Sounds Like Now
A blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for April, 2006
A while back I was approached by Evan Tobias, an extremely progressive NYC-based music educator (and actually the very first person I met at college), about doing a collaborative project with students in one of his general music classes at Willow Grove Middle School. The idea was that students would compose short motifs, which I would then record and send back to them via the wonder of the internet. Next, the students would take my recordings, mix and remix them, and create their own derivative works based on their original motifs and my interpretation of them (notation would be left open-ended so some students might choose to represent their music graphically or simply with words).
Our talks about the project have finally come to fruition in the form of Be Moved!, a project-in-progress in which students use music to express the various ways they have been moved or challenged physically, emotionally, and intellectually. One of the more exciting aspects about Be Moved! is that the creative process will be entirely transparent. Evan’s set up a project blog, where everything including our initial discussions, conversations between myself and his students, exchange of feedback, and sharing of music files will be available to the online community. It should be interesting to watch the project take shape and hear the final result.
Don’t miss George Hunka‘s three-part interview with new music pianist Marilyn Nonken. Part one deals with issues of gender, the visual aspect of music performance, and authority; part two focuses on self-consciousness, aesthetic v. everyday perception, and the risks involved with playing a certain type of repertoire; and in the final part she discusses her experiences performing Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories for both live audiences and in the static air of the recording studio.
American artists interested in copyright reform should look closely at the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, a growing group of Canadian artists who want their interests protected by copyright reform, not the interests of record labels. C.M.C.C. wants copyright reform to be guided by these three principles:
- Suing Our Fans is Destructive and Hypocritical
- Digital Locks are Risky and Counterproductive
- Cultural Policy Should Support Actual Canadian Artists
Read ACD’s response to yesterday’s exchange. (Scroll down to the link in the Final Addenda.)
Update: Marla Patterson, the authoress of “the comment,” answers her critics in the TAFTO 2006 After Action Report.
Update #2: Sparks continue to fly in the TAFTO debate (and we thought the fire had been snuffed out). Marc Geelhoed of Deceptively Simple responds to ACD’s initial post about “the comment,” which prompted this retort challenging the main goal (or what he believed to be the main goal) of TAFTO from ACD and finally this from Marc. The kittens are definitely a nice touch.
After 30 years of study, Martin Jarvis, a professor at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia, has concluded that some of J. S. Bach’s most famous works, including his Six Cello Suites, were not written by Bach, but by his second wife Anna Magdalena Bach. He points to the fact that the only complete manuscript of the Six Suites was a manuscript in Anna Magdalena’s hand as well as “the uniquely symmetrical nature of the work” as factors—musical and otherwise—supporting his claim. At least musicologists will have something new to discuss amongst themselves.
I’m sure the Boston Symphony didn’t mean to fan the flames with this announcement, but the orchestra will now be offering a free podcast that features video lectures about its two-year Beethoven/Schoenberg series. As reported in PlaybillArts, the short videos (one to five minutes for the concentration-impaired) will discuss important works by each composer and be illustrated with appropriate artwork as well as images of scores, video and music clips. Good idea. Will it help gather new disciples? Probably not. Who, besides people who already know about Schoenberg and Beethoven, are searching for them in the iTunes store?
Footnote: I thought a lot about composing an insightful riposte to this
example of an attitude that isn’t winning classical music any new supporters opinion, but decided against it because rather than make people feel small for expressing their opinions, I think it’s important to listen to what everyone has to say—even if you don’t happen to agree with them. Plus, it’s a debate that’s already made the rounds (click here, here, here, here, and here to get up to speed).
Update: Patti Mitchell composes a thoughtful response to the comment cited by ACD.
Update #2: Thanks to ACD for clarifying his reasons for offering his honest opinion about a reader’s honest opinion and my TAFTO contribution, which was done, he informs us, in the spirit of “pointing out the truth” despite it being “a less than pleasant affair.” ACD holds that “if you fail to get ‘em very young, you mostly don’t get ‘em at all.” I can agree with that—to an extent. On a personal level, I did not grow up listening to classical music. I grew up listening to 1950s rock and roll, country music, heavy metal, progressive rock, and then jazz, before finally getting into classical music. Although I wasn’t exposed to classical music at a young age, I still turned out as a classical music lover. I guess I’m an example of why ACD includes the qualifier “mostly” in the statement “you mostly don’t get ‘em at all” [italics mine]. My question is, what does that mean for “most” people who were not exposed to classical music at a young age? Are they simply lost causes, who’ve been hopelessly corrupted by the ills of society? Should we just round them up and ship them off to an island where they won’t pass on their “iPod Generation” genes to any offspring so that we can (finally) begin to cultivate an appropriately cultured society? I think this has been tried once already.
Update #3: Please see this important correction.
Final addenda: ACD responds (scroll down to the bottom) to SLN’s Update #2.
I’ve given my MySpace profile a little overhaul. New photos, videos, and music. Check out its newness.
Correction: SLN apologizes profusely to the wonderful visual artist Margaret Koscielny for wrongly attributing the comments below made by a reader to her.
