Today’s post offers an invitation, a request, and a screed.
Come one; come all; please: I have a premiere coming up on March 11 at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, California; 8 PM. The concert will take place under the auspices of Composers, Inc., an organization dedicated to the performance of new American music currently celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. My piece – scored for piano and string quartet – is entitled “Invasive Species”. It will be performed by the spectacular Alexander String Quartet and the brilliant Roger Woodward. A program note for the piece appears in the link below.
Composers, Inc. is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds that will be used to pay the performers and defray the costs of the concert. This link will take you to the Kickstarter page, and I humbly beg, beseech, and implore you to contribute towards this event. Any amount would be wonderful, though I would point out that $75 or more is going to cadge you an invitation to a party at my house in the hills of Oakland, CA, at which I will mix you a martini, feed you, and, once sodden enough myself, play piano for you. If distance should preclude your attendance at either the concert and/or the party, know that my gratitude for your help is still boundless.
As indicated above, the Kickstarter page below features a program note for “Invasive Species”.
I’ve come a full 180 degrees when it comes to program notes. When I was young and stupid (meaning when I was that most ignorant and arrogant of creatures, a graduate student), I believed the modernist creed, which said that program notes were beneath contempt, the refuge of compositional scoundrel. According to modernist musical dogma, a piece of music exists only in reference to itself and thus is entirely self-explanatory; an audience must be able to tell what it is “about” simply by listening to it. Over the course of time, I have come to realize that this modernist rejection of program notes was a strictly defensive position, as the vast majority of modernist music wasn’t “about” anything at all, except perhaps “ugly”. Such music is “process music”, works written according to a pre-compositional formula: toss your pitches, rhythms, articulations and dynamics into a blender, hit puree, and pour the results willy-nilly (do you love that word as much as I do?) and pour the results WILLY-NILLY onto music paper. “Composing” according to such pre-compositional formulas allowed its so-called “composers” to avoid entirely such irksome trivialities as emotional and spiritual expressive content as well as the tiresome inconvenience of taking responsibility for what a piece actually sounded like and MEANT. In fact, beyond the formula used to create it, such music doesn’t “mean” anything; it’s like the Seinfeld show, only without Seinfeld’s grace, humor, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
So. Program notes. A good program note gives an audience a leg up on the meaning and content of a piece of music: something on which to hang its ears. This is especially important in the case of a premiere performance, for which an audience has no context for what it is about to hear. Yes, some program notes – especially those written by composers themselves – can be tedious, self-indulgent documents that function more as an excuse for a piece than an explanation. Yes, some program notes are so dry as to virtually suck, lamprey-like, all the life juice from our bodies. And yes, some program notes are actually better than the music they introduce. To which I say: so freaking what? I’ll take a program note any day – particularly one written by a composer – over no note at all. Such a note forces a composer to articulate to her/his audience what that audience is going to receive in return for the time it is about to invest. It allows a composer to democratize a piece by sharing something of what he/she knows about the work. Most importantly, by helping to direct and prioritize listening, a program note helps an audience to hear more fluently and connect more deeply with the music itself.
Please, check out the link below and contribute to your heart’s content. Hope to see you in Berkeley on March 11. For tickets, please visit the Composer Inc website.