why music matters; joyeux anniversaire!

[i’m in the midst of a december 15th hiatus so i figured i should write and write fast!]

this semester, i have only taken one class on the books. it happens to be the first iteration of Community Engagement/Creativity, a class focused on helping music students work outside of the conservatory. now this class has done a lot of great things for me but i think one of the best is the final project. now my final project is a little pedestrian and i’m not here to talk about it. what i am talking about is the final project of one of my classmates.

he decided to put together an orchestra of students, composers and conductors whose sole mission is community outreach. the debut performance was to take place tomorrow at a mid-level correctional facility. yes, jail. everyone was super excited because this is the kind of thing we felt we should be doing, not for some politically correct reason but because we felt that everyone should get to hear this music, any music, and it’s our job to bring it at any cost. well at our rehearsal tonight (i’m playing principal bassoon/giving pre-concert notes), we were informed by the director of correctional facilities that everyone was really excited about this performance and wanted to be a part, all the way up to the lieutenant governor — but they couldn’t make it on saturday so it needs to be rescheduled. for some reason, they thought we’d reschedule it for some day in the next week or so. what they failed to realize is that we are in our last week of classes and everyone is leaving. the concert is now indefinitely postponed until february.

so besides general frustration, why does this matter? well, this concert was never for bureaucrats. and policy and press dictating music-making? unthinkable. but our collective hands were tied so here we are. luckily, the orchestra is performing a concert on sunday as well but it’s not the same. i see this as a hurdle that will reappear in the future. it’s easy to latch oneself on to a project like this for whatever type of notoriety you might seek. for us, it’s always been about the music.

is this problem systematic of a bigger problem in our culture? most likely. we suffer from wanting to be recognized and acknowledged by the state while still having the creative freedom to do as we will. it’s a system that America has struggled with always. the concept of the patron is one that has eluded us. even so, new music and art have survived and continued, though, underground. do we deal with the devil and hope we’ll find a way to squeeze in our own artistic vision out from underneath the weight of the pact? now, especially, is the time to consider our options.

but enough of that sad talk, let’s talk about birthdays! thursday was the birthday of French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen and friday the birthday of Elliott Carter, still kicking out music at the youthful age of 101. Messiaen and Carter are two composers to which i return often, partly because the amount of scholarship on them is not as dense as other composers. early in my undergraduate studies, i got a lot of flack for being a Carter fan until i started working with clarinetist Charles Neidich and two of my dearest friends (a flutist and clarinetist) who did nothing but play Carter all the time (and ate it for breakfast). just the intensity and virtuosity of his music won me over immediately. i liked sitting in a rehearsal saying, “i don’t know what the fuck is going on…but i want to.” and of course with Messiaen, i just wished he wrote something i could get my hands on. instead, i have to live through every pianist and cellist i know and pretend that all of those lush vast expanses of chords were built for me. i hope that as i continue in my career, the level of scholarship on these two composers will grow. till then, joyeux anniversaire.

and of course, here’s Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Carter’s Two Diversions and Messiaen’s Regard de l’Esprit de Joie.

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