Category: Articles

How does the venue and the audience affect the music you play?

Kitty Brazelton Kitty Brazelton
“…I may start with the same message but I don’t say it the same – to different people or in different environments…”
Nick Didkovsky Nick Didkovsky
“…It’s best when the audience is working as hard as we are to make the event happen…”
Oliver Lake Oliver Lake
“…The main thing is that I play honestly and from my heart, and I feel that the audience will recognize this, regardless of who they are…”
Mary LaRose Mary LaRose
“…Different venues create unique situations in music…”
Fred Hersch Fred Hersch
“When I play solo, I prefer a concert hall…”

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Jonathan Sheffer, Composer; Founder, Conductor and Artistic Director of the Eos Orchestra

Jonathan Sheffer
Photo by Stephanie Berger

My musical education began at the Westport School of Music, where as a preschooler I was taught the basics of major and minor scales, and began piano lessons. I recall we were rewarded often with candy. The next most important influence in my musical education was the Bernstein Young People’s Concerts. Only now do I realize how much I took from those programs, which opened a window to a much larger world.

Also I recall a school trip to a Saturday matinee of Carmen at the Met. I misbehaved and had to be put out in the hall.

Nonetheless, my training was lovingly supervised by public school teachers and private teachers, such as Frank Brieff on viola. These things remain in my memory, and in my music-making.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music?

Annie Gosfield Annie Gosfield
“I was taught the importance of creativity and individual expression early in life…”
Jonathan Sheffer Jonathan Sheffer
Founder, Conductor and Artistic Director of the Eos Orchestra
“My musical education began at the Westport School of Music, where as a preschooler I was taught the basics of major and minor scales…”
Amy Rhodes Amy Rhodes
Director of Artist Management, Fine Arts Management
“…At college, I learned about music, not in the classroom, but in the dormitory…”
Elliott Sharp Elliott Sharp
“…Occasional music classes during my first college attempt only cemented my bad feelings towards a stilted and stifling approach to music…”
Joshua Cody Joshua Cody
Composer and Director of the Sospeso Ensemble
“…I’ll always feel uneducated-learning is an ongoing process…”

Education and New American Music

Frank J. Oteri,
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

Ten years ago I was a high school teacher in the New York City Public School System and since then, I have often described that experience as “my version of time in the peace corps.” It was simultaneously life affirming and extraordinarily frustrating. It was life affirming, because like few activities in today’s world, through teaching you can actually see first hand how you make a difference in others lives. Frustrating because you realize there is so much that needs to be done that no individual can ever accomplish.

People have said the classroom is a microcosm of society so many times that it has become a cliché. But like most clichés, the message rings true and is all too often ignored. Just as ignorance is blamed for many of the problems in the world today, the charge of ignorance is also frequently evoked to explain the problems facing the development of audience for classical music and new American music in particular. People looking at the crises facing the world today might counter that the cause of new American music is ultimately a low priority, but an appreciation and involvement in the music of our time and place can be an excellent way to channel a variety of important intellectual and social skills that can advance citizenship and a sense of purpose.

That is why we have decided to devote the December issue of NewMusicBox to education and new American music. We went to the home of Maxine Greene, one of the world’s most important proponents of arts in education, and were joined there by Hollis Headrick, Executive Director of the Center for Arts in Education, Polly Kahn, Director of Education for the New York Philharmonic, and Richard Kessler, Executive Director of the American Music Center to talk about how arts education can be better served by new American music and how new American music can be better served by arts education. We’ve asked Stefan Weisman to compile a “hyper-history” of the treatment of new American music in the nation’s top music conservatories. We’ve asked Jonathan Sheffer, Annie Gosfield, Elliott Sharp, Joshua Cody and Amy Rhodes how their educations effected their attitudes about music, and we’d like to know what you think about students learning to read and perform music in school.

