Partisan Thoughts

by AL BENNER

OK--enough of this partisan bickering. I thought that over the years it would somehow sort itself out and we would realize that by becoming more polarized we start disenfranchising the people we are trying to reach. But recent events have led me to two conclusions--that we have lost touch with the people and that exerting our polarizing positions takes precedence for us no matter how many more people we disenfranchise.

No, I am not talking about politicians. I am talking about being a contemporary composer. It is rare to get a favorable response when telling the average person "I am a composer." The general response is "I hate contemporary music. Why do you have to make it sound so bad?" Then it becomes a lengthy discussion--if they allow it--about different types of contemporary music, usually to no avail. How did we allow our profession to become so "misunderstood" by the general public?

Most of the blame lies with us. How can we expect the public to accept us when we ourselves don't accept each other? Our constant bickering between accessible versus non-accessible music, between acoustic and electronic, and between serialism versus non-serialism has led us further apart. We haven't tried to find a common ground or at least to listen to and "accept" each other's music. We keep complaining that audiences don't come to our concerts, that music directors don't program our pieces, and performers aren't enthusiastic about playing our compositions. But instead of trying to find solutions within our community, we constantly blame the audience, the director, and the musicians. We find fault with everyone but ourselves.

We have each entrenched ourselves in our respected positions making it difficult to extend a hand of compromise to our adversaries in this debate. But unless we do, unless we as a collective whole start to think more of each other's positions and each other's music, we will never build an audience. And we will have to continue to be apologetic when we tell the public we are composers.

******

On a lighter note, I require all my students--the majority of whom are encountering a formal music course for the first time--to attend two classical concerts a semester and to write at least a one-page "impression" report for each. As you would expect, news of this is generally negative--but most of them, after attending the concerts, say how much they enjoyed the experience and how glad they were that they went.

I get many "unusual" comments on these reports. These are just a few from within the current semester:

"I have noticed that musicians in general tend to either have really good or really bad taste in clothing." (I better start paying closer attention to what I wear!)

"The orchestra was no quartet." (That's good because writing my next quartet would be much more difficult if I had to write for more than four parts!)

"Watching the performance made me think of dog sweat." (I have no idea what this means!)

" . . . she had a nice voice and saw the part well." (Being able to see generally helps when singing!)

"I don't like to hear saxophones and other horns. I always thought those sounds were annoying." (Must be a closet woodwind player!)

And my personal favorite:

"I went to the bathroom briefly and I regret that I was not in control of my movements like [the performer] was in control of his." (No comment!)