|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
A number of years ago I started a composer's salon here in New York City to foster discussion on topics dealing with music issues. It was an opportunity for a group of composers and musicians to sit down together with good food and drink and talk (and argue) about various ideas and questions in a collegial atmosphere of learning. The talks were quite interesting and often lead to insights far a field from the original topic and subject; the recommendations and listening of various recordings of composers and groups I didn't know, for me, was a wonderful benefit to the Salon. So I thought I would reboot the discussions with the first of Composer Salon 2.0.2 on:
Tuesday September 22, 2009 from 7 pm to around 9 pm at the Brooklyn Lyceum (227 4th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn). The Lyceum has graciously offered their cafe space for these Salons and is quite convenient to get to, literally above the Union Street M, R Train stop in Brooklyn. The Lyceum does have various inexpensive libations including different beers and other non-alcoholic beverages, as well as coffee and baked goods.
If you are a composer/musician in New York City area, regardless of genre, style, or inclination, I hope you can come out, meet some new and old faces behind the blogs and comments and listen or join the discussion. My plan is to post a new discussion topic a few weeks before the actual Salon which hopefully will provide manna to a good discussion. The night of the Salon I will put on my best Jim Lehrer and moderate things to stay (somewhat) on topic. If you don't live in New York (or can't make the Salon live), feel free to chime in in the comments on the planned topic and we can use those developments at the discussion.
Salon Topic #1: Because of the hoopla with the Terry Teachout 'Death of Jazz' Wall Street Journal article (which I chose not to comment on), as well as a recent blogging conversation concerning audiences between Nico Muhly and publicist Amanda Ameer (which I did comment on), I thought I would revive and add to one of my old Salon topics, which seems quite timely at the moment: the Audience.
I. In an interview (New Voices by Geoff and Nicola Walker Smith, Amadeus Press, 1995--BTW, this is highly recommended book featuring insightful interviews with many 20th century new music leading lights), Laurie Anderson says that her work/composition is not complete until it has been observed or heard [and subsequently] evaluated by an audience. She goes on to say that the measure of a good work of art is one that (as you experience it) “makes you want to jump up and get out of there” and go and create something yourself. How do you view this statement (especially in relationship toward how your own compositions are received by the public)?
II. The main premise of the book Hole in Our Soul by Martha Bayles (Free Press, 1994) is that with the rise of modernism (in art) in the early 20th century, there came a disconnect with audiences—an “antagonism” between the artistic creator and the consumer of the art. Before this perverse (her words) turn of events, the relationship between creator and consumer was not so great. (At least in jazz) high art and the commercial and popular were not always mutually exclusive. As Gary Giddins states, people like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong had the “…ability to balance the emotional gravity of the artist with the communal good cheer of the entertainer…” However, with the advent of such movements as Dadaism or Abstract Expressionism in painting, the literary explorations of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolff, and James Joyce, and in music the dodecaphonic and serial explorations of Arnold Schoenberg, chance and aleatory music of John Cage and in jazz the rise of bebop and free jazz, large audiences mostly tuned out. Jazz critic Philip Larkin is quoted in Hole in Our Soul stating, “To say I don’t like modern jazz because it’s modernist art simply raises the question of why I don’t like modernist art…I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by (Charlie) Parker, (Erza) Pound, or (Pablo) Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor to endure.” Do you agree or disagree with Bayles’ and/or Larkin’s statements/premises? How do you as a composer/musician, balance artistic and commercial viability in your own work? In the presentation (i.e. performances) of your works?
III. The recent dust-up created in the jazz world by Terry Teachout's August 9, 2009 Wall Street Journal article "Can Jazz Be Saved?" got me thinking more about how does a musician (or I guess any artist) go about creating an audience for their work. And not just an insular and incestual audience of like-minded and -aged musicians and friends, but a truly diverse cross-section of people genuinely interested in hearing the music. In the discussion between Nico Muhly and Amanda Ameer, there's talk of scenes and how they develop around record labels or the musicians on those labels. The Teachout article focuses on jazz but the same (tired) arguments have been going on for years about the aging and dying of classical music. And while the arguments have valid points, possible directions to combat 'the audience problem' are springing forth from various composers, groups, record labels, and presenters that are not complaining about the situation but seemly doing something about it: reaching beyond the classic audience-performer divide in meaningful ways and creating new and enthusiastic (if not always broadly diverse) consumers of their music. The wonderful and impressive story I read this weekend on Sequenza 21 of how composer Melissa Dunphy got the ebullient attention of MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, The Atlantic, and other non-music critics and tastemakers with her opera The Gonzales Cantata, about the testimony of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before Congress. No matter your thoughts on the musical merits of the work, the buzz surrounding the opera will surely widen Dunphy's audience circle beyond her family, closest friends, and general new music types. Although I'd argue that any new people most likely to resonate with The Gonzales Cantata are probably similar in makeup as those already to be found at any hipster new music event at Le Poisson Rouge or Galapagos, it doesn't negate the fact that there will be people interested in Melissa Dunphy that never before set foot at a contemporary new music or jazz performance (I'm guessing Rachel Maddow is one of them). How can one build a lasting audience or a 'scene' around what you are doing? Once you have an audience, how do you keep them? expand and broaden it? Does that matter? How do you connect with the audience you do have? Are creating projects such as "CNN opera", theme concerts and suites ("interview music"), gimmicky or good marketing sense in order to separate yourself from the crowd and attract audiences? Are there just too many new music groups, jazz bands, etc. out there for the market of people that want to go out for live music (and are interested in hearing new music) to absorb?
Hope you can make it on the 22nd and perhaps meet some new faces for your own audience...
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:01 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.