Arts in education is also in the news this month with the release of an extensive report presents groundbreaking evidence of the impact of arts on learning. Sadly, however, the top news items this month are the deaths of three important American composers: Paul Bowles, Lester Bowie and Robert Linn. I count myself lucky to have met Paul Bowles in Tangier last year. To honor his memory, we have included the transcript of our brief meeting along with RealAudio samples of his timeless music. Of course, there are also RealAudio samples on all the recordings featured in this month’s SoundTracks. And, since it is December, we’d like to know what your favorite recordings of new American music were for this past year. But, of course, the music is ongoing, as you’ll see from our plethora of concert listings.

Making Conservatories Less Conservative

Stefan Weisman
photo by Ezra Weisman

As the new century rapidly approaches, it has become almost cliché to look back and evaluate the last one-hundred years from every conceivable angle. Yet, for American concert music this turn of the calendar is genuinely significant. Early in this century, when Juilliard was founded, the notion of an American college dedicated to teaching only music was truly novel. There is no question that the 20th Century is when great American conservatories emerged and created top-notch performers equal to any in the world. This is also the century when the music of American composers finally matured. But, these same conservatories often trained composers quite apart from their performer colleagues. Student composers, particularly in the last half of the century, practiced the daring and radical experimentation that characterizes 20th Century music, while as a whole the conservatories seemed designed to produce instrumentalists specialized in the standard pieces of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. Instrumental professors taught music that they themselves had learned as students, and they perpetuated this cycle. Even today, this schism between student composers and student performers still exists in many schools.

Whether one ascribes to the belief that “new music” is dying or just recently emerging from hibernation, the shocking fact is that in just over a month the term “20th Century music” will no longer be synonymous with “new music.” So, performers and concert-goers who cannot move beyond Arnold Schoenberg, who died in 1951, have some catching up to do. When I spoke with noted author, critic and composer, Kyle Gann (Oberlin, ’77), he said he was appalled that when modern music is taught, most music schools emphasize the “official” contemporary repertoire, such as Boulez or Stockhausen, while important younger composers are too often ignored.

So, what is the state of new American music at conservatories and colleges around the country? I examined a dozen music schools, making an effort to look at those of all complexions and sizes, and from all areas of the country. Everyone with whom I spoke acknowledges that to perpetuate an enduring art, it is vital for each generation to add its own unique contributions. Still, the levels to which schools take contemporary music seriously varies. Some schools – the University of California at San Diego, New England Conservatory, and Oberlin, for examples – seem to have a mandate to teach music by living composers. Other schools also have an exemplary record, such as Yale and the University of Michigan. However, what is probably more typical of the treatment that new music receives at many universities is the Hartt School, a part of the University of Hartford. While Hartt does have several good outlets for its student and faculty composers, generally it does not seem to make new music a high priority. The shortfalls of the Indiana School of Music at the University of Indiana in Bloomington are even more disappointing because they have available such vast resources. Some schools make up for a lack of emphasis on composition with special projects. For example, Florida State University, which is strong primarily in the field of music education, has a Biennial Festival of New Music. Many conservatories acknowledge that their primary mission is to aid students in the development of their technique, and to teach performers the standard repertoire. For example, at Juilliard and the San Francisco Conservatory, students’ primary interest is not new music. Nevertheless, Juilliard has the annual Focus! Festival, an important outlet for modern music in New York City, and the San Francisco Conservatory has the New Music Ensemble, which under its dynamic new director, Nicole Paiement, seems destined to become an important contribution to the contemporary music scene on the West Coast. Even a conservative conservatory like Curtis genuinely appears to be supportive of their composition students and faculty. Best of all, are schools like Eastman that react to the shrinking interest in classical music by teaching students ways to reach out to the local community, educate and build new audiences for classical and modern music.

The brains of the next millennium’s musicians, composers and concert-goers are now developing in children across the country. However, American public schools are generally indifferent to the state of music. Most states have little or no graduation requirements for music in the public schools. (See the Music Educators National Conference’s website) Many schools no longer teach music at all. If children are exposed to even the basic musical concepts and skills, or to the most elementary musical history, they are lucky. The greatest American composers, such as Charles Ives and John Cage, are most likely unfamiliar names to young Americans, and important living composers are even less known. So, when high school graduates who are lucky enough to be exposed to classical music, decide to enter conservatories and universities, it is not uncommon for them to have been raised on a staple of dead Europeans. Of course, they may have also played the music of American composers, but probably less often. It is unlikely that they have ever performed the music of a living, breathing composer. Because it will not happen in public schools, conservatories and universities around the country are the places where advocates for new American music must be created.


How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Annie Gosfield, Composer

Annie Gosfield
Photo by Nola Lopez

I was taught the importance of creativity and individual expression early in life at a progressive elementary school that had classes for children in music and theater improvisation. As a teenager, private study with jazz pianist Bernard Peiffer taught me to bring my own interpretation to any music that I played. College not only provided me with a traditional musical education where I was able to develop necessary compositional skills, but also placed me in a more conservative environment, which gave me a healthy urge to rebel and seek my own sources of musical education outside of the constraints of traditional academia. The most critical moments of my musical education took place not only in the classroom, but in seedy clubs, concert halls, recording studios, and my own home.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Amy Rhodes, Director of Artist Management, Fine Arts Management

Amy Rhodes
Photo courtesy Fine Arts Management

My traditional education did not really affect the way I think about music. In fact, I went to college and majored in Asian Studies and International Relations because I think I unconsciously needed to get away from music for a while. I learned about classical music completely at home. Being the daughter of two classical musicians, I grew up humming Beethoven Quartets and Mozart Viola Quintets as well as learning how to sing particularly difficult passages of Hindemith Sonatas and Carter Quartets that my parents were always practicing. My sister and I used to enjoy bursting out with a quote from a Babbitt Quartet at the dinner table just to see the expressions on our parents’ faces. At college, I learned about music, not in the classroom, but in the dormitory. I learned from friends about music outside the classical realm and broadened my horizons. For most of my friends, broadening horizons meant learning to enjoy listening to symphonies, opera or chamber music. For me, it was learning about Bob Dylan, Phish and Ani DiFranco as well as about John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Charlie Parker. I felt like I was learning things backwards. Now, I am learning about all types of music everyday, working at Fine Arts Management. Family life, friendships and my professional life are the things which have affected my thoughts and opinions about music up to now.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Elliott Sharp, Composer

Elliott Sharp
Photo courtesy Elliott Sharp

As a young child, I loved the music of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, began piano lessons at age 6 and was performing by 7 1/2, but at a price: the pressures of practice from parents and teacher plus a rigid and uninteresting approach to the general knowledge of music killed my enthusiasm and gave me asthma (I’m convinced.) More music (clarinet studies) became a chore with only infrequent glimpses of real musicmaking. Composing was something that was done only by long-dead Europeans. The sciences became my major love and interest. Occasional music classes during my first college attempt only cemented my bad feelings towards a stilted and stifling approach to music. The basic theory and history could easily be obtained from books and records and concerts – “education” should be something more.

It took getting an electric guitar and simultaneously exploring on my own the ideas of Cage/Xenakis/Stockhausen as well as the world of improvisation and jazz that brought me to the possibility of composing music. Later, Bard College offered me the freedom to structure my own learning activities (which encompassed electronics, jazz, formal music, esthetics, information theory, and ethnomusicology.)

In graduate school in Buffalo, further studies with Lejaren Hiller, Morton Feldman, and Charles Keil were more about interaction and feedback than they were about the transmission of information – there was a ‘scene’ around them that attracted people interested in the exchange and ferment of ideas, as important as “teachers” and resources.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Joshua Cody, Composer and Director of the Sospeso Ensemble

Joshua Cody
Photo courtesy Sospeso Ensemble

I studied with several very gifted composers at Northwestern University, where I was also able to study some literature and philosophy. I’ll always feel uneducated-learning is an ongoing process. Of course the deeper one’s knowledge of the repertory and of the history of music, the more opportunity for depth and richness in one’s own compositions. Still, I feel the artist’s relationship to the corpus of knowledge will always be different than that of, say, a lawyer’s. As Harrison Birtwistle told me, “I use whatever I have and whatever I’ve got.” Or as Picasso said, simply, “When I run out of red, I use blue.”

Soundtracks: November 1999

There are over 60 American composers featured in this month’s round-up of new recordings, which is a wonderful way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the American Music Center this month! And, as always, the range of composers shows an astonishing array of diversity.

Perhaps the most momentous release this month is the long-awaiting 10-CD John Adams Earbox, a retrospective of his remarkably fruitful swith Nonesuch. Nonesuch’s commitment to the music of John Adams hearkens back to the days of Stravinsky and Copland at Columbia Masterworks and John Coltrane at Impulse. Would that more living American composers had such enduring relationships with record companies!

Mode’s commitment to the music of John Cage began shortly before his death, but has continued unabated since then with a seemingly-endless plethora of releases. The latest, their 19th, features Five3 – a microtonal tour-de-force for trombone and string quartet composed only a year before Cage’s death. Innova’s commitment to the music of the late microtonal pioneer Harry Partch continues on a high note with the long-awaited CD re-issue of the legendary Columbia Masterworks recording of his 1966 masterpiece Delusion of the Fury. Of similar historic magnitude is a CRI release of Charles Ives‘s complete recordings at the piano which shed new light on his eccentric genius.

Another long-awaited CD release is George Crumb’s Star Child, a large-scale work from the late 1970s for chorus and orchestra which is a joy to hear in a professional recording. (The bootlegs floating around articulate the work’s greatness but are definitely less than a pleasant listening experience!) Several other legendary American composers receive definitive new recordings this month including the great jazz arranger Thad Jones and Igor Stravinsky. You may quibble that Stravinsky is not an American composer but he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and lived here longer than anywhere else. A highlight of the new CD by longtime Stravinsky accolade Robert Craft features the Danses concertantes, the first work Stravinsky composed in America.

All of Joan Tower’s Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have finally been assembled onto one CD which is appropriate in the birth month of Aaron Copland, one of the six founders of the American Music Center.

November is a great month for fans of contemporary art songs. New World has issued Ned Rorem’s massive new song-cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen, sung by members of the New York Festival of Song, and BMG has issued the first-ever CD of songs by the San Francisco Opera’s Composer-In-Residence Jake Heggie, sung by a “can’t go wrong” all-star cast including Frederica von Stade, Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Jennifer Larmore and Brian Asawa. Leonard Lehrman accompanies Helene Williams on a disc featuring new songs by ten American composers on a new Capstone CD and Music Text, another Capstone disc, features acoustic and electro-acoustic song-cycles based on the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Pablo Neruda, John Ashbury and P. Inman.

Continuing the vocal bounty, the first-ever all-Robert X. Rodríguez disc offers sizable extracts from two of his musical theatre works. The Dale Warland Singers[Britten & Bernstein CD] offer stirring accounts of choral works by a variety of composers. Jazz vocalist Mary LaRose offers a disc of stunning jazz vocal versions of tunes by Anthony Braxton, Eric Dolphy and Led Zeppelin as well as a not-to-be-believed jazz spin on Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament,” which though even more breath-taking live, comes across quite effectively on disc.

Several new releases continue ongoing NewMusicBox themes. A disc culling the highlights from the 7th Sonic Circuits Festival comes a month after our technology issue and proves that there is no last word on the subject. A La Par, a new CD by the Lawrence Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble, features music by Tania León who was the subject of In The First Person this past August. And the new José Serebrier CD is an excellent example of a composer taking charge as the conductor of his own works on a disc featuring three orchestral works.

Finally, the classical guitar is an inspiration for some unlikely composers this month: Gunther Schuller, the father of third-stream music and Terry Riley, the father of minimalism. Yet Riley’s pieces really no longer qualify as minimalist and Schuller’s work doesn’t sound third-stream, although a new CD of works for jazz combo and string quartet by Ted Nash perfectly fits that bill. . .but listen for yourself, there are RealAudio samples for every disc featured this month!