Thursday, November 5, 2009

Requiring higher education to comprehend

I recently received a request for submissions for a contemporary music composition concert, which happens to be taking place in the city of Eagle Rock, California, where I once studied the craft. In it was this light bit of manifesto:
The theme of this concert is music, literature, and art that evoke in the listener some aspect of the human emotional experience (i.e., love/pain/sorrow/fear/madness/ laughter/faith/hope/etc.). The key is that this music needs to be emotionally expressive, relatable, and readily accessible to the average listener (this of course doesn’t mean that the music necessarily needs to be programmatic). Avant-garde, atonal, experimental music, or compositions that require higher education to comprehend it are simply not appropriate for the theme of this concert.
I was incensed of course, on finding myself transported to a mirror world where not only left was right but up was down, where all that I knew and loved and up with which I grew was no longer true or meet or right or salutary and that my previous notion, that the music I had listened to from my childhood and thought relatable, expressive and more was actually not so. I trashed the email in a huff, but then, later, I untrashed it, and read and read and dissected it, dwelling on it, working myself into a fit. I googled the composers, the venue, every major noun in it, and brought forth the firehose of data from the net, fascinated.

Was anything learned? Probably nothing of value, but I did stop at some intriguing waypoints. One of the composers had a link to bring up a UI where one could listen to his works, which were divided into categories and from there, subcategories, e.g.: Action/Adventure, Asian, Atmospheric, Ballet, Comedy, ... through the alphabet to Whimsical. In the Asian category: Into the Mists of Asia, where we find the subdescription: From the mists of Asian forest, a hero appears to reunite the Shaolin warriors. In another: Frost Fills the Enchanted Woods, where: Entering an enchanted grove, Aerlyn looks around at the frost that is draped across the wood. Listening, I found a sure hand at the synthesized orchestra tiller, and music which did indeed well match the bromidic descriptions, reminding me of when, working on a Henry Rosenthal production, he showed me the batch of nearly identical cassettes which had arrived through the post after the production was announced in Variety or the Hollywood Reporter or wherever, each bearing on the small label the composer's name and a listing of the contents: (1) action (2) romance (3) ...
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