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Author Topic: New, yet accessible  (Read 37113 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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« 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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« 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 »

Quote from: "Dave Tatro"

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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« 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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« Reply #20 on: Oct 21, 2006, 09:51AM »

Clever If you are going to write for piano, remember we are limited to around 10  notes at a time (I say around because we can *sometimes* double up), and very very few of us can hit anything over a 12th, if we are able to hit that at all (I'm limited to an octave unless I use two hands...there goes Moonlight Sonata).

I made another post somewhere around here about my top 10 pet peeves as a piano player...I still stand by everything I said.

I'll throw in that while I play mainly classical/baroque/etc pieces, I've been known to play more contemporary stuff like Billy Joel (he is fun to play) Norah Jones (rarely what is printed resembles what you hear in her recordings), and my lone Five for Fighting song (note for note what you hear in the recording).  

Not a lot of contemporary musicians utilize the piano.  :(

New and authorized arrangements would be awesome.  Don't water it down though.  I love a challenging piece....I know my limits though.  

I'll tell you if I can't play it because of the size of my hands, so don't get cranky if I refuse your piece.

That said, I would love to see some of fellow forumite's piano works.

I have Finale '05 so I can receive those files, and .pdf's would be ok if you use a different method.  I'll print it and go play it.  My email addy is attached to the bottom of all my posts, and yes, it is accurate, my main, and checked frequently.

If you share just to share, tell me, and I'll keep my opinions to myself.  If you want a critique, please don't be upset if you don't like what I say.  I do get asked to play in church sometimes, and if I like your piece enough, I might ask your permission to play it there!

(I just realized that my post is slightly off topic and a shameless beg for new music.  Sorry about that.)
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« Reply #21 on: Oct 22, 2006, 10:54AM »

I believe Dave Tatro hit the nail on the head:

Repetition.

If you look at the tonal pieces that are most popular (and that most of us would rather step on a nail than play), they're highly repetitive (not to say repetitious).

In the Mood, Pachelbel's Canon, 1812 Overture, etc.  

Non-musicians like to get a theme sandblasted into their heads before hearing the variation, countermelody, and so forth.

Repetition helped Philip Glass sell a lot of contemporary music.  

Also judicious use of dynamics, rhythm, and space makes music more accessible to audiences, regardless of the tonality used.  Music that focuses on 'note choice' tends to be cerebral.
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« Reply #22 on: Oct 23, 2006, 12:33PM »

I think what you're really talking about is form.  Most classical forms revisit (or repeat, if you will) the same materials at various points throughout-- this gives a piece unity.  Tonal considerations further unify the piece.  Fugue, Rondo form, sonata form; heck, binary forms like the ubiquitous AABA song form-- all of these are based on repetition.

I find non-tonal music to be much more palatable if it is based some sort of formal structure, and I think this might be the case for other listeners, too, because it provides structural unity to the piece, even if there is no tonal unity.

Bartok frequently used strict formal structures, too, which added unity to the unconventional tonal/harmonic structures he used.
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« Reply #23 on: Oct 23, 2006, 12:44PM »

Quote from: "Brisko"
I think what you're really talking about is form.  Most classical forms revisit (or repeat, if you will) the same materials at various points throughout-- this gives a piece unity.


I think that's part of it, but not the whole thing.  Consider a melody, 32 measures long, where each measure is completely different from the others.  Consider another melody, also 32 measures long, with repeated rhythmic devices and melodic motives.  The latter will be more easily remembered and thus more accessible.

Pick pretty much anything by Mozart.  He'll repeat motives immediately, most of the time.  It stands to reason; music before recordings was designed to be heard exactly once, so the important "information," the parts that the composer wanted you to notice returned later, were repeated earlier, so as to make them familiar.
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« Reply #24 on: Oct 23, 2006, 01:30PM »

Yup, I'll grant you that.  Maybe I should have said "classical forms tend to be more accessible because they are repetitive."  Certainly, the Mozart example is accurate, and I think the practice of emphasizing important material through repetition was pretty wide-spread in his time.  Beethoven did this too.
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« Reply #25 on: Oct 23, 2006, 02:42PM »

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Beethoven did this too.


