The more the merrier

Going to be inviting a few folks to post their thoughts on music, politics, and life. Looking forward to increased activity and more diversity of opinion to this site!

 

Can’t believe faculty meetings begin tomorrow. Summer doesn’t feel like it was here nearly long enough.

 

-Me, every August

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Musical Elitism?

In Music of the Nineteenth Century, Richard Taruskin, one of the preeminent musicologists alive today, writes this on the notion of ‘elitist’ music:

“But there is also the self-satisfaction of belonging to a self-defined elite –an emotion that is gratified through exclusion. And that is where esoteric, “difficult” art inevitably becomes controversial in a postaristocratic, “democratic” age. The question is generally posed in terms of means and ends. Is the difficulty inherent in the message and essential to it — the price, so to speak, of full communication? Or is it, rather, a difficulty that is mandated for the sake of the exclusions that it affords, or what might be termed “elite solidarity”? If the latter, does it foster social division? Is that social division a threat to social harmony? Is the protection of social harmony something societies, and their institutions of enforcement and control (from critics all the way, in extreme cases, to censors and police), have an obligation to promote?”

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My two cents on this notion:

I believe that any artist, musical or otherwise, strives to achieve something greater than his or herself in their art. This is essentially a double edged sword, and perhaps the great paradox of humanity and the humanities.

As we strive to achieve greater results, greater variety, master existing techniques in innovative ways, art becomes more insular and less populist. There is a transition point at which art no longer becomes about connecting with others, but about the edification of the artist’s spirit. There is a transition point, however vague, between the artist intentionally creating to connect with audiences, and the artist creating in hopes that an audience will connect with the work. It’s a delicate distinction, but one that holds so much weight in the discussion of art music and the notion of musical elitism.

Certainly in the realm of music, as music becomes more complex, the universal simplicity that is embedded within our cultural (or archetypal?) standards becomes distorted. While Mahler ranks as one of my favorite composers, I am fully aware that someone without any musical training, any concept of historical context, etc., might be overwhelmed. This is again a reflection on the inherent problem in art music. For me, a musician who has studied music for tens of thousands of hours, I find the most profound questions the greatest conflict of emotions, and the greater story of humanity, through music that is highly complex. While I appreciate music that is fundamentally simplistic (and intentionally so, in order to appeal to a more populist audience), I am wont to criticize a lack of depth. There are certainly exceptions, of course, particularly when simplicity is used as a profound moment of contrast to an overwhelming complexity. For me, contrast is everything. But, therein lies the problem.

Those who train, study, and create, are in such a niche level of information. A formal musician’s knowledge of counterpoint, polyphony, orchestration, techniques of motivic development, aural skills, etc., are quite sophisticated (at least they SHOULD be….) – and the implementation of these into great works of musical art can go straight over an audience member’s head. The end result of this divide, which seemingly began in the nineteenth century and continues today, separates art music from popular music. In other words, the implication suggests that art music CAN’T be popular music, and vice versa. A great divide. And that only the more sophisticated music listeners can understand/appreciate more complex music. Musical elitism. The reliance of “academic” standards, without realizing that academic knowledge is essentially an extension or affirmation of the subconscious.

It is my belief that once upon a time, “art” music and “popular” music were the same thing. Certainly through the Classical Era this was the case. The Renaissance Era’s music was either used in religious or secular in scope, but always intended to be appreciated by the mainstream. Somewhere along the line, this changed. And, the great paradox of art: it had to change. Nothing can remain stagnant.

The question I simply do not know, is whether we can change/evolve to a point where art music can be greatly championed by the masses. Is this a cultural shift away from happening? Is it contemporary composers who must lead the way? It is the burden of the performers and conductors of today? I simply don’t know. But I do agree with Taruskin’s prompt that the notion (whether true or not) of elitist music does create a social divide, and that I think the entire essence of elitism is self-satisfaction in belonging to such a category.

