I wrote this article for my Co-op Press Newsletter and thought I'd reproduce it here for those of you who do not receive the newsletter.
I have recently finished taking a course on North American Native American Art through the Yavapai College Osher Life-long Learning Institute where our teacher, John Acker, shared a definition of art as “combining what has come before into something new”. Immediately, I started to apply this definition to music and recalled a discussion that occurred on the Orchestra List News Group where it was pointed out that at many colleges and universities, potential composition students are not accepted because they believe in melody and tonality. It seems as though, beginning with the mid-twentieth century and continuing in our academic environments, newness is revered over sound artistic practices. As a result, anything that is rooted in music of the past is often rejected.
To illustrate this, I’d like to summarize two articles that appeared in the Music Educators Journal during the 1980s. In his article, “From Sound To Silence: The Classical Tradition and the Avant-Garde”, Robert Ehle states that there are two underlying basis of Western classical tradition; symbolic nature (program music, nationalism, etc.) and conscious craftsmanship. He later states that the downfall of the Western classical tradition is that the quest for new ideas without old associations has led to the abandonment of music as sound and the emphasis on music as pure idea. Roland Nadeau, in his article “The Crisis of Tonality: What is the Avant-Garde?”, illustrates Ehle’s points by pointing out that Schoenberg eliminated tonality, Bruitism (composition with noise) eliminated pitch, melody & harmony, electronic music eliminated traditional instruments and their players, Aleotoric music eliminated traditional form, and Cage eliminated composed sounds with 4’33”. Is the next step the elimination of the audience itself and is that already happening?
The discussion on the Orchestra List News Group illustrated that there are many composers writing music today who have not abandoned the traditions of music in order to create new and vibrant compositions. I highly recommend that every musician and music appreciator read Jon Winsor’s book “Breaking The Sound Barrier: An Argument for Mainstream Literary Music”. He gives credence to the definition of art that I heard in my art class and points the way towards a future of music composition that can create refreshing music without abandoning what has come before us. If you have a bias against all new music, please seek out these composers and give them a try. You will be glad you did.