Many times in my thoughts (related to music and more often the visual arts, but this is not the right place to talk about visual art) is the question: why are the general public, marketeers, investors so riveted to what they are told is the stuff to pay attention to rather than, on their own, seeking out what is interesting, what touches them, what is the substance of the music that has gutsiness? Because they are scared. They are scared of feeling what can be felt within them in response to the music. They have to be a part of the group that condones that what they choose is acceptable. They have to be able to talk about it at cocktail parties and fund-raisers as "Mah-velous" and that is the only word they can find to use. Forget about discussing what the music actually is and does to one’s inner being.
Triggering the above were two articles in the Sunday NY Times: one by Anthony Tommasini, an instructor at the Manhattan School of Music, on new contemporary classical music and the other by Adam Shatz about the major re-issuing of jazz CD’s , of the avant garde nature, mind you, originally from the era of the 1970’s.
What is the rub here is cultural lag mixed with trendiness. Tommasini’s most intelligent sentence in the article is "...the concert hall is in danger of becoming a museum." He also writes about the segregation, i.e. special performances, of new music from the predictable classical works. How right he is. Warhorses are performed and applauded and bravoed over and over again. Basta, basta! How long ago did composers like Phil Glass become invited to write pieces for major orchestras and or opera companies, or any of the other "erudite" ones, John Harbison, John Adams, etc. Not really that long ago. And these composers are the younger set in contrast to the over-played Eliot Carter and the often misunderstood Milton Babbit, actually the two just beginning to be recognized for their contributions to the musical world. The aforementioned are relative newcomers to the scene, although aging rapidly, if one does look at the warhorses, Beethoven, Brahms, etc. the roster is endless. The warhorses are exceedingly important in their historical grandeur but beaten to death. And Morton Feldman, dear Morty, classical composer of the 50’s, champion of abstract expressionist painters . He died and suddenly there is an interest in his albeit exaggerated, but considerably mindful, incredibly stunning, music. And is John Cage being performed often? (Only with Merce Cunningham dances?) Cage died. He was of the same era as Feldman. Isn’t it his time his music be played under the baton of a large orchestra conductor or has Cage been there and I just don’t know it? Did I miss something?
Then, the re-issue issue of vanguard jazz musicians: those cited in the Shatz article are Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, and Joe McPhee. Of course, their work should be listened to but why not now, all the time, given the right context, naturally? They do perform a lot. We suddenly become aware of these men somehow and instead of looking at the music produced in the present time, we get all hot over re-issues? Maybe I am being too harsh here. Maybe it is OK that re-issues spark listening to how these three ARE making their music, which has developed into totally expressionistic and totally inspiring and exemplary foundational improvisation. What was radical in the seventies has come full circle and is not radical in the present tense because it demonstrates true heroic intentions and sustenance, in hindsight, of what was truly meaningful and spiritually abounding in a musical language. It fit the way we thought, the way we wanted to think, the way we wanted to live. Undaunted.
Come to the year 2000 and some of us have been married, had children and are looking through AARP gift packets. So I know what it is. The re-issue syndrome is more power to the people. A means to regenerate the origins of meaning in our lives, now that we have lived most of our years. We want to find out where we were so we can start all over again. That is all an excuse. What have we been doing? & to our minds? Besides going to work and raising our kids. Have we been in cultural doldrums?
The major, large percentage of the population should be paying attention to its culture, at a steady pace with the flow & in the flow. Enough of what ‘other people think’. Don’t we have enough savvy to realize that it is OK to be different from everyone else, to make music that is different from everyone else’s? That it is OK not to make music that is immediately pleasant to the ears but challenges our listening? That it is OK not to do what is necessarily acceptable to a wide range but should be?
What is so simply beautiful and straightforward is often put on the back shelf in the public eye because there are so many who, it is projected by those who could expose it on a wide scale, cannot appreciate it. Bless those who will some day find the strangely present spirituality that is within them.