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July 2009

35,000 Years!

OK, this is kind of a lame post, only a link to this single NY Times article, which is about the stone age flutes that have been excavated and reconstructed from sites in Germany.  BUT, the flutes are at least 35,000 years old, and were found near sculpture as well.

"Music and sculpture — expressions of artistic creativity, it seems — were emerging in tandem among some of the first modern humans when they began spreading through Europe or soon thereafter."

Think about that--human beings (and possibly Neanderthals, this was from an approximately 10,000-year period of co-existence), while living in caves and hunting daily for food, not only took the time to carve flutes, but had to figure out how to make a flute in the first place.  That's no mean feat, and to me demonstrates that making music, having music in your life, is something very basic and intrinsic to human beings.  I also imagine that with a fire or two going, the acoustics and lights in those caves got pretty cool at night.

(Worth noting that the flute in the article was found a few feet away from this buxom sculpture--looks like sex & music have been connected for a long, long time.)

Fun for numbers geeks--thanks NY Phil!

The New York Philharmonic has put all of its numbers online with its Performance History Search.  You can search by composer/arranger, a specific performing artist, or by program history.  A treasure trove of information about one of America's oldest, most highly esteemed arts organizations (the data is complete all the way back to their first concert on Dec. 7, 1842!).

(I haven't started digging in yet, but am betting I'll be disheartened by the large-scale programming trends.  I'll have another post soon on what I find.)

Also, NY Times article about it here.

Inner miracles

If "The decapitated tradition" (see below) articulates how I feel 95% of the time, this quote from Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift sums up how I feel the other 5%.

Maybe America didn't need art and inner miracles.  It has so many outer ones.  The USA was a big operation, very big.  The more it, the less we.  So Humboldt behaved like an eccentric and a comic subject.  But occasionally there was a break in his eccentricity when he stopped and thought.  He tried to think himself clear away from this American world . . .

The decapitated tradition

While recently looking for inspiration while drafting a cover letter I came across an essay I wrote about three years ago for an unsuccessful grad school application.  Though perhaps a tad overwrought, I think it articulates the core idea of The Loose Filter Project - using new concert music to help establish a broader cultural context for all concert music.  In practice this means playing more new music and altering the concert experience (perhaps Stuart can comment on how all the concert-going experience itself - venue, atmosphere, etc. -  affects how we perceive music).

I was having a discussion a few of days ago with my good friend and grad school roommate Scott Harrison on his Facebook page  (you'll have to scroll down a ways) that centered around Pops concerts and the role they play for orchestras.  My point was that because the Pops experience is so different from the regular concert experience that few people, if any, will be convinced to try out the later even if they enjoyed the former.  Scott suggested that perhaps large orchestral institutions aren't the best place to implement such a broad recontextualzation.

I think that Stuart and I have accepted the position of this essay a given for years now, but I think it is still worth publishing.  As far as addressing the main problem  - "societal relevance lost" - playing more new music is only part of the equation.  We still have to "reattach" new music to the great concert music tradition, and we have to continually rethink the concert experience.  We have to tinker and experiment in order to find out what works and what doesn't, and we have to be able to fail.  Given that, perhaps Scott is right - big orchestras aren't the right venues for experimentation and innovation.  Perhaps they're too big to fail.

Continue reading "The decapitated tradition" »

Liz Coleman's call to reinvent liberal arts education

I don't want to overload with the TED Talks, but this one was just posted today, from this year's conference.  It is a vitally important message reasserting the fundamental importance of developing minds through a genuine, broad liberal arts education, and how far we've moved away from that (though it remains a stated ideal, it is not occurring in practice).  If you care about university education, this is a must watch: