Frankly, I’ve never understood why there has—until recently—been such a demarcation between genres in music. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been enormously responsive to music, independent of genre. I know I’m not alone in this, especially in today’s eclectic musical environment, but for many people, classical music’s vaunted tradition excluded an appreciation of popular or folkloric forms—and heaven forfend that any classical composer should write something as shallow as film music! Fortunately, my open nature allowed me to at once love rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, Brazilian samba, and South African popular styles such as mbaqanga (township music), and hold a particularly reverent fascination with Indian forms, while immersing myself into the vastly diverse realms referred to as concert or classical music. I believe this enabled me to survive the shark-infested waters of the classical establishment, especially at Columbia University, where I received my doctorate in composition, and Tanglewood, where I studied with 12-tone icon George Perle. Of course, these institutions weren’t fatally dangerous, and I basically ignored any insinuation that my love of “non-classical” forms was a kind of intellectual or artistic weakness, because they were wrong: it was a sign of creative strength and somehow, in my heart, I knew it.I have always understood this demarcation because of my personal musical journey. As you can see from my post yesterday about my mother, who was a fiddler, I come from non-classical roots. As a teenager I encountered rock music and started my professional career as an electric bass player, later switching to six-string. My first great conversion happened around 19 or 20 years when I first encountered classical music. I spent the next several years becoming a fully-trained classical guitarist (with a sideline in composition!). I was very aware, at each stage, of the differences between the different genres. Every time I reinvented myself it was in terms of the differences between different musical worlds.
My musical journey was one of moving from a landscape of traditional and popular forms to the highly disciplined one of classical forms and genres. So for me, aesthetics was about achieving more and more control over the materials and becoming more and more aware of the historical context.
I also journeyed across the political spectrum from a kind of received socialism to a more aware conservatism or libertarianism.
I have been recently watching quite a few clips of psychology professor Jordan Peterson and as a result have stumbled across an underlying problem. As he outlines it, liberalism is associated with openness and conservatism with boundaries--well, it is a lot more complicated, but that is one aspect. This leaves me with a bit of a dilemma! As a blogger and performer, it is perfectly reasonable to have a conservative leaning towards boundaries. But as a composer, the creative potential of openness is more important. How can I reconcile this contradiction? At the same time I believe very strongly in the demands of aesthetic quality and the rejection of poor quality, hodgepodge, fusion, crossover and all that stuff. But creativity is always, as Peterson also points out, a journey into the unknown, into what he calls chaos. An artist is someone who journeys outside the known and returns with what he has discovered.
It's a problem...
Ligeti: Continuum for harpsichord: