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Author Topic: New, yet accessible  (Read 40912 times)
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gpkimzey

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« on: Sep 22, 2006, 07:37AM »

The early 20th century, in many ways, is partly to blame for the struggling "classical" music scene.  Composers, while creating works of great artistic value, pursued novelty, in many cases, to the point where the utterly sacrificed accessibility for the average listener/concertgoer.

So here's the question; how can we, as 21st century composers, write in a way that is both novel (in the good sense) AND accessible?  Specifically, what's new?  How can we incorporate 20th century techniques (12 tone music, tone clusters, aleatory music) into compositions that are new, and hold some drawing power for contemporary audiences?
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Gary P Kimzey
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« Reply #1 on: Sep 22, 2006, 11:25AM »

I know, I know, I KNOW! I'm not an orchestral guy. But only in the sense that I don't like playing in them. But I do listen, so hear me out.

Gary wrote << ... and hold some drawing power for contemporary audiences?>>

There already is a lot of good music being written. And orchestral audiences, for the most part, already accept it.

I suggest that the problem is the way orchestras themselves are being 'sold'. I mean, going to an orchestral concert is a 'big deal' - an involved process. And once you get there, very often there are 'rules' the audience has to follow. But with other concerts you just go and enjoy - maybe vocalize your pleasure - maybe even clap at the 'wrong' time.

Some orchestras have taken steps to make their performances more easily accessible and have enjoyed greater success because of these efforts.

No, I'm not talking about 'Pops' concerts. I'm talking about ad campaigns for their regular season that, in effect, shout "Ya gotta hear this! It's really something!"

In virtually every other genre of music, by way of agressive 'preemptive' advertising, the audience is conditioned to enjoy the experience before the concert ever takes place. Not so with orchestras. In general (and I realize there are exceptions) they do not advertise very effectively. You pretty much have to seek them out. For the general public, then, they're an obligation. "I gotta get my 'art' in" (a bi-annual dose of G Major).

Please understand: I'm not dumping on orchestras. I truly like orchestral music. Liz and I listen to it a lot. We go to 2-3 LA Phil concerts a year. I want it to succeed. Notice I do not say survive. With success survival becomes moot.

And yes, I have an ulterior motive. Jazz needs a strong 'art' base to flourish. Strong orchestras, strong smaller ensembles, strong ballets, things like these help provide that foundation.

... oops ... sorry. I'll take a pill and get back on point:

(pretend you hear me walking to the kitchen and washing down a Norco with a glass of water)

... Ah, that's better.

Gary, the music isn't the problem. There's some really good new stuff out there. It's the timidity in the way it's 'sold' that's the problem. Rather than "Ya gotta hear this!" I keep hearing "Please, just try this. You might enjoy it ... maybe."

Mike (mellowing by the minute) Suter
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gpkimzey

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« Reply #2 on: Sep 22, 2006, 01:47PM »

Well, I have to say that I agree with your marketing critique, and maybe it could be tied to the point I'm about to make, but I don't really think they're the same.

The Houston Symphony Orchestra, like a great many orchestras, fell on some rough financial waters a few years ago.  During the ensueing public debate, the most often heard comment was, "I no longer go to the symphony because all I hear is some 'new' cacophony.  I go to the symphony to enjoy the work of masters like Saint-Saens."  Now, you and I know that there is good new music out there, but the public, at least in Houston, isn't responding to it.  Why?  Well, in the above (semi-hypothetical) quote, they called new music a "cacophony".

On reflection, I take it back.  Maybe this IS still a marketing problem.  Hmmm.  I'll have to think on that a bit.

BTW, as a player, I mostly play big band on 'bone, and either "jazzy" gospel hymns or praise choruses (hate listening to 'em or singing 'em but they're fun to play on bass) on bass guitar.  When I compose, though, I compose "classical" music.  Why would I make a critique of you commenting on this kind of topic?
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« Reply #3 on: Sep 22, 2006, 02:42PM »

<<Why would I make a critique of you commenting on this kind of topic?>>

I was using the universal 'you'. There are a lot of folks in this forum who would rather I stuck to any-or-all-things jazz and never venture outside of that box. They don't seem to like it when ANY trombone player is successful, much less a (in the words of a long ago cellist with Ballet West) 'jazz person'. I don't care if they feel the need to suffer for their art. I, though, prefer making money - lots of it (perish the thought).

I truly believe the orchestral world is suffering the downside of an arrogant image they created and maintained for decades. And I'd rather see them succeed than not.

Mike Suter
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« Reply #4 on: Sep 22, 2006, 07:45PM »

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I truly believe the orchestral world is suffering the downside of an arrogant image they created and maintained for decades.


I wholeheartedly agree with you on this point.  One of my closest friends maintains that "my music is better than yours" attitude even today, and he's a fairly young guy, at that!  Drives me nuts, and I have been exposed to and understand the value of the music he espouses.
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Gary P Kimzey
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« Reply #5 on: Sep 23, 2006, 08:40AM »

To tell the truth a lot of 20th century music just plain isn't that good.

In previous style periods we have the filter of history so only the best music is played.  There was a lot of bad music in earlier style periods but nobody plays it any more.

At times modern music is like the emporer's new clothes.  Everyone knows they are supposed to like it so they are afraid to say they don't for fear that other people will think they aren't artistic or intellectual enough to get it.
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« Reply #6 on: Sep 23, 2006, 09:07AM »

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At times modern music is like the emporer's new clothes.  Everyone knows they are supposed to like it so they are afraid to say they don't for fear that other people will think they aren't artistic or intellectual enough to get it.


I'll not go so far as to say it's "bad music" or condemn those who enjoy it, but I'm not afraid to say I don't like it.  

I went to college in the 1970's when you couldn't swing a dead drummer without hitting a "20th Century" band or orchestra piece.  The directors were sold on that stuff; as students, we just had to put up with it and play.

We had to write "matrices", "danger music", "anger music" and 12-tone pieces for music lit, all of which sounded like they were created in a drug-induced haze...and then act as though we were serious about it!  One of my classmates was a percussionist whose professional background was limited to country music and polkas; he laughed so hard at the examples we were expected to analyze that he had to be ejected from class on several occasions.

The only one I cared for at all was a Daniel Bukvich piece about the bombing of Dresden, Germany during WWII, but it was mostly traditional scoring with a few "effects" thrown in.  

I think there will always be a market, and an interested listening audience, for new works that employ good, traditional scoring.  What the public wants is a melody; a little item that unfortunately escapes many new composers.

I was fortunate enough to play under the baton of W. Francis McBeth, and I'll always remember him saying:  "I'm grateful that I lived to see 20th Century music...go away."
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« Reply #7 on: Sep 23, 2006, 11:28AM »

Bruce wrote <<To tell the truth a lot of 20th century music just plain isn't that good.>>

Well, of course! Way more than ninety-nine percent of ALL music, from the time we were beating hollow logs with sticks, is garbage.

The various musical eras are defined by their diamonds, not their lumps of coal. For every Bach there were thousands of plain ole' church organists pumping out drivel (that didn't start out to be a pun but I'll take credit for it anyway). That's the way art works.

So yes, most 20th century music (we're gonna have to change that name) is indeed junk.

But, aah, what about that magnificent thousandth-of-one-percent that turns out to be magic?

That's why composers keep composing - hoping to someday gain inclusion in that eltra-elite class.

98% of new music never goes beyond its first read-through. On the rare occasions the Kenton band (not name dropping - just using it in context) rehearsed, Stan kept a large wastebasket right in front of the band. The overwhelming number of pieces we'd read through were passed in and unceremoniously deposited in that circular file (Of course that meant that the road manager had to go through it after the rehearsal to gather up those charts in order to return them to the writer. "Dear Joe Schmoe from Kokomo, With reluctance, after rehearsing your latest submission, we must inform you..." etc).

Of the remaining 2% - those pieces that are subsequently performed - maybe one-in-a-thousand gets a second performance.

And maybe one-in-a-thousand of those is remembered 10 years down the road.

And ...

... well, you get my point.

BUT EVEN THESE ODDS DON'T STOP COMPOSERS FROM TAKING PEN OR MOUSE IN HAND.

This says something really cool about the human spirit.

Mike Suter
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« Reply #8 on: Sep 23, 2006, 07:44PM »

Quote from: "Mike Suter"
Bruce wrote <<To tell the truth a lot of 20th century music just plain isn't that good.>>

Well, of course! Way more than ninety-nine percent of ALL music, from the time we were beating hollow logs with sticks, is garbage.

The various musical eras are defined by their diamonds, not their lumps of coal. For every Bach there were thousands of plain ole' church organists pumping out drivel (that didn't start out to be a pun but I'll take credit for it anyway). That's the way art works.

So yes, most 20th century music (we're gonna have to change that name) is indeed junk.

But, aah, what about that magnificent thousandth-of-one-percent that turns out to be magic?



I don't dislike 20th c. music.  In fact I'm rather fond of it.  I find many of Arnold Schoenberg's works clever and starkly beautiful.  The originality of Charles Ives' experiments always delights.  In not a big John Cage fan though I have to admit that his pieces usually work better than other composers who use the same techniques.
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« Reply #9 on: Sep 24, 2006, 08:52AM »

Quote
What the public wants is a melody; a little item that unfortunately escapes many new composers.


Exactly.  Audiences want memories they can take home with them.  It's why I love my signature.

Ken F.
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« Reply #10 on: Sep 24, 2006, 09:03AM »

Fair enough, there, and I tend to agree.  The question, then (at least for me) is this:  how do we compose original music, yet hold onto a recognizeable, reproduceable melody?  What techniques work?  Which ones don't?

To be clear, I have written music that employes tone clusters and I have written music that employs 12-tone row systems.  I don't think they're bad or even always inaccessible.  There have been times when I though aleatory music would fit in well with what I was trying to express, but I fail at incorporating it in my composition. :cry:

So what do you do?  <"you" in this case, of course, being the general "you">
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« Reply #11 on: Sep 24, 2006, 10:52AM »

Gary (and everybody else),

Have you ever listened to any of John Corigliano's music? He is not my favorite composer by any means, but does a magnificent job of incorporating the most extravagantly dissonant and cacophonic (often aleatoric) musical gestures into otherwise very accessible pieces. The key in his case, I believe, is that there is always a musical or programmatic reason for the aleatoric sections.

If any of you choose to give him a listen, I recommend the "Pied Piper Fantasy" and his "Symphony #1" as pieces that showcase this idea very well.

FWIW, I ask myself the same kinds of questions whenever I sit down to write: How can I satisfy myself artistically and still give my audience something to latch on to? A few things that have worked for me, in no particular order of importance:

-Melodies can be dramatic, moving and memorable even if not strictly tonal.

-Good and compelling use of rhythm can go a long way toward carrying an audience through a section which is less accessible harmonically.

-Repetition, repetion, repetition! I think that often, when somebody complains that a piece is too dissonant, cacophonous, etc., what they really mean is that they never felt like they had anything solid to latch on to. Music becomes boring very quickly when a listener is totally lost. This is true even in tonal music. In more modern forms of music, it is critically important that we present our material in such a way that our audience has a chance to become just a little bit familiar and comfortable with it before we start developing it. I have heard too many pieces which arrogantly assume that listeners can absorb a long and complex atonal passage in a single listening and then recognize little bits of it carefully woven into the texture during subsequent development. Fuggedaboutit!

-Form goes hand in hand with the last point. The sonata is arguably the most-used, most successful musical form in all of Western art music. Why is that? It presents musical material in a format which educates and even coddles  the listener as it progresses, while still giving the composer an emormous amount of free reign and possibilities. I think that the more complex the harmonic language, the more simple the form must usually be in order to keep an audience "hooked".

-Good program notes/ pre-performance remarks. Sometimes people will dislike music because they cannot readily interpret its emotional content. Often, knowing what a piece is about or what it represents will go a long way toward winning over a listener. Look at movie music. Often, film scores will contain sections that are extremely dissonant, aleatoric, etc. But because the audience has a story with which to associate the music, they like it. And finally, on a closely related note:

-Descriptive title. The right title can make all the difference. Possibly the ultimate example of this is Penderecki's highly dissonant "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima", an aleatoric piece for string orchestra. Originally titled "8'34" (or something like that), the piece never became famous until the title was changed.

In conclusion, to make "modern" music acceptible to listeners, I think a composer must be willing to consider not only the music itself, but all the elements of its context, and strive to create the right type of listening environment for his/her pieces.

Hope this helps...

Dave
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« Reply #12 on: Sep 24, 2006, 01:38PM »

Dave!  Excellent post!  Thanks for your input.

Quote from: "Dave Tatro"
Gary (and everybody else),

Have you ever listened to any of John Corigliano's music?

I confess that I have not.  I will rectify that immediately.
Quote from: "Dave Tatro"
The key in his case, I believe, is that there is always a musical or programmatic reason for the aleatoric sections.

I find that's what works well in my own composition.  At least as relates to the 20th century techniques I've been able to wrap my own brain around in composition.
Quote from: "Dave Tatro"

-Form goes hand in hand with the last point. The sonata is arguably the most-used, most successful musical form in all of Western art music. Why is that? It presents musical material in a format which educates and even coddles  the listener as it progresses, while still giving the composer an emormous amount of free reign and possibilities. I think that the more complex the harmonic language, the more simple the form must usually be in order to keep an audience "hooked".
Rhondo probably lends itself to this as well.  Da Capo Aria, too.  Of course with these forms, it might be best to use a more "traditional" tonality or structure in the non-repeated sections, reserving the atonal (or whatever) sections for the repeated material.  Come to think of it, I wrote a piano piece that was a loose Da Capo Aria which did exactly that.  Hmm.
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« Reply #13 on: Sep 24, 2006, 02:42PM »

Quote from: "gpkimzey"
Quote from: "Dave Tatro"
-Form goes hand in hand with the last point. The sonata is arguably the most-used, most successful musical form in all of Western art music. Why is that? It presents musical material in a format which educates and even coddles  the listener as it progresses, while still giving the composer an emormous amount of free reign and possibilities. I think that the more complex the harmonic language, the more simple the form must usually be in order to keep an audience "hooked".

Rhondo probably lends itself to this as well.  Da Capo Aria, too.  Of course with these forms, it might be best to use a more "traditional" tonality or structure in the non-repeated sections, reserving the atonal (or whatever) sections for the repeated material.  Come to think of it, I wrote a piano piece that was a loose Da Capo Aria which did exactly that.  Hmm.


Your ideas are right on track, in the context of what we are discussing here. Another thing that I like to do is to insert familiar musical devices, like fugue expositions, into my pieces. I have begun the last movement of a Brass Quintet that I am working on with a fugue and it works marvelously. Counterpoint is a tool that can be used to advantage no matter what the harmonic language. Plus, if you use a fugue, you get.......REPETITION!!!!

Enjoy the Corigliano. You may not find him to be your favorite composer, but I haven't heard anybody that integrates different styles better than he does.....
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« Reply #14 on: Oct 13, 2006, 09:06PM »

Ordered CDs of both the Corigliano pieces today.  The Symphony 1 is directed by Slatkin.  The other was someone I'm not familiar with.

I let you know what I think of them.

In related news:  Have you listened to any Coleman (John?  is that his first name?).  I heard a performance on NPR a year or so ago of the debut of his commissioned work "Streetscape" (Chicago Symphony I think it was).  Very different and "noisy" but quite accessible.
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« Reply #15 on: Oct 14, 2006, 10:54AM »

I'll look forward to your impressions of the Corigliano. My recordings are by Chicago (Symphony number 1) and the Eastman Philharmonia/ James Galway (Pied Piper Fantasy). I don't remember the conductors offhand. I actually wasn't aware that other recordings of these are available. Since both pieces contain aleatoric sections, I am tempted to order these so that I can hear the differences.

I don't think I've heard any Coleman. I'll keep my eyes open for him.
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« Reply #16 on: Oct 14, 2006, 11:36AM »

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I don't think I've heard any Coleman. I'll keep my eyes open for him.


Gah.  I got almost all the info wrong.  Here's a link to his website
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« Reply #17 on: Oct 14, 2006, 02:58PM »

That's funny, I have a friend named Charles Coleman.

I couldn't get his audio samples to work. I'll try again another day....
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« Reply #18 on: Oct 20, 2006, 04:38PM »

John Adams: A Short Ride on a Fast Machine

About four and a half minutes of sheer adrenaline. Contemporary, yes. Influenced by minimalism, yes. But it has hooks and is a hoot to listen to-many times.

The good stuff is there, maybe it will just take another 50 years for us to forget the bad stuff and for the great stuff to show its staying power.
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Dennis K.
« Reply #19 on: Oct 21, 2006, 09:31AM »

Good music is like good literature.  Take Science Fiction - There is an element fo rthe readers called "Suspension of disbelief."  For this to be effective in Science fiction, the author must maintain some connection to what is familiar and what is known to be real.  From there, he can tack on magic, transporter beams, and aliens, and still have a coherent story.
Some composers are very creative - Harry Partch comes to mind.  Tie your creative expression to something more familiar, and your music will have some frame of reference for the "new" stuff.
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