TAFTO month is wrapping up over at Adaptistration so it’s about time I took care of some unfinished business. A reader posed an intriguing question in the comments section, and since my contribution is now collecting dust in the archives, I thought I’d bring these (very honest) comments to the fore here:
“[E]ven though I enjoy performing classical music as a vocalist and chorus member, I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoy classical symphony concerts as an audience member. Unless I am very familiar with the work being performed, I experience what feels like long periods of detachment until something in the music really grabs me. Often, this means detachment through an entire movement of a symphony!
“If it is like this for me, as a somewhat ‘educated’ classical audience, I find it hard to imagine how it might be experienced by the average potential audience member that we’re trying to cultivate. It’s one thing to experience classical music as a background experience while other things are going on, such as at home, in the workplace, or in a bookstore. It’s another thing entirely to face an orchestra and listen attentively for 90 minutes or more. I can’t honestly say that I usually enjoy the classical concert experience as fully as a movie or highly engaging (lots of patter) pops concert.
“If it feels like work for me, how can it be that enticing (i.e., generate repeat attendances) for most newbies?”
Huh. I think we can all sympathize with the reader’s comments. Listening to classical music, especially live classical music, requires a great deal of concentration, especially if the work being performed is unfamiliar to us. Live concerts don’t have a rewind button. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused that intensely for long spans of time, like the duration of a symphony. And I’d venture a guess that even the musically “educated” among us have had those moments during a concert when we zone out—come on, admit it. Karlheinz Stockhausen would probably blame this on his comclusion that “our relationship to music has become highly superficial” (from The Art, to Listen). He’s got a bit of a point, and as Margaret points out, for a lot of folks classical music is often background music or simply a soundtrack for another activity, like dinner or romance.
Irrelevant humorous story: during my last year of undergraduate education, I lived on the second floor of a two-story apartment building. Below my roommate and I lived a couple in their late 40s – early 50s. Translation: they came of age in the 1960s. Anyhow, I don’t think they were big classical music buffs—he drove a late-80s white Camaro, which was always parked diagonally across two parking spaces so as to avoid any possibility of little dents from other doors, and she liked . . . well, I don’t know what she liked although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t classical music. However, every once in a while a sweet smell would begin to waft up into our apartment and the stereo would start playing Ravel’s Bolero and then. . . They loved that tune. Like we didn’t know. Ahem.)
I think the fact that minds begin to wander during a concert is a byproduct of our culture. I asked Jihwan today if she had trouble staying focused during the BSO concert. Of course she did, she said: “Because I’m used to listening to fast-paced popular music, in which the tunes are short and have just enough things going on not to make people bored. But in classical music, it’s different. Usually classical music is long and has a much different level of technical detail. Being an uneducated listener, of course, it is hard to understand what part of the music is the best or what is not beyond recognizing general feelings like sadness or happiness or darkness.”
I’m not sure I have an answer to the reader’s question. It’s a conundrum—we love classical music but sometimes find it hard to sit through a concert. My sense is that even if we (or the newbie) aren’t able to concentrate on every little detail throughout a concert, there will be at least something that impresses itself upon us. Maybe that something will be a revelation to some. And maybe to others it won’t. But there’s the chance that someone could be particularly moved by that something, become addicted to that feeling, and then crave more. The prerequisite, of course, is an open mind. And if somebody takes from a concert just feelings of sadness or happiness, that’s great. Stockhausen thinks so too:
“If, after hearing a musical work, on listener says he “thought it was beautiful” while another says it was “too simple” and yet another found it “too long”—and so on—all this means is that listeners are exchanging calling cards, describing themselves, their own problems, their own abilities, their own taste. The music provides an opportunity for listeners to make statements about themselbes—and that is meaningful and important.”
Fans of outsider arts rejoice. Influential avant garde musician, instrument builder, journalist, activist, and kayak instructor, Bob Ostertag has made all his recordings to which he owns the rights available for download from his website (via Sequenza21 via Seth Gordon). In total, about 8 hours from 11 different CDs are now available, including collaborations with the DJ Otomo Yoshihide, Mike Patton, Fred Firth, and many others. He’s also licensed the work through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which will please the remix-inclined among us.
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“The late moon now emerged. Under the eaves of the building it was still dark, but the sky was beautifully illuminated. An attendant was sent to fetch zithers from the Bureau of Books and Instruments. When there were brought TÃ´ no ChÃ»jÃ´ chose the six-stringed zither, which he, like Genji, played with outstanding skill. Prince Hotaru took the great thirteen-stringed zither, while Genji himself decided on the seven-stringed kin. Lady ShÃ´shÃ´ accompanied the gentlemen on the four-stringed lute. One of the senior courtiers, who was noted for his musical talents, was asked to conduct, and a delightful concert started. As the light began to spread, the color of the flowers and the faces of the players gradually came into view. Now the birds joined in with their own gay song. It was a dawn to gladden anyone’s heart.”
Murasaki Shikibu, Genji monogatari æºæ°ç‰©èªž