And it doesn’t want to be called “classical.”
Or anything else, for that matter.
Back to that in a bit. It is a gorgeous day in New York City. Bright and sunny, fresh snow (and, yes, the subsequent slush).
Here for a semester plus a bit, I’m developing a new course (or courses) for DePauw on career skills for classical musicians and new trends in classical music presentation. The latter includes the intermingling of formerly discrete genres (i.e., classical, jazz, indie rock, etc.) and what for 20th-century-mindset classical musicians are non-traditional venues.
Like bars and clubs and coffee houses. It’s fascinating. There’s a ton of it going on in New York, which is why I am here, as a kind of informal, self-appointed ethnomusicologist doing field research. (And participating a bit, too.)
I arrived last Thursday, January 13, and after dropping my bags off at a friend’s apartment, headed directly to the Times Square Westin for most of the day’s pre-conference sessions at Chamber Music America’s 33rd Annual Conference “The Next Generation: Traditions and trends.” I was just a bit late for a “The Next-Gen Musician,” a panel discussion moderated by WQXR‘s Terrance McKnight, with composer/performers Gabriel Kahane, Missy Mazzoli, and Tyshawn Sorey. And, wow, was it ever the perfect start to my research here.
Somehow I had been thinking that my job was to research new ways of presenting classical music. New settings, less formal. Side-by-side with other genres. But this group smacked my thinking upside my head, big time.
All three of the panelists were impatient and frustrated with the very idea of genre labels for music. It’s clear they live in a new, post-genere paradigm and are waiting for the rest of us (or younger generations) to catch on. Kahane spoke of “creating a space free of genres” (that might be a paraphrase, my notes aren’t clear), a “clean slate” where whatever needs to be expressed can be. Their music draws on and combines elements of music from the multiple-genres paradigm. What little I’ve heard, though, is really more than an eclectic mix or classcalizing of other musics. Something new is being born.
He was picking up on McKnight’s comment that today’s composers don’t need to express the emotions that Bach and Beethoven, for example, did so well. That was a really great point, explaining, among other things, why so many of us go back to Bach and Beethoven. Which McNight later said he does, along with Ellington and host of others.
Missy Mazzoli praised the Ecstatic Music Festival as a place that is genreless. Sorey spoke with a frustration bordering on resentment about how difficult it is for a drummer/composer to get performances; later he explained with what seemed to be more than a touch of resigned-to-deal-with-other-people’s-realities that he has his music organized into separate “tracks” (solo, chamber, jazz, etc.) for the sake of presenters.
“My music can function anywhere,” he said, and that is a key point. Kahane (reminding me of Christopher Small’s book Musicking: A Ritual in Social Space and other writings) that the rooms in which we present music are political statements, and emphasized that it is as important to think about “the frame of what we present as well as what we present.”
They talked about a lot more than I can describe in one blog post. Especially fascinating was Missy Mazzoli’s description of having her self-described “chamber-rock” band Victoire perform a piece she originally wrote for traditional classical instruments and thereby having the music reach a new, indie-rock audience.
Over the following three days, I heard many young musicians perform and speak. They don’t like genre labels. Genre labels don’t make sense to them. And neither does the idea that some music is “better” than others. But what to call it? And how to promote it outside of areas like New York where this phenomenon, whatever it is, is well-established? Big questions, the topic of much discussion by musicians, managers, and presenters alike.
More to come.