I was sifting among the zillions of interesting musician sites this morning, checking the usual suspects I enjoy reading and learning from when I ran across something that seemed to be directly related to some of the stuff I have been thinking about recently.
It was a description of a recent concert given by the National Orchestra Institute. What caught my interest was the fact that after receiving the assignment of performing four major contemporary works the entire concert was designed and rehearsed by young talented college-aged orchestra musicians attending the four week festival in Maryland.
The students could do what they wanted but the organizers asked them to derive their innovations from the suggested repertoire. This led to stuff like the string quartet playing this video of them rehearsing Kirchner’s latest string quarter before performing it. Since this week of the festival was dubbed “New Lights” by the organizers, I especially liked the fact that the young musicians came up with an ensemble called “No Lights” Ensemble, eight musicians (trumpets, viola, tuba, harp, and horn) . This group began the second half of concert inviting the audience to participate in an improv. Apparently this really worked.
I also liked the addition of pieces by the Decemberists, Yes, Journey, one original song and a last minute addition of Billie Jean by Michael Jackson due to his recent death. These pieces were performed by “marimba, acoustic bass, guitar, discreet flute, drums (or more precisely a drummer drumming informally on what looked like a wooden box), and finally, but not least, a bassoon, which took major solos, with a sound that could have been a slightly shadowy sax.” (quoting from the article I read).
The writer of the article seemed especially pleased how Eliot Carters Eight Etudes and a Fantasy (excerpts) didn’t “sound stiff” when programmed after the above popular music.
I have been thinking a lot about the museum aspect of the great music of the past. I also think about how to program and perform music in my little venues (church, one local coffee shop, and sometimes on the street).
I was especially interested to hear that wonderful Carter didn’t feel jerky after music by the Decemberists and Michael Jackson. Recently, someone complained that the musical choices I have made for communion music were too jerky. Going from quieter reflective refrains to loud in your face gospel or what-have-you. I think this is a comment that sounds suspiciously like the “church of good taste” from the past history of the Episcopal church.
It’s not that I think that the older ideas of having a church service unified by style and with carefully modulated (literally and figuratively) progression from one thing to another. It’s that I think that it does not reflect the rest of the experience of our lives which are more often than not subjected to brutal shifts in tempo and content. In fact, I think this fragmentation is part of the contemporary mind by now in many cases.
Speaking of more conservative understandings of music, I ran across musoc.org today. It lists its reasons for existence:
§1 To repudiate cultural relativism in music
§2 To provide a cultural oasis in the arid sands of global Pop
§3 To campaign for a 100% state-funded, ad-free national FM or digital radio station (non-internet) dedicated solely to Art Music in every country in the world
§4 To campaign for much greater state funding for the sustenance and promotion of Art Music
§5 To campaign for the illegalisation of all Pop ‘Music’ (i) in public and work places which aren’t licensed music entertainment venues, and (ii) used in children’s television and other media
§6 To provide free, high-quality, unique educational materials on Art Music
§7 To promote the use of the term ‘art music’ in preference to ‘classical music’
Cute, no? This is from their FAQ. These are just the headings and are explained more thoroughly there. I find it fascinating in a repellant way. I especially like the “illegalisation of all Pop ‘Music’ (note the quotes around ‘music’ when used in the phrase Pop Music. Good stuff, heh.
Call me shallow and uncouth (if you read the last post, you understand that I am beginning happily to accept these attribues in myself) but this sounds a tad fascistic to me. Heh.
In the comments to the original article about the NOI concert, Lyle Sandford made the following observation:
“Sometimes classical concerts have the feeling of presenting music as gorgeous butterflies pinned just so under glass. Your write up suggests this music was fluttering all around the hall and lobby with great vibrancy and vitality. ”
This image connects to my struggle with music of the past. I do find it gorgeous and beautiful and necessary. But at the same time, the music on the street compells me. Ultimately, I will include both the gorgeous butterfly under glass and the living breathing one fluttering through the lobby into our lives.