With all of that said, I profoundly believe that art music has the capacity to remain relevant in society today. I really do believe that people can connect with music in a profound and abstract way, regardless of their level of musical training or study. To you reading this, you are likely in the top 35% (if not higher) of the musically educated individuals in the U.S. Imagine someone in the lowest 1%. And I believe that Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, et. al, can resonate with those individuals JUST as much as it resonates with me.

In many ways, I feel we trivialize art music (i.e. Beethoven’s ninth symphony being used for dog food commercials – I mean, REALLY?). Perhaps it’s a cultural shift away from expressing emotions. We are, in a historical context, a society very intent on covering up blemishes, including emotional extremes, through laughter, cynicism, sarcasm, and brushing emotions under the table. Perhaps this is the greater issue, and it has nothing to do with the idea of elitism and music. Perhaps I’m just an out of touch musical elitist. :).

Thanks for indulging my thoughts. This is the great dilemma of our musical generation. And I really want to know what you, our future musical patrons, think, unabashed. If you completely disagree with me, I welcome fresh perspectives. That’s what discussion is all about.

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Printers!

So, for the reader or two who actually keep up with this blog (hi, mom and/or dad….), you likely know I have a part time front office job in a fine arts setting. We have a beautiful and expensive color printer that is sort of the equivalent of a copying Ferrari. Sexy, sleek, powerful, and expensive, but maintenance is IMPOSSIBLE. The copier is finicky beyond belief, and often decides to quit printing without any rhyme or reason. Not even error codes, just a “Fault: please power off” screen.

Artist Rendering of not our printer

Luckily, we have a service contract with magic copier people who can make all problems go away…temporarily. Problems reoccur several days later, we make the service call, and a day or two later they arrive. It’s sort of a biweekly ritual here at the office.

So, naturally, we’ve been having this fatal (unspecified) error for the past several days. And, naturally, when the technician arrives, there is no log of the problem (I’m not sure if the printer even keeps a log….), and the printer seems to be fine. I’m positive that nobody in the office is crazy, as it happened 5-6 times yesterday. I mean, surely FOUR people can’t all be this delusional……..right?

*Update* We DID get a misfeed. But no sign of the “Fatal Error: Please shut down” message…….yet….

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Spring, how anxiously I await thee

Spring is my favorite season. It represents a time of new beginnings, rejuvenation and is a departure from the rigidity of winter. Flowers bloom, relationships blossom, the outdoors become a staple, and all seems right with the world.

Of course, Colorado weather likes to tease the arrival of spring by offering premature tastes. The weather from Sunday through Tuesday was spectacular: in the 60s, sunny, and inviting. Today, ice frozen on my windshield with the occasional falling snowflake.

I think it’s incredible to think about nature’s ability to affect temperament and to inspire. It’s brilliant how the perfect evening can be an incredible compliment to an evening stroll through downtown. Or to think of the archetype of the beauty of nature inspiring so many great artists throughout history. Seeing a beautiful day makes me feel more connected to Brahms, or Schumann in his Wunderjahr. It took me a long time, but the sincerest beauty of pastoral music has finally started to resonate and connect with my spirits.

Spring break is around the corner. My social life is at a peak. I am conducting with the Fort Collins Symphony in concert on the 17th. To think of the paranoid skeleton of myself a year ago….The insecure doubter, unable to ward off the inevitable heart ache…..As spring approaches, I feel a sense of rebirth. What a difference a year can make.

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Hangover Cures and Quick Links

I think that I’ve found the perfect cure for hangovers: conducting concerts. Every time I’ve conducted a concert, no matter the physical or emotional state of being I am in (exhaustion, illness, angry, sad), I have a renewed sense of energy, and my body is always back to par (at least momentarily). If the adrenaline can cure all of these things, why not a hangover? Shall we experiment some time?