Absolutely!  So much of his 5th is repetition of the "short-short-short-long" pattern established in the first four notes of the whole stinking thing.  It shows up both in melody and accompaniment.  (Bill McGlaughlin called him a "rhythm machine" in one of his episodes of Exploring Music.)  I think that repetition is what makes this symphony so memorable (and, thus accessible?).
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« Reply #26 on: Oct 23, 2006, 11:53PM »

Quote from: "gpkimzey"
Quote from: "Brisko"
Beethoven did this too.


Absolutely!  So much of his 5th is repetition of the "short-short-short-long" pattern established in the first four notes of the whole stinking thing.  It shows up both in melody and accompaniment.  (Bill McGlaughlin called him a "rhythm machine" in one of his episodes of Exploring Music.)  I think that repetition is what makes this symphony so memorable (and, thus accessible?).


I was going to suggest this too.

Sing the first, say, minute of beethovens 5th.

..............

That's reppetition for you.

And everyone knows it - probably the most remembered bit of music ever.

If you go up to someone and in a monotone say: da-da-da-dum, they'll know what you're referring to.

That's what's missing from most modern music.

Little ideas that are memorable.

I think that many modern composers have to many BIG ideas, and not enough small ideas - da-da-da-dum.  Of course this is not universal, and many composers still write works based on a single cell.  What I'm getting at though, is that today, most music is just to complex.  I confess to making my music complicated aswell, with tonnes of tiem changes and accidentals etc.  That's what I hear in my head, but is it accessible?  Well, to me it is, maybe even to the people reading this, but probably not to the public.  Todays compsoers need to learn one thing, i think:

THINK SIMPLE STUPID!
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« Reply #27 on: Oct 24, 2006, 06:14AM »

hooraayyyy!!!
A call to dumb down music!

What makes Beethoven 5 so memorable is that elements from and allusions to the opening theme appear throughout all 4 movements.  The music is tremendously complex, in that regard.  I am sure that there are some composers who have the mental stamina to sustain and idea, but many have neither the fortitude nor the patience.  As a result, their music is more like a collection of stuuf rather than a cohesive piece.

Complexity (or lack thereof) is not what makes the music memorable.  Examples of music lacking complexity:  Quick! - sing a theme composed by Stamitz - c'mon guys - he was as prolific as Mozart! - Yet his music is very much a generic classical sound....  I am searching my vast intellect for a single theme and coming up empty.....  Another example - the mountains of fly-by-night, boy-meets-girl, pop that is here today, gone tomorrow.  3-5 chords, and if it has a secondary dominant, it is considered profound - Yet no one remembers it unless it was attached to some event like the senior prom.

One of the elements that can make a piece memorable is a smooth flow of ideas.  Throw in all the new stuff you want, but lead me to it from a place I am familiar with.  Allow the music to be a journey, like a train ride, not a teleporter.

PS - Bill McGlaughlin has some really great stuff to say.  Good show, GP.
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« Reply #28 on: Oct 24, 2006, 11:32AM »

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I think that many modern composers have to many BIG ideas, and not enough small ideas - da-da-da-dum.  Of course this is not universal, and many composers still write works based on a single cell.


I guess that I would fall roughly into this category. I tend to be rather motivic in my writing and I will literally beat a motive TO DEATH to make sure that it is securly installed in the listeners' consciousness before proceeding. When I do proceed, it is usually in a manner that explores and clarifies the motive some more. Once that sucker is FIRMLY entrenched in the listeners' minds (ie- by the end of the first movement or large section), I may get cute and play around with it a bit more.

A good example of this is in a brass quintet that I am working on. The entire first movement is based on a 5-note octatonically-derived motive. In the second (slow) movement, I use the exact same motive played backards as the beginning of a lyrical melody. The audience will probably not catch this very clever bit of notework. However, it is my experience that the subconscious of the listener will percieve this to a be cohesive connection to the first movement even though they may not understand the mechanics of it.

I also have to echo Dennis's comments about complexity and memorability. And I would amplify that from the composer's point of view, the task of making music "simple" and cohesive for the listener can be very complex indeed. To construct a whole symphony based on a simple rhythm or a few intervals is a monumental undertaking.

Look at the first movement of Mahler 9. The entire (1/2 hour) movement is based on    #:space1:   . That's right. Just a descending major 2nd. Pretty amazing! And when you dig deeper into Mahler and find out that this interval plays a big role in one of his songs and then find out what word went with those notes, etc, etc, it gets even more profound. Of course, Mahler was a VERY self-referencing composer, bordering on musical narcissism, but that's beside the point.....
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« Reply #29 on: Oct 24, 2006, 11:55AM »

For clarity, I hope nobody thought I was implying Beethoven's 5th (or anything else) was "dumbed down".  Beethoven's music is mind-bogglingly complex.  I was just commenting on the repetitive nature of that single motive, like Dennis said, throughout all 4 movements.
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« Reply #30 on: Oct 24, 2006, 12:06PM »

I think one of the things that makes a piece memorable, or accessible, or _____, is unity.  That unity can be structural, tonal, harmonic, or melodic (or all of the above).  Dennis hit on this:
Quote from: "Dennis K."
What makes Beethoven 5 so memorable is that elements from and allusions to the opening theme appear throughout all 4 movements. The music is tremendously complex, in that regard. I am sure that there are some composers who have the mental stamina to sustain and idea, but many have neither the fortitude nor the patience. As a result, their music is more like a collection of stuuf rather than a cohesive piece.

Yet while the piece itself is complex, the unifying factors are relatively simple.

I'm not quite in the "three blind mice" camp, yet, but I do believe that the Urlinie plays a crucial role in the cohesiveness of a good piece.
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« Reply #31 on: Oct 25, 2006, 03:25PM »

Got the Coriglianos yesterday.  I haven't had a chance to make a careful listen.  (Every time I try to listen, something comes up to keep me from it)
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« Reply #32 on: Oct 25, 2006, 03:49PM »

Quote from: "gpkimzey"
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?


So-called 20th century techniques listed here do not even begin to describe all the ideas for organizing and introducing new ideas to music that happened in the 20th century. How about we focus on the ideas that actually have more widespread appeal rather than try to make the ideas that were unpopular with audiences successful?
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« Reply #33 on: Oct 25, 2006, 03:52PM »

I'm good with that.  Please elaborate.
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« Reply #34 on: Oct 25, 2006, 07:18PM »

Well, there's the obvious wealth of ideas available in the American Jazz and Rock forms, not to mention hip-hop, bluegrass, blues, etc.

Classical music in the true sense - when we call it the classical period and before - used common dance forms extensively. That's really not so today; at least, I haven't seen much of our "classical" music that borrows a great deal from our American dance music. Sure, there's some jazz, but not that much in the grand scheme of things. And EXTREMELY rarely, someone borrows ideas from the Beatles or some other more recent development.

This is especially true for borrowing rhythmic ideas, which is odd because this is where American popular music has been the most innovative.

Suites from operas were very popular at one time - suites from movies are very popular today (look at how successful the Lord of the Rings Suite that Howard Shore put together for orchestra was), but still not very common.

That's listing the things that classical music hasn't done a good job with lately as whole; there are plenty of things that are happening now that are great that I think have a lot of potential for audience that just aren't getting talked about much in this thread - things developed by the likes of Igor Stravinski, Toru Takemitsu, Lutoslawski, and John Adams, that include extreme orchestations, tone palettes of different kinds (that do not include serial techniques) rhythmic complexities (not necessarily danceable, but interesting nonetheless, especially Stravinski and Adams), fusing some different kinds of music into the classical repertoire (Bela Fleck/Edgar Meyer), etc.
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« Reply #35 on: Oct 25, 2006, 07:33PM »

More! More!

Specifically, what would you compose, how, and why?

(Not trying to be combative, I just want more information)
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« Reply #36 on: Oct 25, 2006, 07:53PM »

I suppose the obvious answer would be to write a suite for orchestra of popular dance forms - a funk tune, an old swing tune, a rock tune, a heavy metal tune, some hip-hop thrown in, etc.

To make this work, the orchestration would likely have to be rethought as well - no cheesy canned rhythm section will do; it has to ROCK and be TIGHT.
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« Reply #37 on: Oct 25, 2006, 07:59PM »

Quote from: "Andrew Meronek"

To make this work, the orchestration would likely have to be rethought as well - no cheesy canned rhythm section will do; it has to ROCK and be TIGHT.


Yeah, and even a world class orchestra would have difficulty with the rhythms, I think.  It has been my experience that most "classically" trained string players can't feel pop rhythms - they are mathmatically correct, but oh so wrong.  Maybe I've just worked with the wrong ones, though.

Good ideas!  I actually started a blues piano sonata based on a shuffle, ballad and _________ (never did decide what I wanted to put the third movement into).  Maybe I oughtta dig that thing out and dust it off. Grin
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« Reply #38 on: Oct 25, 2006, 08:13PM »

I think that a world class orchestra would have less trouble than you'd think, given a great orchestration. Just after a bit of musing, I can tell you that I'd only use the strings for melody and effects. Their attacks aren't precise enough to play rhythm section kind of figures.

There are a couple instruments that could be good with power chord type voicings - especially trombones. Way cool

Hmmmm . . . I'll have to think about this more.
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« Reply #39 on: Oct 25, 2006, 08:16PM »

Oh, yeah.  Bones, trumpets, saxes (for those orchestras that use them).
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« Reply #40 on: Oct 26, 2006, 05:00AM »

Quote from: "Andrew Meronek"
I suppose the obvious answer would be to write a suite for orchestra of popular dance forms - a funk tune, an old swing tune, a rock tune, a heavy metal tune, some hip-hop thrown in, etc.

To make this work, the orchestration would likely have to be rethought as well - no cheesy canned rhythm section will do; it has to ROCK and be TIGHT.


I think this concept is intrinsically interesting, and I have certainly been influenced by these things in my writing. I like to listen to rock, alternative, punk, techno, and some others. It is hard to keep what you love to listen to out of what you write!

That said, I think that it is very hard to write compelling orchestral music which is very closely based on modern forms of pop music. There ARE exceptions, of course, but most modern pop music has little intrinsic (that is, melodic or harmonic) musical merit and most of what makes it appealing to the listener are the vocals, the beat, and that all-important production factor. Ever listen to an acoustic version of a great newer rock song? Sometimes they are really lame without all the studio effects! They just don't stand up on musical merit alone. But like I said, there ARE exceptions.

So what about jazz, latin, funk, bluegrass, etc. They certainly have more intrinsic musical interest than pop musics, but I feel that they do not transcribe well to orchestra because they lose something that cannot BE transcribed: STYLE. Not to mention that these musics have developed around a particular timbral pallete which is not easy to replicate with orchestral instruments alone.

I will offer a personal caveat here. I feel that when orchestras try to play rock, or swing, or latin, or country, or whatever, that the result is most often a weak, uninspiring mishmash that loses the true character of both the orchestra and whatever music is being played. I feel that the orchestra is a true ensemble in its own right, that it has a musical heritage and a "style", if you will, and that it should MOSTLY sink or swim based on playing its own "type" of music. I don't think that orchestras should exist simply to regurgitate "classical" versions of current pop fads.

On the flip side of that, I would say that bluegrass bands should MOSTLY stick to playing bluegrass. If bluegrass bands had to play Mozart to keep from starving, then I would have to say that bluegrass was a dying music. I believe that orchestral music can be reinvigorated from within, on its own terms, and does not need to use pop music as a "crutch".

The final point in my argument against "popifying" orchestral music is that many of the classical stalwarts, who are avid concertgoers and whose ears are offended by 20th century writing, would be just as offended by hearing hip-hop in the concert hall as they would by hearing Schoenberg. (Now I may have misunderstood Gary here, but I interpreted the point of his original post to be about writing modern music which appeals to "Mozart" ears, rather than "Brittney Spears" ears. Sorry if I was incorrect in that assumption.)

Now please bear in mind that these comments only apply to orchestral writing. If a composer wants to write in these various styles for more appropriate instrumentations, or for different audiences, then I think that is great. Also, I realize that this is the real world, and that there are mouths to feed, and concert halls to fill, etc. A few pieces of "novelty" music here and there are not going to bring orchestral culture crashing down, and are probably a good thing for getting orchestral string players to get their heads out of their stylistic butts once in awhile!

I am certainly not an orchestra "snob", and I welcome new and different approaches to writing music for it. However, I think that I'll leave the pop to the  Brittneys of the world.....
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« Reply #41 on: Oct 26, 2006, 05:05AM »

Oops, forgot to mention that anything goes on a pops concert! (I think that pops concerts tend to draw a different crowd and are by nature a venue for lighter and non-traditional music for the orchestra.)

Also, I HAVE observed some acceptable use of pop influence in a few modern (non-orchestral) pieces. One that jumps to the front of my mind at the moment is the slow mvmt. of the De Meij T-bone Concerto. Take the melodies from that mvmt., put sappy words to them, add drum machine, and voila, instant pop hits!
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« Reply #42 on: Oct 26, 2006, 06:29AM »

What you guys a discussing is a fusion of pop and art genres.  
Beware - you may end up with such wonderful works as "A Fifth of Beethoven" - that awful Disco version from Saturday Night Fever done by the BeeGees, then arranged for orchestra - I really need to find that barfy emoticon....
The idea of fusing styles certainly has both merit and precedent.  The problem arises in that, from an artistic standpoint, the fused styles tend to have elements that are superficially tacked on, as opposed to being an organic part of the composition.  Thus you end up with 5ths of Beethoven.
Bela Bartok clearly showed a fusion of musical styles - but he did it in a much more involved fashion.  He did not simply "arrange" orchestra music in a folk style.  He spent many years immersing himself in the style - listening, transcribing, analyzing, recording - then he walked away from it, to let it ferment in his mind until "it came back as his mother tongue."  (his words).

What must be avoided is trying to arrange in a style, and passing it off as art - Think of that hip-hop sax arrangement of the Bach Air on the G String. (barfy emoticon).  New World Symphony with a drum beat.  (barfy emoticon). etc.
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« Reply #43 on: Oct 26, 2006, 07:20AM »

Dennis, couldn't agree more. Well put.
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« Reply #44 on: Oct 26, 2006, 08:06AM »

Quote from: "Dave Tatro"
(Now I may have misunderstood Gary here, but I interpreted the point of his original post to be about writing modern music which appeals to "Mozart" ears, rather than "Brittney Spears" ears. Sorry if I was incorrect in that assumption.)

Nope.  Your assumption was a correct understanding of my original question.

BUT - what about "Rhapsody in Blue"?  Certainly it is art music.  Certainly it is jazz-influenced (jazz to most people's ears, but sans improv).  I agree caution must be used to avoid campy, crappy cat-foody music.
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« Reply #45 on: Oct 26, 2006, 08:42AM »

I would suggest that those pieces are fine examples of new elements being incorporated organicly into a composition.
The same could be said of Prokofiev's Classical symphony - classical form and instrumentation, with a more modern harmonic palette.
A great composer will take elements from another style and bring out those elements in a new context - much in the way that  lighting can change the apearance of a sculpture.  We see this approach frquently in visual art mediums.  The aforementioned 5th of Beethoven (barfy emoticon) is the musical equivalent of hotel room art.

