Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New Hat!

I've now joined the reviewing "staff" at the Boston Musical Intelligencer. I've long admired their goal "to list every classical music concert in greater Boston." They also "intend to review as many as possible, especially those deemed most important and unjustly neglected by our editors."

I'm not sure what constitutes an "important" classical music concert, but neglected ones are not hard to find. Music criticism is fast becoming a lost art, with budget cuts at major papers. As musicologists, this should be cause for great concern because it is the critics who really end up being the chroniclers of concert life (if such a thing exists). Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective is a humorous read and supplement to any music history course, but it also provides some invaluable snapshots of reception history, context, and occasionally the music itself (!) I am not advocating invective as a norm, of course (in fact I hope the occasion that warrants it is rare), but when it comes to art and music, in particular, it cannot be separated from the aesthetic viewpoint (errant or otherwise). As a musicologist, it is easy enough to be critical of music on a recording, or by a composer long since dead. But I'd like to encourage my colleagues to get out there---put the book down, go to a concert---keep this tradition alive. Blog about the concerts you go to. Start your version of the Boston Musical Intelligencer in your own city. And really, it all comes down to basic economics ( a course in which I received the worst grade of my college career, incidentally)--supply and DEMAND. It doesn't have to be the BSO, or the LA or NY Phil. I bet you've got a community chorus in your area that worked long and hard on some amazing repertoire and could really use some constructive feedback. It is the subtext of many a choral song: anyone out there? Are you listening?

And speaking of choruses, a shameless plug for my own: Spectrum Singers. 30th Anniversary. 30 years, yes...in Boston. We've got an amazing concert coming up on November 21st. I'd really like for you to be there. Bach Magnificat, Schutz's Deutsches Magnificat, the third and sixth cantatas of Bach's Christmas Oratorio with orchestra members from Emmanuel Music. I've got discounted tickets. Leave a comment and I'll find you!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fall is a-comin

Five classes. Three institutions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Accountability as summer ends

Summer is effectively over. The meetings have begun. I'm constructing syllabi. I capped off my summer with a week-long research trip to Pittsburgh (or did I begin my fall?---not sure). At any rate, based on yet another good idea from Phil, I figured blogging my musicological to-do-list might be a good idea for accountability. I don't intend on making updates a regular feature, but this will help me focus on what I need to achieve this year. It is going to be a roller-coaster of a ride this fall term (five classes spread over three institutions), so anything that helps keep me on track is a boon.

Lets Get Started!

Syllabi (Fall '09 only)DONE!
5 / 5

Textbook orders placedDONE!
3 / 3

Book Reviews
0 / 2

Conference Papers
0 / 1

Program Notes
0 / 5

Pre-concert LecturesDONE!
1 / 1

Elections to coordinate/tabulate
0 / 1

The list above represents the items to which I have commitments/have been accepted. Below I've included some goals for this year.

Conference abstracts to submit
0 / 3

Articles to submit
0 / 2

Book Proposal to outline
0 / 1

So, there's nothing left to do except get to it! I'll take this opportunity to wish everyone else happy term-preparation!

NEXT POST: Jenny Lind sighting (in PA!) Rebecca's Jenny Lind Tour Development Post

Monday, July 06, 2009

Musical Icons

Yes, I'm going to do it, so let's just get it out of the way, shall we?

I apologize for silence on this blog.

Ok, there. Not so bad. (This is all in reference to the rule that you aren't supposed to apologize for lack of blogging). I'd like to tell you all that it was a Cagean experiment in blogging, but that would be untrue. What is a more likely culprit is much needed downtime from academia. And yes, I include my blogging (and reading of other blogs) in that.

I've been busy reading the messages and posts re: MJ's death, career, wackiness, rage, etc. and I've felt particularly grateful NOT to be famous. I find it sad that death should be the catalyst for a discussion of MJ's music on the blogosphere, Twitter, and the AMS-L. I do think, however, that death seems to give music new life. We listen to it with new ears (to borrow from Proust)...ears that resonate with nostalgia, yet filter out the noise of a very public life. I can't say a whole lot about MJ's music, except that I'm conscious now of how big a part it played in the scenery of my life. There have been several times in the last week or so when I've said, "THAT's Michael Jackson??" in response to hearing a song. I like this sense of uncovering a secret. I'm sorry that I paid his music little mind when he was alive, but perhaps that is a symptom of being trained in listening to the music of DWG (that's "Dead White Guys" for those of you following along at home). Of course, being that I specialize in 20th-21st century music, that claim doesn't really work.

I want to write about icons, actually. It is a word that is tossed around, particularly in regard to Michael Jackson, and I feel it is appropriate. If I was not struck by his music, I was very much taken by his iconic presence. On Friday morning, the day after Michael Jackson passed, I had a rather surreal experience while walking through Boston's South Station. In an almost uniform manner, almost every single person in the station was reading the Metro, which featured a large headline that said something like, "The King of Pop is Dead." I don't recall the actual headline, but I was struck by how this seemed to be a fiction, even though I knew it to be true. It was like walking through an episode of the Twilight Zone, where in a parallel world, Michael Jackson had died, and all the bizarre inhabitants of the world moved their unblinking eyes in tandem across the pages of the Boston Metro, and coordinated the turning of those pages.

