Friday, March 23, 2012

Great Arts Blogger Challenge - Capitalization Without Representation

Dear awesome people who read my blog: 
For the next couple of weeks (hopefully), I will be participating in the Spring for Music Festival's Great Arts Blogger Challenge. To start, I had to respond to the following prompt. This post and my blog will be linked on their website, I will be placed in their blog bracket, and voting will begin Monday. If I get enough votes, I'll move on, get another prompt, and repeat this process, hopefully the maximum amount of times. If I win, I get some green as well as tickets to the Spring for Music Festival in New York City at Carnegie Hall. I wrote about this festival last year, and just the thought of this makes me overly excited--BUT, just the chance to have my work seen by a diverse group of people is exciting as well! If I advance, I hope you (regular readers of my blog) will make like reality show viewers and vote for me. Tell you friends and neighbors. Thanks guys. 

Albuquerque 

photo by kaysha on Flickr
New York (see the difference?)


 New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?

            As a teenager in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city widely spread out along a valley of desert, hundreds of miles from any major city, I’m immersed in a general mood of disdain for my surroundings. Some remarks I here almost daily are:
            “There’s nothing to do here!”
            “I hate New Mexico”
            “Why don’t we have an American Apparel?”
            “I don’t even like green chile.”
Naturally, many eyes of Albuquerque citizens look east toward New York City, for obvious reasons. In every aspect of culture, the Big Apple is the hub. Fashion, food, theater, movies, etc.; everything seems to be in the upper right-hand corner of the country. For a while, I believed this too. I convinced myself that the reason for my inevitable uncoolness was because of my separation from this city, one that holds a similar feeling to Dorothy’s Oz for many people.
            This feeling only worsened as I became more obsessed with contemporary classical music. The bios of most major composers said “currently lives in New York,” and most studied at Julliard, other New York schools, or Yale, a couple of hours away. Most of the members of ensembles such as the NOW Ensemble, Bang on a Can, So Percussion, and JACK Quartet reside in New York. Venues and festivals such as (le) Poisson Rouge, the SONiC Fesival, the Ecstatic Music Festival, and the MATA Festival are held in the city. I honestly could go on and on, but you get the point—on paper and in person, New York still seems like the culture capital of the country.
            But, when naming the capital of something, it is important to realize what that “something” is. What is culture?
            My best friend, Dictionary.com, says culture is:

cul·ture

[kuhl-cher]

Noun

1.the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

So, culture is based on the overall feeling of a place. When I hear “culture capital,” it makes it sound like culture is a commodity, something you can buy in bulk at Costco. For New York to be the true capitol in this sense, it would have to embody all of America, right? And while NYC comes very close, it’s truly impossible for a culture capital to exist. This may seem cynical, but it’s empowering when realized.

Every city, town, or village has a culture. This is inescapable—if humans inhabit a place, they affect the overall feel of the community with their personalities, their businesses, their food, their opinions, etc. Even the smallest town in, say, Arkansas, has a culture. Maybe there’s a band in that town that plays at a bar every week. Everyone knows their songs and can sing along—this contributes to the culture of that town, and will make it different from any other city in Arkansas.

For a more personal example, I’ll use Albuquerque.

A couple of months ago, a classical music organization called Chatter had a concert. Chatter puts on concerts every Sunday morning, and about twice a month at night. I’ve been volunteering with this organization since 2009, and it’s probably the most important thing in my life. Through it, I’ve met friends and musicians, and I’ve learned about a world of music that I wouldn’t have without it.

This particular night was a focus on Native American composers. I was taking tickets for it, and I noticed many of the audience members were Native American. A man who sat beside me told me how he read about the concert in a local arts newspaper called the Alibi. I could tell he was new to contemporary music, but he was excited and clapped enthusiastically between each movement, something that probably wouldn’t happen at a concert in New York. The coffee that was being served was from a company called Fat Boy Coffee, based in the mountains just east of the venue.

The music started with a piece for timpani called “Taloa’ Hiloha,” or “Thunder Song” by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. It was booming, rhythmic, and infectious. Next we heard “Katcina Danses” for cello and piano by the legendary composer Louis W. Ballard. Ballard’s name isn’t plastered over New York-based websites, but he has won numerous awards and has been an incredibly influential Native American composer.

We then heard a piece by Celeste Lansing, a 16-year-old Native composer from Utah. A while back, I got to interview her and write about her music. Finally, we heard a world premiere of a piece by Raven Chacon, an experimental composer and Albuquerquean. His piece was echo-y and reminded me of a more organic, weathered version of many famous indeterminate composers’ pieces.

I look back on this concert now and realize how incredibly Southwestern it was. When I say “Southwestern,” I don’t mean it in the way gift shops would (turquoise, tribal designs, or cacti dotting a flat plain of desert). I supposed you had to be there to get the real feeling.

With location and community-specific culture like this, it’s impossible for there to be one place that can be the capital of it all. The U.S. has around 25,000 “places,” (whatever that means). Each inevitably has its own culture, including New York. New York definitely has a lot of “culture,” in terms of the arts, diversity, and personality (much of which I’m jealous of), but that’s what makes it specifically New York and nothing else.

 

I walked outside after the concert in Albuquerque was over. The door to the venue faces the Sandia Mountains. The radio towers at the top of the peaks gave off sprinkles of light, and the dry cold of December had brought patches of snow only to the tops of the peaks.

You couldn’t get that anywhere else. 

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