Signed,
Dennis - whose analogies are worth 1000 words, especially when they are 1000 words.
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« Reply #46 on: Oct 26, 2006, 08:58AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."


Signed,
Dennis - whose analogies are worth 1000 words, especially when they are 100 words.


LOL Grin

[edit]Hey, you changed it!  I liked it better ^ that way!
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« Reply #47 on: Oct 26, 2006, 10:17AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."
I would suggest that those pieces are fine examples of new elements being incorporated organicly into a composition.


I tend to agree with that, Dennis.  It brings us back, I think, to the original question, which (restated) was, "How do we organically incorporate new elements or techniques into a composition is such a way that they are accessible to the average listener/concertgoer."  

Of course, that question assumes that the average listener = the average concertgoer, which may not be the case.
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« Reply #48 on: Oct 26, 2006, 11:41PM »

I've been working on a work for orchestra which is basically adaptations of some progressive metal/rock charts.  I think it works quite well.  The parts, however, are highly technical and hard to play.  I can almost play all the trombone part to speed...

I'll shove it up on my site.  You'll be able to hear it by downloading the 'scorch' plugin.  There will be a link at the bottom of the page.

Tell me what you think so far (some of the percussion doesnt play correctly btw - theres some random whistles and things that arent meant to be there)!

Only the first couple of bars of the second movement are there.  The third movements there.  There shouldn't be any pizzing in the strings though...

http://tromscriptions.com/ness/Hommage%20to%20a%20Dream.htm
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« Reply #49 on: Oct 27, 2006, 12:41AM »

I think good music, of any era, of any style, has a balance of UNITY and VARIETY.
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« Reply #50 on: Oct 27, 2006, 01:53PM »

i would just like to throw out some more names of 20th century composers who are making/have made beautiful, or tonal, or accessible, or just plain amazing music.  
-lukas foss (my girlfriend's string quartet is just learning one of his pieces- it's incredible.  pretty badass.)
-john adams, i'd like to second (there was a piece he wrote for 9/11 that is pretty darn haunting.)
-steve reich (even if you're not into "minimalist" ideas, his music is beautiful)
-ligeti
-Arvo Part!  i almost forgot.  he's one of my favorite composers of the past 100 years.  his works are so beautiful and amazing.  he has done a lot of choral music, he was kind of into a sort of "neo-chant."  anyway, seriously, if you think that people aren't doing tonal/listenable/just plain AMAZING music, please check out arvo part!  

i can never think of as many composers as i'd like... but that's a good start.  

oh yeah- i would also like to recommend the band Rachel's.  they do sort of chamber music with an indie-rock/post-rock vibe to it.  same deal with Godspeed, You Black Emperor, although they're a little bit less accessible.  but no less amazing, in my opinion.
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« Reply #51 on: Dec 21, 2006, 09:56AM »

About 22 years ago a music publishing company was founded and devoted to issuing audience-friendly contemporary music - BRIXTON PUBLICATIONS. It is difficult to find new music which has substance, originality, and audience appeal, but I think Brixton does a pretty good job of it. You can read about the compositions (and hear some sound samples) at http://www.brixtonpublications.com/trombone-2.html
This music is not avante guarde, but is at times progressive.

Also, it is possible to write avante guarde music which has audience appeal to old and young, sophisticated and not. I think a good example of this would be CAMEL MUSIC by Howard Buss (published by Smith Publications). Sound samples are on the composer's web site at http://www.brixtonpublications.com/list_of_compositions-2.html

I hope this helps.
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« Reply #52 on: Dec 21, 2006, 10:47AM »

I think a good example of this would be CAMEL MUSIC by Howard Buss (published by Smith Publications).

