It has been an "extra fabulous" week of learning for my ears and brain
here as a PSO staff member. As a part of her time as our Composer of
the Year, Jennifer Higdon was here this week to spend time with the
orchestra and the staff as her piece, blue cathedral, was
prepared for weekend performance. Jennifer will be here in our offices
and with the orchestra several times throughout the year, allowing her
to form a true relationship with the PSO on a level that (due to the
nature of the business) we usually don’t get to enjoy with other
composers. In my opinion, this opportunity is especially meaningful
given her place as an outstanding composer of modern music and her
ability to speak about music in a way that is so human and universal.
In the moments that I have had the privilege of hearing Jennifer
speak- whether it be at our PSO Annual Meeting as the guest speaker or
informally here in our offices- she has spurred many thoughts in my own
mind about the nature of modern music. We talked with her a bit about
the "iPod phenomenon"- how music is now easily and immediately
juxtaposed against other music given recent inventions like the iPod.
She mentioned that the composition students she works with almost all
own iPods, and that they contain not Mozart, not Scriabin, but an
assortment of pieces from other walks of musical life. It was so
reassuring to hear a modern composer speak openly about her respect for
other forms of music and how they play a part in composition and
everyday life. You can hear Jennifer’s awareness of music as a whole
in her pieces. To me, they represent an openness about what classical
music can be and reflect Jennifer’s ability to acknowledge all types of
music around her and how their sounds can come together to produce
growth for the art form as a whole.
Jennifer’s awareness and holistic appreciation of music caused me to
think at length this week about the classical music world and what
might be possible if we all opened our eyes and ears to music "foreign"
to our lives. As a matter of total personal opinion from a person who
works in support of a symphony orchestra and loves classical music, I
often worry that we as classical music lovers are quick to judge other
forms of music and thereby miss opportunities to allow ourselves to
grow as listeners. Along the same lines, I fear that we often fail to
invite lovers of other forms of music to fully join us in learning more
about the classical music world. On my iPod, I have music by rap
groups OutKast and by Kanye West, I have jazz by Miles Davis, I have
zydeco music, I have Moby, the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash. I love
these artists and musical genres because somewhere along the way,
someone invited me to love them. Someone who admired Kanye West said I
needed to stop to listen to the art of his voice. The jazz program at
my college welcomed me in as a non-jazzer to learn more about Miles and
grow to love him. All of these invitations came from others who knew I
also played the horn and loved Beethoven and Brahms. My love for
classical music or even my naivety about other forms of music wasn’t
criticized. I was simply invited to enjoy new worlds of music and
connect them to the classical world I knew. I didn’t have to promise
to love the art form- just to try it and learn a bit about it. And the
invitation was a powerful thing in my world as a classical musician and
music listener. I hope that as classical music listeners, we can
always remember to welcome others into the world of classical music as
openly as other music communities have welcomed us into theirs.
Classical music becomes alive when we invite others to share it and
learn about it with us- no judgment passed on musical backgrounds or
Popular music has found a way to highlight connections across
musical forms and use them to encourage artistic growth. I believe
that this is a key to the success of such genres among listeners.
Listen to the Beastie Boys- their art comes thrives in the way they pay
attention to sampling of other songs. How about listening to Ben
Harper play with Robert Randolph? Blues and funk/soul combine to
produce a new sort of music that honors both genres and excites
listeners. Growth comes when new sounds are explored and new audiences
are invited to enjoy them. Respect needs to be paid to all types of
music for the special art they convey and their potential to influence
new music from other genres.
So…thanks, Jennifer. I heard that respect in your words and in blue cathedral.
Whether you knew it or not, you reminded this iPod owner and admirer of
your compositions of just how important it is to the life of classical
music to continue to think about the music world in a holistic way, and
to think about music listeners as people who need to be constantly
invited to enjoy new worlds of sound. It’s only then that any of us
really continue to grow, musically.