Monday, March 23, 2015

What Tribe Are You?

Every now and then I wander just slightly off the reservation and talk about something that is not totally focussed on music. But I will get to music eventually!

I just ran into an interesting comment on a website:
Many socio-political forces today are about the return to tribal identity. Tribes are isolated from the Other and easily coerced through emotional appeals to identity rather than universal logic. This has picked up methinks because information and people are increasingly ignoring the borders and authority defined by the state. So the thugs among us look to draw new boundaries based on race, gender, language etc. The new tribes destined to wage continuous and pointless war.
"Methinks?" Obviously a British commentator. A hundred years ago we here in the West were part of something called "Western Civilization" and had a set of shared values. But, as the commentator says, that seems to be passing away and we now are a set of different tribes with different values and ways of living. One of the many reasons for this is that it is very convenient for politicians that this be the case, because they can exploit these differences. And yes, we do seem to be moving towards a condition of continuous strife and conflict.

So, if we are separating out into separate tribes, I guess we have to figure out what tribe we are in. For a long, long time I thought I was in the tribe of "classical guitarists" and I suppose I was. But not completely. The things that did not seem to jibe with that identity were that I would compose music from time to time and I like listening to and talking about music that was not written for the classical guitar. So I was actually more part of the larger tribe of "classical music performers". I also had membership in the tribe of "music teachers". But after a time, all of this weighed heavily on me and I decided I needed to try a different tribe. So I went back to school as a doctoral candidate in musicology. This had the unexpected benefit of reawakening a lot of intellectual energy. I hadn't realised it, but spending twenty years or so telling people over and over that there are two beats in a half note does tend to dull your mind a bit! The musicology tribe was not ultimately compelling enough so for a number of years I departed the music tribe altogether and was part of a tribe we might call "private investors".

But eventually deeper levels of my tribal identity reasserted themselves and I came to realise that what I am, and what I have always been is a member of that tribe called "composers of music". Not the easiest tribe to be a member of! For one thing, when someone asks you what kind of music you write, you never know what to say. I'm working on a set of humorous answers:

  1. Just like Bach, only better!
  2. Chopin with a backbeat.
  3. Think middle-period Tom Waits, but with more counterpoint.
  4. Imaginary music to a documentary film about Monty Python.
  5. Very, very long quartets for flugelhorn, triangle, cowbell and glass harmonica.
But I will probably have to explain them...

And while we are in a comic mood, let's look at some of the new frontiers in the marketing of classical music. These folks are obviously onto something:


Marc said...

Neither the tribe of composers of music nor the tribe of laudatores temporis acti (which term is Horace in his Ars poetica, via Michael Gilleland []) will be much use when the zombies are feeding, I'm afraid. Am not too sanguine at the prospect of the surely quite temporary bulwark manned by the Knights of Columbus. :-)

Thank you for the Schoenberg posts! and for your clever, knowledgeable commenters, too.

Bryan Townsend said...

This must be one of the very, very few blogs blessed with commentators who know their Latin!!

Ken Fasano said...

"What tribe are you?" Ah, yes, a song on the Native American activist Russell Mean's Indian rap ("aRAPaho") album, "Electric Warrior". And then there's the American beat poet Gary Snyder's essay "Why Tribe?" (1969). Methinks (ok, I'm American, but Thoreau used the word) the hippie-ish idea of society breaking up into tribes as an antidote to corporate conformism (Marcuse's One Dimensional Man) unfortunately has the opposite effect of atomizing society into little atoms all in their ticky-tacky McMansions watching the same idiotic shows on TV. What tribe am I? Dunno! I grew up listening to everything from Beatles to Beethoven, Leonin to Lutoslawski, Scott Joplin to Cecil Taylor - and had access to a public library that held all these records, as well as lots of scores (Pierrot, Petruskha - quite a find for an independent 13-year old music geek). What tribe am I? The tribe of humans who find Spirit (whatever that is) in Machaut and Miles Davis, Thoreau and Whitman and Kerouac, Leonardo and Picasso... I refuse to be atomized, or reduced to atoms, by either Lucretius or the Koch brothers! (all of this spoken with a sly smile)

Bryan Townsend said...

I remember running across the score to Debussy's Epigraphes antiques in the Vancouver Public Library and thinking myself very lucky. It was like a cairn or waypost left by members of my tribe.