Saturday, January 23, 2021

theme with variations: 1-6-2021 and would-be spectrum-spanning survey on social media tech oligarchy being how much of what happened has been mediated to us

Because I think the United States is past its shelf life as a viable global hyper-power I am probably not the person to ask whether or not something like this is over the top because I think Americans are generally incurably over-the-top and because we have been so, basically, since the start.

I am reminded of something that John Murray wrote in The Imputation of Adam's Sin about how many modern Westerners who claim they don't get how "we" could be held responsible at a symbolic or also meaningful level for the sins of one person.  Murrays' rejoinder was to point out that imputing comprehensive guilt to nations and political parties happens in American politics all the time and no one bats an eyelash about it but if it's a theme transposed into systematic theology then, well, suddenly people raise objections.  

It's easy for me to remember that certain people have been bloviating bullhorns no matter what side of the blue or red they're on, such as Frank Schaeffer's gently nuanced and subtle  "AS A FORMER EVANGELICAL LEADER I BLAME THE WHITE EVANGELICAL VOTER FOR EVERY SINGLE MASS SHOOTING"  

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Will Classical Music see a Renaissance? Bryan Townsend asks and it's a topic I've thought about for a while .... it depends on what we mean by classical music

Like many of you  I've been watching some of the streaming concerts from Europe and North America and I've started to wonder what the classical music world will look like after this pandemic crisis is over. And when will it be over? These are questions that are difficult if not impossible to answer at present, but we can do a little speculating.

I have read in a few places that perhaps 30% of professional musicians have simply left the business as there was no work for them. If the current crisis lasts another year or a good part of the year as it seems it might, then wouldn't it be likely that another 30% or more might leave the business?

We might also ask ourselves which musicians in particular are least likely to survive the crisis? It seems obvious that it would be the ones that are most vulnerable: the part-time musicians, the players in the smaller regional orchestras, the musicians that were already struggling to start or sustain a solo career, and most of all, the local musicians.


Reading, say, ArtsJournal or SlippedDisc on a weekly basis it could be easy to get a sense that classical music as we've known it has been in peril for some time.  Yet there was last year's debate about Philip Ewell's comments about the white racial frame of music theory in United States music theory, too. 

In comments at The Music Salon it got mentioned that album sales are dipping, even in the realm of digital download albums.  That got me thinking about how a musician friend of mine tried putting together a program for an album and discovered the licensing costs were more than he could tackle for the repertoire he wanted to record.  That, right there, might account for why there is a more robust indie rock scene than an indie classical scene in terms of recorded music.  At the risk of putting it too simply and briskly, what's the Bandcamp scene for new chamber music for string quartet compared to someone with a guitar and a band?  

One of the things that seems to be the default assumption in questions about the future of classical music is its future as a profession, the future of classical music as a form of cultural and participatory activity that people get paid to make.  The idea that classical music might continue in an avocational or amateur form doesn't seem to come up in "serious" conversations about "serious" music yet it seems as though, despite or in having to deal with the reality of arts funding and cultural policies in the United States, for instance, that's something we might want to keep in mind.  "a renaissance for classical music means a renaissance for humanity" wouldn't require that renaissance to be one of jobs in classical music.

But as Ted Gioia put it in Music: A Subversive History, the powers that be (they, etc) have pivoted from classical music to pop music in the last sixty odd years. The elites may have favored classical music a century ago but since the Jazz Age and the emergence of rock `n roll the elites have favored American popular styles. There are, of course, some folks who have felt that classical music must be allowed to die at spots like NewMusicBox but there's an element of bad faith to that proclamation inasmuch as the call was to contemporary composers and musicians to create alternative communities who would not be bound by established conventions ... and that's just the Romantics and Wagner all over again and, as Charles Rosen has put it, breaking free of the real or perceived strictures of "tradition" is as much a part of how traditions get renewed as the ostensibly "rigid" aspects of traditions.  

To put this aphoristically, every new generation has a temptation to think that we have seen things clearly in a way that nobody before us has and there's always a seed of accuracy to it along with some significant delusions of grandeur.

But, as is also so often said, it's easy to imagine things have always been getting worse when they're staying the same. I am skeptical about that approach to things now, too, because I find much wrong with Gioia's parade of dualisms to the effect that music history has "always" been about cycles of dualisms that can never be reconciled since before there even was music history as anyone can functionally know it. Adorno was right to snipe that the more modern the sensibility the more ancient it insists on being--the Enlightenment built on the Renaissance; the Romantics looked back to medieval eras for cohesion and then the ancient Greeks and Romans; and via Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ancient or pre-historic humanity became the new reference point. Gioia distills that general trend by going all the way back to a "rupture" allegedly caused by Pythagoras (and Confucius, too, even if the latter is basically only useful as a reference point for the kind of top-down totalitarianism in cultural norms that was more indicative of "our" era than many an earlier era).  Things can get worse in real world terms because if they weren't nobody would be worried about whether orchestras can survive the era of covid-19 if concert life is gutted via medical restrictions over the next two or three years.

Maury's comment at The Music Salon about how music has been devolving to an individual rather than a social activity is a fair concern. I hope that doesn't mean that a whole bunch of musicians are going to be home studio types who turn into Jacob Colliers!  On the other hand, perhaps that's not something that should surprise us if that's something that does happen.  

Owing to the curious history in the United States of post Cold War arts policies (or lack thereof) and the persistence of our military adventures abroad I have floated a theory that in the United States the arts might have something like a Thirty Years War situation in which arts policy wasn't and isn't a concern where "highbrow" is concerned.  I mention the Thirty Years War as a Heinrich Schutz fan to suggest that like Schutz composers and musicians might want to take as given the reduced possibilities and resources and compose for the resources we have rather than the ones we wish we had.  

