Sunday, April 29, 2012

CDs that were recently released, and I also think you should be listening to them right now.

(see title) 

In no particular order: 

Secret Pulse - Zack Browning 

Browning, a composer accurately described as "way-cool," likes squares. So much, in fact, that the five pieces on this album are based on varying squares in the universe (the 5x5 Magic Square of Mars, the 9x9 Magic Square of the Moon, and the 3x3 Lo Shu Square). This album is perfectly varied, perfectly represented by top notch ensembles, and perfectly presented. When you hold it, it just feels right as a collection of music. The title track is like an energetic, genre-crossing ensemble mixed with a 9bit video game and a trailer for a Transformers movie. It's wonderful. 

The Eleanor Hovda Collection - Eleanor Hovda 

This four CD collection of the late Eleanor Hovda's music is like a museum. I was not particularly familiar with her work before I began listening to this collection, but it is one of those things that can get you obsessed with a composer. The four discs are Ariadne Music, Coastal Traces, Sound Around the Sound, and Excavations. Her music is organic, windy, and open with some episodes of order, such as in the Etezady-like murmurs in the piece "Snapdragon." This is a lovely tribute to her and definitely a collection worth owning. 

Krzysztof Penderecki / Jonny Greenwood 

I'm honestly not sure if this album has an official name or not, but nonetheless, it is lovely. Penderecki and Greenwood are so similar in terms of musical ideals, but their approaches to similar goals are completely different. Penderecki's famous sound of somehow controlled chaos, creepiness, and bugs balance with Greenwood's more organized, sometimes-tonal-sounding (but still dispersed) timbres. Greenwood's "Popcorn Superhet Receiver," while not a new work, is the stand-out piece for me because of its constant sense of beauty rather than experiment. And, as I've stated before, I have a really large crush on Jonny, largely because of this. And this

Still Sound - Bruce Levingston 

Levingston is often thought of as a contemporary maven. His foundation Premiere Commission is an organization that promotes the commissioning of works for himself and other musicians, and he collaborates with the contemporary violinist Colin Jacobsen often. But what really, in my opinion, makes someone's experience with contemporary music really show is their ability to mix it with pieces from other periods. Still Sound's bulk is by the composer Augusta Gross, but the contemporary piano pieces are surrounded by other glassy, watery works by Pärt, Chopin, Satie, Schubert, and William Bolcom, another modern composer. His playing is seamless and enticing. This is a perfect family of sound and mix of time. 

...Eco de Violín - Colin Sorgi and Jooen Pak 

I like this album for two reasons: 

1) It is teaching me about a section of music--new Latin American--that I'm not too familiar with but should be. You can hear small influences of Latin music, but only in some of the spacing between notes or flavors of small percussion. 
2) Is that cover gorgeous or WHAT. 

The music itself isn't what I would call the most interesting stuff I've heard, but it's enjoyable. This isn't an album I would return to over and over again, but it's a good introduction to this area of music. 

White Ladder - David Gray 

Let's just disregard the fact that this is neither new nor fits in with the rest of my selections... but I started listening to this album again recently, and it brought back many nights of dancing when I was about 6 because my mom was obsessed with Gray back then. And now every trip in my car is backed up by "Please Forgive Me," a masterpiece of a song. If I could force every home in America to have this on their shelves, I would. Trust me. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tip-Toeing Around

The Spring for Music Great Arts Blogger Challenge has ended, and I got fourth! This is basically the most awesome thing ever. Thank you so much if you voted or read my blog because of it. Here's a post about a new White House initiative, and a "what's goin on right now" post is coming up, along with CD reviews.

It’s a pretty cool feeling when you suspect Obama is reading your mind. Disregarding realistic explanations, I’m going to stick with that suspicion.
I recently finished participating in a blogging competition called the Great Arts Blogger Challenge, one that focused on culture blogs and was held by the Spring for Music festival. The other bloggers and I spent our weeks waiting for prompts to respond to, obsessively (maybe that only applies to me) checking our emails for the question to answer with 1,000 or so words for the next week’s voting. The competition’s prompts seemed to focus on the fate of the arts in our modern world, having us talking about Secretaries of Arts, culture capitals, or “saving the arts,” sometimes utilizing paintings or pictures of cats.
            All of this talk about the fate of the arts got a lot of us bloggers writing about arts education. It reminded me how important my arts education has been up to this point—when I was 6, I was pounding out syncopated beats on small percussion instruments. When I was 12, my classmates and I were required to be in the school musical. I may have had only nine words in that production (four of them were the same, but trust me—they were crucial), but I learned stage presence, how to harmonize in a chorus, and the importance of practice, not to mention improving my sight reading.  I accompanied a chorus on the piano for the first time when I was 11 for my school’s annual choir concert at the choir director’s insistence of featuring student musicians. They sang Ode to Joy, and pounding out all those octaves felt pretty awesome.
            It’s easy to take these things for granted. After writing the answer to the prompts, I realized that a large population of kids in the US right now aren’t playing instruments or learning how to read music. And that is unfair, depressing, and depriving. As I stated in my post about having a Secretary for the Arts, every kid should have the opportunity to discover something in the arts they love—usually, this is impossible to avoid—because having a passion is one of the most comforting things to rely on when going through childhood or adolescence. I think all of the bloggers, and probably most of the population, can agree that the ideal situation would be an exceptional arts program in every school.
            Then, lo and behold, I see this post on the New York Times’ ArtsBeat blog, saying that the President’s Committee has created an initiative to further arts education in some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools and impoverished . It’s called the Turnaround Arts Initiative, and it will have celebrity artists (Turnaround Artists) “adopt” the schools and work with them, as well as implement programs that, the website says, will “increase the likelihood of successful school turnaround, engage their community, and raise the visibility of their achievements.

            The first (and main) reaction to this initiative: AWESOME. Finally, we have an updated, current government proposal to support arts education instead of reforming past acts. Just the fact that this has been started shows that priorities are being considered (isn't it something like 93% of people think the arts are important to education?). Plus, what kid wouldn’t be psyched to have Yo-Yo Ma come to his/her school (probably a lot, but maybe that will change after the two years)? There will be no harm done by this project, and the kids that will be able to experience it will benefit tremendously.
            But, I have some concerns with this initiative, more in its tentative attitude and execution of its goals than the goals’ intentions. 
            The website emphasizes that Turnaround Arts is going to “test the theory” that arts education is important in schools. It’s as if the creators of the initiative are worried that having more arts in schools will fail, and if it does, we’ll just go back to the way it has been. The arts seem, to me, as important at English, science, or manners. It puzzles me a bit that we are spending money and time deciding if they work when we should be going ahead and implementing them everywhere because they do. No Child Left Behind showed us how many holes can be left in a child’s education with the lack of attention to specific subjects—we should be rushing to implement arts programs in schools everywhere by now. Plus, the initiative argues that the arts will help kids with their academic education—nowhere does it say that the arts can be careers themselves. Kerry Washington, one of the Turnaround Artists, said, “Arts are actually how we can help them get the real work done.”

File:Kerry Washington LF.jpg
Kerry Washington (photo from

File:Sarah Jessica Parker 3.jpg
SJP (photo by Christopher Peterson)

