a half years have given me plenty of opportunities to adopt either stance as the situation seemed to warrant, at the price—a light one, I think, in the final analysis—of confusing, sometimes, the first stance with the second. The fact that culture in general and American contemporary music specifically are complex and contradictory areas of human activity that produce more question marks than periods doesn’t preclude the fact that enthusiastic exclamation points just might be redeemable for concrete value to us. But a question mark is not an exclamation point, and to conflate one with the other is to invite frustration.