This was a crazy weekend. In addition to all of my music gigs, I also spend about 30 hours in an office job for CSU’s Department of Music, Theatre, & Dance. My latest project was oversight for approximately 160 auditioning students this weekend. When I began the office job in January, all of the files were chaotically organized into countless spreadsheets. For any of you who have ever had an office job, you know fully well how much room there is for error when copying and pasting information from sheet to sheet. Or how easy it is to forget to change the sixth spreadsheet when you manually changed the first five. Next year, this will all be in a database. Muah-haha.

My youth orchestra concert went fabulously. It’s amazing how much these young musicians grow from concert to concert. Thinking about the cringe-worthy first rehearsal, it’s nice to hear a polished product. We’ve got one more to go, and then year two recruiting. In a lot of ways, I think the first year (affectionately dubbed SURVIVAL MODE) is not nearly as important as the second year (which I think we shall call DEFINE YOURSELF YEAR). If we can double our first year numbers, we will be in pretty good shape; when all’s said and done, I think we have that capacity. A gentleman came up to our Executive Director after the concert, blown away at the emotional maturity from the musicians during their transcription of the Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium. What a beautiful piece. It is the perfect illustration of beautiful dissonances in many of the cluster chords used. V7 chords with tonic thrown in for mix – what beautiful colors.

I’ll have to spend some time evolving my thinking on using popular music for youth ensembles – the experiment seemed to be pretty successful.

This week should be less action-packed than the last two abominable eighty hour work weeks. Thank goodness for small favors.

A couple of links:

Adele, the human brain, and the appoggiatura:

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/13/146818461/the-ballad-of-the-tearful-why-some-songs-make-you-cry

A chronological survey of the opening chords to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony: truly fascinating. Tuning pitch, recording quality, articulation and note length, tempo, the space between the first two chords. It’s amazing how many unique and different things create a composite of this wonderful thing we call interpretation.

http://youtu.be/xb24c77zJ64

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Coming Back From The Blogging Dead

After a two year hiatus, I’ve decided to begin blogging again. So much has happened in two years. More on this in a different blog. For today, I shall simply offer a thought.

It is truly amazing at how small of a world this is. It is also truly amazing how anonymously connected we are.

I’ve finally decided to pay a webdesign consultant to redo my website. While perusing a google search for “Adam A Torres”, I ran across the following link:

http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/adam-a-torres

Some anonymous individual included a YouTube video of mine in a Tumblr entry! Money Quote:

“While many of us can ‘conduct’ … probably few of us could communicate as effectively with the musicians as this conductor – Adam A Torres (I checked for his name today).

Every Sunday for months, ‘we’ having been watching this overture – mainly because of the ‘joy of music’ communicated through the conductor.”

It’s a great feeling to know that, however insignificant you feel your work is at times, that there is always a remote chance of connecting with an anonymous individual, who was inspired enough to write words of praise about an individual whom he/she had never met. Keep fighting the good fight, eh?

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Fridays are the best with only one class, at noon

This has been a fantastic week. The pace has been moderate, the workload light, the nights offering decent hours of sleep. In particular, I am looking forward to going to class in two to three minutes, and be finished for the day in an hour.

My initial plan was to practice, but my wrist is acting up today, so I think I may take a day off so it doesn’t hurt so much. This weekend’s agenda will feature my good friend Lisa Espinosa, of the Amani String Quartet, in a graduate cello recital. I have a church gig, and that’s about it. Should be wonderful.

And, for better or worse, I sent in an application for another summer festival. This one is particularly competitive, so we’ll see how it goes. I know they received my application because the application fee has been applied! Wish me luck, and I wish you the best of Fridays and weekends.

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Server Malfunction

Surprise!  Technology has once again shown me the ugly side of unfortunate accidents.  After a massive server crash of sorts, my old blog was deleted (as was my web domain).  While I have the website backed up on my pc, I am not quite tech savvy enough to do this with a WordPress blog.  So, there you have it.  The joys of starting over, reintegrating with facebook/twitter, recreating a look/layout, and all of that jazz.  More to come soon.

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