Another concerning factor of the initiative is the dependence on celebrity mentors, or Turnaround Artists of the schools that are a part of the initiative. Among the artists are Sarah Jessica Parker, Yo-Yo Ma, and Chuck Close. If the purpose of this initiative is to move towards improving arts education throughout the country, it seems a little reality-show-esque to call upon celebrities to lead the way to this goal. Now, the Turnaround Artists will definitely impact the people they work with and most will be incredible teachers, and it shows something about the people participating that they are committing to this project. But if Turnaround Arts is only in practice for two years, how much impact on the schools are these celebrities really going to have? Perhaps they will be remembered by one generation of the school’s students, and maybe they will be able to inspire a handful of kids towards arts related paths, but the only point of using celebrities is to, perhaps, bring attention and pseudo-validation to Turnaround Arts. We can’t be sure of how much time the celebrities will spend with the schools, and we can’t be sure if there will be any lasting impact on the structure of the institution’s arts programs. The website says the Turnaround Artists’ involvement will “take many forms, including participating in performances, master classes and community events at the school.” Who am I to say what will happen in the future, but it seems like they will come, make an impact on the school’s status during those two years, and finish, leaving some small changes and many utterances of “remember when Sarah Jessica Parker was here?” I hope to be proved wrong, but for now I'm skeptical.
            What we should be doing is installing permanent arts teachers whose main career focus is the school they teach at. I’ve never had a teacher who visibly made a lasting impact on the structure or personality of a school who had only been there for two years. In fact, the types of teachers that do that are usually at schools for decades.  Let’s talk about Gregg Breinberg. Let’s talk about Phil Hardymon.
            Don’t get me wrong. The intentions of the Turnaround Arts Initiative are commendable. But the toe-in-the-water approach seems useless. We as a nation know that the arts are important and serve as more than just supplements to other academic subjects. We know that arts education is necessary in every school of every city. And yes, we know celebrities are cool, but it seems frivolous to depend on two-year-mentors to turn schools around. Implementing arts education in America is going to take a while, but the arts matter. Would this niche of the internet, the one you’re reading, exist if they didn’t?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Great Arts Blogger Challenge: Capes, Kryptonite, and Other Things

Please read this, hum The Final Countdown, and VOTE FOR ME IN THE FINAL ROUND in the Spring for Music Great Arts Blogger Challenge!             

           Two nights ago, I went to a concert focusing on the composer John Kennedy. He has been the resident conductor of the Spoleto Festival for years, and also directs Santa Fe New Music. There were premieres of a few of his pieces, including his “iPhone 4tet,” in homage to John Cage for his centennial. But my favorite of the pieces was his string quartet “To the Power and Beauty of Everybody,” a melting, warm piece based off the poem of the same name by Kenneth Patchen, the beat poet who influenced people like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. The first paragraph of the poem goes like this:


And then there was a stanza like this:

          In the purest thought
When vanity and desire of all mortal ends
Have been submerged
We may join the thinking which is eternally around us
And be thought about
For the common good
We can only be humble before it
We can only worship ourselves because we are part of it

He later goes on to describe that this “it” is the silence after art, “the singers and dancers,” “coming from where it came from.”
            So when I read this poem after receiving the question for the final round of the Spring for Music blog challenge:

“Save the arts? Really? Why do so many people think the arts need saving? Do we need to save the arts, and if so, what does ‘saving’ them mean?”

…I thought, while in good nature, something seems wrong here. With this idea of “saving the arts.” It seems exaggerated, in a way, like that idea shouldn’t exist. But when the silence after Kennedy’s piece was so thick and overflowing with those little sighs people always give off after impactful sounds or certain phrases in spoken word, I realized the question just needed to be turned around.
            The reason so many people think we need to “save the arts,” if that accomplishment is even possible at our own hands, is because the arts save us.