Madeleine L'Engle, in a wonderful (though quirky) book entitled Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols, writes this about icons:

Our need for icons begins in early childhood when we hold on to the favourite little piece of blanket, or the beloved stuffed animal. The blanket is not a blanket, nor is the animal a mere animal; they are icons of all-rightness in a world that early shows itself to be not all right. They are icons of tender love in a society that daily becomes more brutal and violent.

Perhaps L'Engle's description does not exactly jive with our images of "Wacko Jacko," but like the blanket or the stuffed animal, MJ the icon was the "all-rightness", whereas MJ the person was definitely "not all right." Here was an icon who asked us to start with the man in the mirror...the icon could ask, the man could not.

To continue with L'Engle: "An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God's demands on us..."

In watching the grief of thousands over MJ's death, I believe that this was probably very true for some of his most devoted fans. But the real tragedy of the human icon is that they are indeed looked through--basically a means to an end. For the blanket, it doesn't mean too much, but we might take a moment to examine the cost of using musicians in this way.
If you haven't already, I encourage you to take a look at the following posts regarding Michael Jackson:
The Musicological Michael Jackson (Musicology/Matters)
Rage in his Feet (2'23 and cross-posted at Musicology/Matters)
I Want You Back: A Musiceulogical Inquiry (Musicology/Matters)
Michael Jackson (Ryan at amusicology)
and an ongoing compendium here (once again, brought to you by the great bloggers at M/M).

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Living Composer Final Project

(Insert obligatory apology for absence from blogging here).

Another semester is almost finished. The final exam in "Music of the Twentieth Century" is tomorrow. Alex Ross' fantastic text (reviewed by me here) helped guide my students through the constant interplay between music and historical events of the 20th-century. It struck me, however, that this was also an opportunity to get them to engage with music of the now. To this end, I assigned a term paper on a living (and in most cases, active) composer (or, in some cases, recently deceased). I gave them a list from which to choose (see below), and they had no other information about the composers on that list except for their birth dates and nationalities. The list provides a fairly wide sampling of styles. I gave them some time to do some "preliminary research" (aka Google) in order to pick a composer. Unfortunately, I did not provide a survey regarding their criteria or process, but all the same, the results were interesting. I've boldfaced the names of the composers who were picked by students (21 in all).

H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932, USA)
Thomas Adès (b. 1971, Great Britain)
Laurie Anderson (b. 1947, USA)
Harrison Birtwistle (b. 1934, Great Britain)
Henry Brant (b. 1913, d. April 26, 2008, USA)
Leo Brouwer (b. 1939, Cuba)
David Cope (b. 1941, USA)
George Crumb (b.1929, USA)
Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934, Great Britain)
David Del Tredici (b. 1937, USA)
Pascal Dupasin (b. 1955, France)
Tan Dun (b. 1957, China)
Brian Ferneyhough (b. 1943, Great Britain)
Lukas Foss (b. 1922, d. February 1, 2009, USA)
Kyle Gann (b. 1955, USA)
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1961, Argentina)
Sofia Gubaidalina (b. 1931, Russian)
John Harbison (b. 1938, USA)
Stephen Hartke (b. 1952, USA)
Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960, USA)
Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935, Germany)
Paul Lansky (b. 1944, USA)
Tania León (b. 1943, Cuba)
Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958, Finland)
James MacMillan (b. 1959, Scotland)
Meredith Monk (b. 1942, USA)
Tristan Murail (b. 1947, France)
Max Neuhaus (b.1939, 3 February 2009, USA)
Per Nørgård (b. 1932, Denmark)
Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932, USA)
Bernard Rands (b. 1934, Great Britain)
Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952, Germany)
Christopher Rouse (b. 1949, USA)
Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938, USA)
Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952, Finland)
Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958, Finland)
Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943, USA)
Peter Sculthorpe (b. 1929, Australia)
R. Murray Shafer (b. 1933, Canada)
Steven Stucky (b. 1949, USA)
Augusta Read Thomas (b.1964, USA)
Yehudi Wyner (b. 1929, USA)
Chen Yi (b. 1953, China)
John Zorn (b. 1953, USA)

Among other components of the project, I encouraged the students to try and contact their subjects for interviews (phone or e-mail). I was discouraged by the response of some composers (who shall remain nameless). Perhaps an undergraduate term paper isn't an illustrious honor, but it is a chance to engage with the future before becoming the past. I'm well aware that some of these students may have been ill-prepared (e.g. "Hi. I'm writing a paper on you. Tell me about yourself."), but what message does it send to be unwilling to answer a few questions? Art can no longer afford to be so aloof, I think. I don't believe in changing compositional styles to fit trends, but I do believe in engaging with the "outside world" in some meaningful way. Some composers may not care if we listen, but I would hope they'd care enough about their own music to talk about it when asked.

All the same, I think it was a valuable project. For many students, the whole idea of modern composition was a revelation. "Symphonies" and "operas" are the stuff of Mozart. For them, not only are the white guys dead, but so is the entire tradition itself. While I don't think any of them left the class embracing Ferneyhough or Boulez's music, I do think some of them have become more aware of an eternal soundscape, serving as both scenery and props in what they know to be "the present." My hope is that engaging with this music now will make it less "dusty" in fifty, seventy, or a hundred years and that we can finally view composition as a living tradition, be it Du Fay, Bach, Haydn or Golijov.


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea