For those of you who do not know me in “real” life, I was trained as an art music musician (what most folks call classical music, which I have issues with, which will likely be the topic of another post on another day…). Recently, as in about three weeks ago, I took a new job that has brought me back to that world. Funny enough, in my head I never left it. I always saw myself as trained from that particular perspective.
Now the anthropologist/ethnomusicologist steps in.
Perspective IMHO predisposes me to consider the daily grind of practicing and interpretation of another’s ideas as my two basic premises.
But I live in the contemporary world, just like all the other currently living, currently practicing, art music musicians.
So why is it that the music we who make it all love and perform is considered so disconnected with contemporary popular culture?
Here is the article from Greg Sandow from last week that got me started. In this particular post, he reflects on a performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle in DC recently, which leads to a revisiting of a consistent theme in his blog on how art music is/is not maintaining its audience and hence relevancy to our contemporary world, as measured by audience attendance and participation in art music performances.
Sandow comments mourn what is to my eyes a disconnecting from tradition in favor of current cultural connections and values in the ways contemporary art music (again, I hate the word classical music – it’s so loaded) is adapting/will adapt to the modern world.
And this got me wondering. Big surprise.
Here’s a “duh” moment question: why is it that the American consumer public, at least at the broadest levels, dis-values tradition and the re-presentation of older musical forms? Is this any different in theater? Film? (Hint: NOT) Of course the answer is that our society values and fetishizes the “new” and the “unique,” making “the past” something only relevant to people who are “out of touch.” (this last part: also not true)
I had a conversation with a fabulous screen writer this past weekend talking about this same evolution in film and tv writing and development. Granted, this is a far newer technology, but it takes on the same question: where do relevant art and culture-making enterprises have to let go of the past to be relevant to the present and the future?
My favorite example of this kind of art music making comes from one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. Ravel, for those of you who don’t know his work, not only totally rocks in terms of creating moving and meaningful music, but also had a real sense of the connections between what was created before and what can be meaningful now.
I’ll take as a case in point his Le Tombeau de Couperin, composed between 1914 and 1917, and was dedicated to friends of his who died fighting in World War I. The notes from the performer who presents this performance give a great example of the kind of relevance I’m talking about.
So, I’ll leave you with this here today. But there will be more on this theme. Please do comment – this is something so important for us all to talk about!