That's you, right?  Brian ponders why Howard Buss refers to himself in the third person. :D
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« Reply #53 on: Dec 21, 2006, 11:58AM »

I heard a CD of string quartet records of AC/DC tunes.  It definitely wasn't my cup of tea, but it wasn't all bad.

Copland's popular works evoked contemporary styles without mimicking them.  Maybe today's composers should be influenced by pop styles without consciously writing them--it's the music they grew up with. In other words, it's a more organic process--instead of "This is school music and this is the other kind," saying, "This is music".
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« Reply #54 on: Dec 21, 2006, 04:06PM »

I heard a CD of string quartet records of AC/DC tunes.  It definitely wasn't my cup of tea, but it wasn't all bad.

They have done these for many different rock groups, and I guess it's a gig....

Many of the newer composers that I have been hearing lately do seem to have received at least some inspiration from today's pop styles.

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« Reply #55 on: Dec 25, 2006, 09:47PM »

While falling somewhere outside what we're talking about slightly.

There is Apocolyptica. They're a metal cello trio from some Scandinavian country. You can search them on google video. While their music leans more towards just metal with a different axe it is still interesting to see classically trained musicians branching into that area.


As for balancing popular music and art music. I think it's one thing to take existing material and pop it up, and another totally to write while infusing certain popular elements into it. I know I wrote an arrangement of Dear Old Stockholm for big band, and in the development section, there would be alternating sections of straight ahead swing, and then sections of what I can "swing funk" that is popular in contemporary gospel and hip hop music. Whenever I would play it for any of my students that's where the head-nodding or toe-tapping really started.

I think it's more important to selectively infuse art music with elements of popular music - Not try to "pop up" classics, or to write arrangements of pop tunes for art ensembles.
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« Reply #56 on: Dec 30, 2006, 11:00PM »

i think that maybe the answer lies in popular forms as performed by the forward-thinking avant-garde of the pop scene... much like Tropicalia founder and composer Tom Ze... look to people like Beck(The Information), Radiohead(Kid A), Sonic Youth(Murray Street), Jim O'Rourke(Insignificance), Richard Thompson(Grizzly Man)... i think most of my favourite current avant-classical yet accessible music is coming from people like these... who get you with a hook and a beat, but the more you listen, the more you hear just how progressive people's ears can be trained to be!!!

justin
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« Reply #57 on: Jan 23, 2007, 11:43AM »

I tend to agree with Mike Suter .  I think some of the problem maybe in the "advertising". 

As a band director my hardest job is picking music for the kids.   You want to pick music that a)they can play  b)fits the ensemble c)educates them (historically, theoretically, or stylistically).  However quite a few people forget another BIG factor... e)Audience friendliness.  I tried to pick mostly tunes that are familiar, popular or that you can grasp the idea of easily.  But I also try to expose the audience to new or different things as well (aleatoric, tone clusters, etc)


Without an audience we are doomed.  If we only pick music to make the "musicians" happy there might not be an audience.

I think any audience wants to hear something they recognize, or that they "think" they recognize (sounds familiar).  Once an orchestra, jazz band, or any performer has a following they can start adding pieces to the repertoire that are "out there" or new.  However to draw in that audience is the problem.

People want to hear the song that is on the radio live.
If you go see Chicago in concert and you don't here "Saturday in the Park", "25 or 6 to 4", etc. you may feel slighted, especially if you have never seen them live before. 
But if they do all the favorites and slip in a few new songs you are more likely to buy into those new ones.

I saw James Taylor in an interview where somebody asked him if he gets tired of playing "Fire and Rain". He responded by saying that during sound checks there have been some very interesting versions of the song. However he knows that there is at least one person in the crowd who has never heard him play that live and he performs for that person.
I am sure that he could almost play it in his sleep and it is not a "challenge" for him to play it, but it helps the audience keep coming back.

