Much Ado About Doing Nothing

   
My Grandpa Kendrick used to say, "The wishbone is a lot stonger than the backbone." Isn't that a timeless nugget of wisdom? It's so much easier to complain and to wish "things weren't the way they were" then to actually do something to change things for the better.

I was reminded of Grandpa this weekend, reading a blog lamenting the state new music finds itself in.  The author was very clear at identifying the problems, and also did a great job "wishing those problems didn't exist." 

Frankly, I've just grown tired of this type of drivel.  Anyone - ANYONE - can identify problems, and mock up fantasy 'what if' scenarios about how the world would be a better place if only these things were different.  My friends, it's high time that I threw down the gauntlet.

What the hell are you going to do about the problems facing new music, Mr. Blogger!?  What's your action plan, and how you will execute it to make the scene a little better?  The time for fantasies and mindless complaining is over - it's time for some action!

For example, many bloggers lament the state of new music in the orchestral world, bemoaning the continual programming of tried and true warhorses (Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky) over works by living composers.  I will agree, this is a problem.  So, should we just accept the situation as the 'law of the land', and lay down and whimper about it, or should we come up with some practical solutions to implement in our own city, where we can make a difference?

I challenge composers everywhere to choose the latter.  If enough of us can effect change in our local orchestra, eventually we can change the landscape of the whole country.

Take, for example, the efforts of composers in Cedar Rapids, the home of our wonderful local orchestra, Orchestra Iowa. Recently, a composer headed up the search committee for Orchestra Iowa's new music director.  Acting in this capacity, the composer helped to ensure that the new maestro was a supporter of new music.  

Secondly, five of the fifteen members of Orchestra Iowa's artistic committee are local composers (including yours truly).  Orchestra Iowa's artistic committee is charged with helping the music director determine the programs for upcoming seasons.  Imagine the power five advocates for new music have when it comes to programming decisions.   We've been able to successfully advocate for the inclusion of music by living composers and for 20th century works by American composers.  In fact, for the 2009-10 season, there were orchestral works represented by seven living Iowa composers - a tremendous victory!  

There are other ways composers can advocate for the music of living composers in the orchestral world.  From 2006-08, I was able to work with the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony toward an entire concert  of new music by living composers.  I raised $13,000 in grants for the effort, and realized that composers, in general, can greatly effect change by learning how to fund the projects they are interested in pursuing.  

Composers are bright, intelligent people.  We are capable of looking at the music of our predecessors, and deconstructing the musical artifice, to learn how the system of the piece works.  I'm confident that we can apply these same types of thinking to learn how musical organizations function.  Upon obtaining this knowledge, we can get involved with the appropriate decision making bodies to effect real change in these organizations.  

  
"But, how can I get involved initially?" you ask.

First of all, see if you know someone that performs in the ensemble and strike up a conversation.  Alternatively, take a minute to visit the organization's webpage to learn about the executive staff (Administration) and the board of directors.  You might find that your doctor or dentist (or someone else you know) serves on the board.  See if you can take them to lunch to learn more about how the ensemble makes programming decisions.  Or, try contacting the executive staff to learn about volunteer opportunities, where you can make some connections that may lead to meaningful relationships with the musical director, board, or administrative staff. Finally, keep your eye out for opportunities to serve on the organization's artistic committee, its development committee, or its board of directors.  Once you're in place, offer information to help demystify the whole process of commissioning a piece, use your knowledge of contemporary composers to help offer programming choices that may be appealing, and ask other composers to serve on these committees as openings become available.  

But, getting back to my blogging friends who are concerned about the representation of new music in orchestral programs...with the state of the economy, and the prospects that some local orchestras may fold their tents over the next few years, it may very well be the bottom of the ninth inning for new orchestral music.  But I'm not willing to accept the idea that this is 'the end'.  We're far from that!  I, for one, and not going to sit idly by and bitch and moan, while others determine the fate of new music.  Let's work together to effect real cultural change in these institutions - inspiring and emboldening one another along the way.  

Get out there with me, and swing the bat!  

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Comments

  • 6/30/2010 7:35 PM Duroje Gwamna wrote:
    This is well said sir! It's a fresh blast of optimism and response to the public that fuels new music. The thing that turns me off about many composers is that they consider their art to be extremely highbrow, sophisticated works only to be understood by other composers. While this is a great way of fortifying one's skill by the nourishing collaboration of other composers, it doesn't necessarily mean the listeners would appreciate it as much. At the same time I don't want to be a sellout that resorts to completely sticking to the popular styles that inflate the airwaves you know? But like you said, it would be great to win this battle. As a witness of singing your choir piece, I can already attest to the well-fought victory@ Thanks again for the read

    Duroje Gwamna
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    1. 6/30/2010 8:51 PM Ralph wrote:
      Thanks for your support Duroje and for taking the time to read and respond to this post.  I think there is a middle ground when it comes to writing music where you are creating a product that is good art and accessible at the same time.  I've been trying to simplify my writing of late, not writing simple music mind you, but music that is fairly easy and satisfying to perform and still creates a good aural product.  I'm still trying to find the exact right spot, but with each attempt I get a little closer.  What's interesting about the choral piece you sang, was it was intended for a church choir... so I missed the mark there a little bit I think, as it became more complicated than a normal church choir can do.  But it ended up being a nice piece for a college choir to tackle, so you live and learn.  My next church choir piece will hopefully be at the right difficulty level.  Keep pluggin' away sir!
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    1. 11/2/2010 10:59 AM Ralph wrote:
      Thank you very much for your kind words and for taking the time to read the blog and respond.  Please come back often and check out my latest postings! 
      Reply to this
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