Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The little anatomy student:

And that little boy has far more going for him than the combined intelligence in the White House right now. This 4-year nightmare continues, worsening every day in ways far exceeding the worst we imagined a few years ago. Just astounding. As the conservative NYTimes columnist Bret Stephens wrote, “my prevailing feeling is that I’m so sick of it. Sick of living in Donald Trump’s Clownverse, or Dramaverse, or Bullyverse, or I-Can’t-Believe-This-Guy-Is-Actually-the-President-verse.”

So I try to steep in the distraction of tending to a puppy. It often works.


Welcomed a guest to our Composers Colloquium last Friday, as i’ve invited a series of guests to speak to our students over this semester. Perhaps one ‘benefit’ of this remoteness is taking advantage of the normalcy of accessing people via video, and bringing in voices from all over.

I’ve prompted these guests to speak–in whatever ways seem appropriate to them–about what it means to be ‘relevant’ artistically in the current climate. Is what we do in pursuing artistic expression valuable, selfish, obliged to address certain ideas, obliged to entertain and distract, all of the above, something else, etc…?

This particular voice was interesting in ways different than other guests. He took the tack that there’s nothing genuinely “new” (hard to argue with), as everything/everyone is a synthesis of experiences and exposures. So he went on to talk about the value of polystylism, i.e, taking advantage of the many influences and styles around us and incorporating those ideas into our work. The most entertaining part of his talk involved a nice playlist of contemporary examples of work from the ‘art-music’ work which draws on musics from other genres.

Really, in so many ways, there was nothing new in this idea. Composers and other artists have borrowed, alluded to, quoted, reinterpreted, etc., ideas and influences from other composers for millennia. History books talk about this as a thread of development in every era of music’s history. This is, quite literally, a topic of study in every academic music class (history, theory, etc.).

What made this so interesting to me was that our students were so drawn to this because it was the music of their own time being adapted. That is, simply because it was their popular music being “valued” through allusion, quotation, etc., it made sense to them. Is this just a case of each generation thinking their popular music is ‘the best’? Or are we seeing a generation of students who, like the broader world around us, just doesn’t recognize value in the study of ‘experts’; they only value what they experience themselves.

Those who don’t learn from history, or from experts…

The presentation itself was a good one; clear, interesting, and entertaining. But not tying its point to a long and well-worn practice was, well, disappointing. I’ve not spoken with my colleagues about this, though did send a thank-you note (cc’d to my colleagues) that noted the long tradition, and also the wonderful way in which this particular presentation connected with our students. Perhaps he just didn’t have enough time to make this point; perhaps the students’ reactions are just a snapshot of a moment in their development, not yet seeing the historical perspective; or perhaps it’s something else.

When the presentation was over, i felt very unsettled, and also very old. I felt obsolete, actually, and was aware of a very strong urge to walk away from this work.