Another issue is the exposure (or lack of) instrumental groups in the media. When is the last time you the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on MTV?  People need to be exposed to Jazz Bands, Orchestras, and such.  PBS in my hometown used to have the Boston Pops and classical concerts quite often, but not as much anymore.  As an educator I feel that not only do we to expose the kids to the music but also to the ensembles. I know most of us on this forum could do this, but how many kids sitting in a high school orchestra, jazz band or wind ensemble can name 3 professionals on their instrument? Not very many.  How many kids on a high school football team can name at least 3 pro football players? They can probably name half the NFL.
Why?  Because the media (TV and Print) have sports on all the time.  Kids see it everywhere, you can't miss it.  Where do the see "Classical Music", on some DVD in the class room?

Some orchestras are doing some nice things. I know the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has open rehearsals with free tickets for school groups (I am sure there are others.).  I friend of mine took his school group and they loved it, but had no idea what an orchestra was until that day!?!?

If we can get more people to be aware of "good ensembles" and  keep the audience in mind, that could help the matter.

Sorry for rambling.
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« Reply #58 on: Mar 27, 2009, 06:41PM »

It looks like a lot of time has passed since this thread ended -- sort of.  It is something worth continuing today -- 3 + years later.

To me too much attention has been given to gimmicks and fads.  Not that things like matrices and 12 tone process aren't good it is just that no one (the listening audience) really understands what's going on with them. The trouble with the major pieces of yesteryear, is that they no longer exploit the the technology of the instruments that we have today.  They did so very well of what was available to the composers then, but not now.  Composers need to learn to harness all of the power that is at their disposal.  They also need to see that many musicians today are more versatile and developed than their counter parts of 100 years ago.  I have often said that film-score music is the classical music of this century.  I really believe that it could be except for the fact that the genre requires scores to be compilations of bits and pieces of themes, and each of these themess could be developed into some very great works.

I also believe that today's formal musical presentations lack sensory appeal.  We go. We sit in a darkend room. We listen.  We leave.  I feel like a lop-sided inner tube after things like this.  Today's audiences like interaction, they like seeing things related to the music.  They like being brought into the process.

One other thing.  Formal, classical orchestras have historically worked under the come-to-hear-us-here mentality.  In my experience is hasn't been hard to see that there is a vast listening audience that resides on the fringes of the sphere of influence for most major orchestras. These folks are too far out both geographically and economically to be able to make it to the symphony.  It is time to take the show on the road.  Get some sponsors --they are out there and easy enough to find -- to defray the cost of transporting a group of musicians, and take the music to the people.
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« Reply #59 on: Apr 13, 2009, 08:33AM »

Here is a relevant essay by Ben Johnston:

How To Cook An Albatross

And here's an interview with Ben from that same website:

http://www.newmusicbox.org/page.nmbx?id=4935

As a guy who studied with the likes of Harry Partch, John Cage, and Milton Babbit, and who, during his composing career, has created some really excellent, modern music, he has some interesting things to say. :)
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« Reply #60 on: Apr 13, 2009, 08:41AM »

Fascinating essay, Andrew.  Thanks for posting the link.
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« Reply #61 on: May 07, 2009, 05:37AM »

And there is a vast field where composers are working in various kinds of multimeida events, writing pieces which mix lots of influences from all over the world.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyWHUQew1MU

Like that.

I think we must start re-interpreting what classical music is (or is supposed to be) - although some of this is indeed going on now

Tim

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« Reply #62 on: May 07, 2009, 12:18PM »


And here's an interview with Ben from that same website:

http://www.newmusicbox.org/page.nmbx?id=4935


From the article linked -
"The eighteenth century might indulge in idolatry . . . but it was the distinction of the nineteenth century to develop the cult of musical necrolatry"

Thanks, Andrew, "necrolatry" may be my new favorite word!  Good!
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« Reply #63 on: May 07, 2009, 03:08PM »

My pleasure.

 Good!
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« Reply #64 on: Oct 26, 2010, 06:28PM »

Necrolatry.  Hmmm.

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