It's why, in a nutshell, this guitarist composer hobbyist composes primarily for guitar now.  I like the idea of a cycle of chamber sonata pairing the guitar up with woodwinds, strings and brass, for instance, but in the era of covid-19 finding chamber musicians able and willing to tackle chamber music is challenging and people may find you rather than you finding them.  Whereas in the era of lockdown you can find out what you can do just you and your guitar.  The irony of that being cosmetically similar to the lone Romantic solitary art-bro-genius is not lost on me and I find it loathesome!  But we may find this to be the situation we're stuck with in classical music or postclassic music in the second decade of the 21st century. These don't promise to be another Roaring Twenties like the Roaring Twenties that featured the creation of so much music I admire form the last century.

I was reading Composing Capital by Marianna Ritchie in the last few months and although reading about gentrification and theories about neoliberalism and fumbling attempts to imagine musical life apart from capitalism was, well, sort of interesting it was also sort of predictable and I have noticed that within the confines of classical music criticism and scholarship right alongside popular music criticism and scholarship there's a tendency to stay in one's lane.  The possibility that what could revitalize the ruts that both classical music and popular music have lapsed into since, let me just make this polemical point unavoidably clear, the rise of the commercial music industries is a synergistic interaction of the classical and pop traditions is not something that tends to come up among academics, perhaps for reasons so obvious they don't even need to be written out on the page.  

I agree with Richard Taruskin's observation that since Rachmaninoff's time there has been an increasing gap between the academic canon in classical music and the repertoire canon, a gap between what scholars say you have to study and what concertgoers pay money to hear because they want to hear X in a concert. Yet the gap between the repertoire canon and the academic canon is probably not as wide as the gap between the repertoire canon and the pop musical canon even though the repertoire canon of classical music can overlap with the pop musical canon in pops concerts.  I have heard, for instance, The Pink Panther theme at pops concerts and why not? It's a fun theme.  Just because I listen to choral music by Xenakis or Messiaen or Tallis or Byrd doesn't mean I can't turn around and enjoy what Shirley Walker did composing soundtracks for Batman: the animated series or notice the probable influence of Theolonious Monk on musical cues in Blue's Clues.

One of many reasons I wrote Ragtime and Sonata Forms last year was to show that we have available the theoretical and conceptual tools in music theory and formal analysis to melt down the boundaries that supposedly exist between American popular or vernacular styles and "classical" music. It is possible, and I would argue desirable, to find out how much classical and popular styles can synergistically revitalize each other as compositional and performance traditions. If people want a renaissance of their preferred musical style it's hard to see how that's going to happen during pandemic years but after twenty years of feeling like both the classical and popular sides of Western music have had some ruts I think dispensing with a bunch of counter-productive dualisms is more likely to help things than to stick to them. 

That is why the post-Idealist German art-religious impulse is something I regard as ridiculous and as something that needs to be dispensed with.  I don't view the arts as sacramental, however much I love the arts.  Taruskin has been right to point out that George Steiner was wrong to imagine that the humanities would humanize.  I am, alternatively, skeptical that a renaissance for classical music will mean a renaissance for humanity. I'm too Reformed to take that view seriously.  If sacralizing highbrow art and music keeps people from imagining that it is possible or desirable to compose ragtime sonatas or to write a fugue that could draw inspiration from Wilson Pickett or Thelonious Monk then sacralizing highbrow music has to go, alongside sacralizing musical canons.  I can appreciate what Ethan Hein wrote a few years ago when he said he's not against canons as such but against canonism and by "canonism" I venture a guess that the legacy of German Idealism in which the arts are the new true religion is as good a working definition as any.  

I've been revisiting the Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner's books The Mediator and Man in Conflict (Jim West says Man in Contradiction is a better translation). You don't have to be a neo-orthodox Swiss Reformer theologian to appreciate that Brunner's take-down of how the German Idealists re-engineered religious ideas from Christendom into a kind of panentheistic self-congratulatory cultural project could be a useful reference point for anyone who wants to take the Matthew Arnold style art-religion down a few pegs.  Brunner's work isn't going to be interesting for most, maybe, but I found his description of how liberal white Germans in the 18th and 19th century basically reverse engineered their idea of transcendence to kind of fit themselves to be an interesting polemic.  It might be germane to more recent American scholastic criticisms of the arts that were canonized in the proverbial long 19th century as a theological critique of the metaphysical confidence of European philosophers during the times when Beethoven was transformed into a god.  But that might have to be a post for some other time, maybe in tandem with a discussion of Mark Evan Bonds on The Beethoven Syndrome.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mark Driscoll and daughter Ashley Chase have published new book Pray Like Jesus

Dale Coulter has an article at Firebrand that is a good overview of the neo-charismatic/New Apostolic Reformation scene that has gained momentum since the Obama and Trump administrations

One of the weirdest things, as someone who has tried to keep track of theological ideas, is that there's been a new branch of charismatic Christianity in the last forty years that retained all of its Pentecostal ancestry on pneumatology but has added a post-Rushdooney post-millenialist cultural mandate, which, for this formerly Pentecostal Presbyterian is what I'd personally describe as the worst of both worlds (the untethered "I have super-powers" pneumatology combined with the post-millenialist entitlement mentality that was an element in Manifest Destiny).  The article can be read at the link below 

it's a good introductory piece on the last forty years of neo-charismatic/New Apostolic Reformation Christianity in the U.S. to read alongside Julia Duin's recent work on how a failure to distinguish between these groups just mentioned and evangelicalism can lead to sloppy reporting on which evangelicals have been backing Trump. wjocj upi cam read be;pw.