A 365-Day Project

"We Are All Mozart"

A project to create
new works and change
the perception of the
music of our time.

Mantra Canon score pages Dennis

previous   November 22, 2006   next

It's Thanksgiving eve, the day before a holiday that's always brought mixed feelings. The euphemism of blended family didn't exist in my childhood; we were rent by rivalries and divorces, a plague that continued into my own adulthood. It's taken many years to achieve any sense that included balance as one of the components.

Giving thanks is an exercise in settling back and appreciating the good in life. I'm always looking, especially in music, and can think of much more now than in my early years -- and this time, I don't think that it's age speaking.

Modernism is Over

Look, I loved modernism in all its forms of jaggedness and confrontation and homeliness. It was the foremost complement to the Devil's Century, more than the abstract impressionists in art or the deconstructed madness of literature. It was alien at its birth and remains so into today, the near future. The leading edge of young performers, those without roots in time before minimalism flourished and faded, are re-approaching those difficult pieces and, absent the first-hand experience of how mad the century truly was, they bring a sense of musicality, urgency, passion, mysticism and strength to music that was abstract, confrontational and bruised in its own time. The egomaniacal nature of some great composers was little different from the century's great dictators, but less physically ruinous of civilization. One looks at the grand plans of Stockhausen driven by crackpot theories or the grand humilities of Feldman driven by black-hole-style confrontation and the grand designs of Xenakis, the grand fusions of Berio, the grandest Germanic theories of Schoenberg and they expose a madness -- a madness that resulted in great art, uncomfortable art, disturbing art. I am thankful to have lived through the marvelously rich last stages of moderism and its cataclysmic collapse at the hands of idiot simplicity, to see first-hand how a new Renaissance is born out of a new Ars Nova. A time like this one will not come again until we are gone for centuries. It is glorious.

Nonpop is Vital

Composers have always been hard at work, even in the depths of ignominy that characterized the middle of the last century. Whether they were as vigorous and imaginative as they are today is unknowable, but it seems so. Two days ago I was privately lamenting the change that has overcome new nonpop. The truth is that I became composer with a vision to make a difference in the course of music, not to be an entertainer. A new piece would be played on the radio or in concert and something in my mind would jerk upright and say, "I want to write that!" Forty years later, I am still saying, "I want to write that!" when new pieces are played. A little part of me is sad that no one hears my music and thinks "I want to write that!," and it's something I'm not easily at peace with, to be working as hard as possible for a lifetime to open new vistas only to see the tourists there already ... or it turns out to be a place no tourist wanted to go in the first place. As a college student I was told that the world has enough mediocre composers and that I should get out. I didn't believe it then (either part) and don't believe it now, but there's no evidence to the contrary. And so today, not at peace, at least I can be thankful for the grand scope of nonpop that has come to be. It is music of substance, and here in my tiny cold village in Vermont, I'm proud to be part of it.

Classical is Disintegrating

Just in the past few days, there is more evidence that the old classical establishment is collapsing. Not only Sony, but National Public Radio is shaking off the classical programming like so many dead fleas. Classical promotion is devolving into décolleté and buddy bands. Twenty years ago, I wrote that the next yuppie passion after they discarded jazz would be country music. The yuppies have passed, but their successors have become country music enthusiasts -- including on the international scene. So here comes one of those very occasional predictions: nonpop is the next area to be exploited, and not via the symphonies (and certainly not via penguins). No, the nonpop scene is on the verge of being 'discovered' by a generation unfulfilled by postmodernist evanescence and hypermixes. Some of that discovery will stick. So yes, I'm thankful that classical music is in retreat, as it will clear the stage for a spectacularly fulminating nonpop scene.

Players are Playing

The level of performance skill is always rising, but much of that progress has been among a limited body of professionals. In recent days, the quantity of those professionals with both the chops and the interest in playing nonpop has grown dramatically. In an era when funding for new nonpop is shrinking in ways unseen in the public sphere since before the days of Richard Nixon (an 'arts friendly' president) and which has all but vanished from private enterprise (which has found social and health goals to be its historical monuments rather than libraries and concert halls), the number of new nonpop ensembles is unprecedented. Sure, there isn't an ensemble on every streetcorner, but there never was. Nonpop, whatever its name past or present, has always been music of scope and not a trifling artform. There's no getting around the reality that, during the time of its creation, it's not going to be heard on the streetcorner. Once the streetcorner sound transforms itself to something with levels of expression and compass of meaning, it leaves the streetcorner and walks into the concert hall or its postmodern equivalent -- which makes me thankful for the burgeoning performers who not only risk the smaller plaudits of nonpop but also work with such diligence to discover the levels and compass.

Ideas are Arriving

Each time there is a blank piece of manuscript paper or a blank scoring screen or a blank sound editor in front of me, the feelings of creative imagination arrive as if it were that day in 1964 that my pencil scribbled on the five-lined paper for the first time. I am thankful for not having taken the advice to leave and, mediocre or not, to be able to rise to the challenge of sonic ideas.


That heading isn't parallel because no verb is needed. Friends simply are, and I am thankful for all of them. You know who you are.

Gesualdo in the sun
The ultimate in thanksgiving as Gesualdo basks in the last of the November sun.

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