Friday, September 1, 2017

Stuff in the time of fluff.

It started with small things—rejection of the “great composer” who then became the straw "bogie" man of innumerable blog posts and musical articles and interviews. The constant drum beat to connect with audiences. The redefinition of progressive rock as classical music, the worship of Frank Zappa over Varese.

What caused this sad state of affairs? The collapse of the classical music market. The overwhelming financial success of popular music/media Juggernaut. The new rich, the interneters, who are uninterested in the arts.

This reminds me of the phrase “we had to destroy the village to save it.”

So what is my problem?

If you remove the “great composer” what is left? Only the successful ones. You also remove any conscious art may have. Or that there might be some other criteria for judging a work other than a high profile performance itself. You remove the concept that artistic talent needs skill, not just experience. Skill creates the kind of musical complications that are judged to be no longer marketable or user friendly. We no longer wish to confront the prejudices of the listener we want to exploit them. We have given up trying to educate the audience—that’s not true rather funds for musical education have been eliminated and we now have to pick up the pieces.

That returns us to this concept: “popular” success is the same as artistic success. That has always been the status quo.

The collapse of the classical music market.

A casual look at the classical music top albums on billboard is instructive—not much classical music there. Included is a number of film scores and the focus on "crossover" and the circus aspects of our craft. In any event the number of classical sales is tiny. Of course classical music activity has no real relation to the billboard numbers (or classical radio), but the bottom line is this; the only way that classical music can compete with the popular media is to match its marketing budget. We have to stop thinking that this is impossible. Then again, why do we need to mimic popular music when its success is based merely on its huge marketing budget.

Fire Sale

At these prices the institutions of new music are up for grabs. For example; “New Music” has been partially hijacked by wealthy museums. They present a very white establishment view of the “recent” musical arts, and they have a mixed record when it comes to cultural sensitivity (at least with the Native American Community). Sonic prejudice has no place.

Museums are not the only ones hijacking new music. There is a well funded effort to replace "new instrumental music" with multimedia experiences where the music is the least important part. Whatever it is the music comes last. New music theater is another topic.

Where is the Money?

Internet Billionaires have shown little interest in the arts and if they do its to create tributes to popular music. The Internet has also lead to an over focus on presenters (the net) over artists. We reward composer/entrepreneurs not for their art but for their function as presenters and producers. They are the grownups. Still nobody knows who these people are because other than careerism, and their influence with some of their peers, they have no connection to the general public. 

That leaves the older arts funders.

I have been told by an important commissioning officer that “art for art’s sake is dead.“ I was told by a Chamber Music America staffer some time ago that they will support commissions of "anything as long as its not serial or atonal." On the other hand the fact that a grant opportunity represents social work does not mean the artist is invested in the topic other than fulfilling the task. Don’t get me started on cultural appropriation.

Ok so we are a day late and a few billion dollars short. That is no reason to throw the intellectual wing of classical music under the bus.

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