The only picture I can think of to go with this post at the moment. COINCIDENTALLY, this drawing is by Alex Ross, I think, the comic book artist. I would like to see him write a piece for the New Yorker and for Alex Ross to write a comic book, for a strange experiment. 
            I hope I don’t sound like a reverend or something, but I think everyone who calls themselves an artist can testify to that idea, even if the wording is dramatic. Every time humans “save” something publically, whether it’s the whales or a small business, it’s about more than that specific thing that’s being rescued. It’s about the idea that thing represents, the countering of the force that brings whatever it is down. But it’s also about how it makes us feel to “save” things. When humans want to start a campaign to save something, it’s targeted towards making the donors feel good about themselves and hitting the nerve that identifies with the cause.
            It’s the same when people try to save the arts. Like I said in my previous post for this competition, the arts are what make us human. The ability to collectively identify with one idea or moment can bring someone out of any disheartening situation. It can save someone. So when we try to save the arts, we’re doing more than being empathetic towards ensembles, composers, poets, or painters, and we’re doing more than just trying to keep sound waves in the air—we’re fighting for our own right to receive those sound waves.
            Now, the effectiveness of what humans so far have done to try to “save” the arts is a different story, and we need to think about whether or not “saving” them is possible or necessary.
First of all, what are we trying to save them from?
            The reason “saving” the arts seems like such a strange idea is because part of the answer to this question ^^right up there^^ is “time.”
            Arts and their usage in the present are probably the best mirror of our culture. No one piece of art is going to speak equally to different generations, and that’s something that I think we as artists or art lovers just need to accept. Zachary Woolfe’s article in the New York Times about three months ago about the failure of the New York Philharmonic to program enough contemporary music (as well as female composers) is a perfect testament to this fact—if you’re an organization that represents a constantly moving field, you going to be ridiculed for trying to stay in the past (and only the past). “Relevancy,” like Greg Sandow has written about, is the idea that many ensembles and institutions are riding on to stay afloat. The SONiC Festival’s multi-venued program, the transition from big opera houses to the prevalence of smaller companies like Gotham Chamber Opera or Ensemble Parallele, or symphony program-worthy orchestration on the albums of Sufjan Stevens or Sam Amidon are all examples of the virus-like spreading of the arts. The arts that some think are ending. Hell, even Pitchfork picked up on some of this (to a certain degree). (To Nico Muhly—I did read that little fine print at the bottom of your latest post, and look. I’m not saying it. I’m only linking it. No Te Deums, please?).
            The arts as an entity are not dying and needing to be saved, they’re just changing like any other aspect of culture does.
            How can we explain fine arts’ transition into the background of culture? They may not be drying up and ceasing to exist, but I think most can agree that classical music, poetry, or fine visual art are not as popular as they were centuries or even decades ago.  Philadelphia, Syracuse, Detroit, Louisville, and New Mexico have all either lost symphonies or have symphonies in dire trouble. Public radio and many of the things me and my fellow finalists talked about in our previous posts are losing funding or are being threatened with no funding at all. The Grammys don’t broadcast the classical awards on television. If I make an announcement about an upcoming concert at my school’s assembly, I can bet I’ll either get some “hipster” comments or sort-of-but-not-really-jokingly sympathetic, in a way, looks from my friends.
            So, when we want to save the arts in this regard, what are we saving them from?
            The reason that the fine arts are being labeled as either arcane or irrelevant is because of our tendencies as humans. As long as we know, humans categorize things. We get distracted. We like to fit in to one group of people. We make preempted judgments. A lot of the time, these qualities are enemies to fine arts, and all of these qualities are amplified in modern times with technology. We are now constantly entertained. The fine arts don’t always aim to be “entertainment,” and this can drive away consumers because of boredom or subtleties that aren’t in popular culture. I personally consider the electronic musician Aphex Twin fine art, and just look at this comment thread on his song “Flim” that the dubstep artist Skrillex posted on his Facebook. The commenters hated the song because there wasn’t a drop (the moment in a dubstep song when all the heavy bass comes in, usually after a buildup and quick cliff hanger). I’m not ridiculing them—dubstep is fun to listen to, and when it’s your main source of music and you’ve been trained to follow the short-attention-span path of it, other electronic pieces seem boring or, as the last commenter put it, “light.” This is one small example, but it parallels many, many others.
            Addressing our tendency to categorize brings up this Sequenza 21 article, one that has another telling comment thread. We like to know what we like as humans, and genres of music help us do that. However, for classical music and other fine art genres (let me be clear that I don’t think “fine art” is the right way to describe these types of art, but it’s the only one I can think of), genre-assigning is not usually a helpful thing. If humans didn’t categorize music and other types of art, we would be open to so many more artists, bands, or composers. I’m sure that many people who like pop music would love the likes of Tristan Perich, Tyondai Braxton, or Sarah Kirkland-Snider, but because these composers are under the giant umbrella of “classical,” they are shut out by people who “don’t like classical music.” But even when we try to create these ultra-specific genres like New Synthetists or Indie-Classical (only referencing, Nico), we just get lost in the complication of categories and classifications.
            In conclusion, “saving” the arts is something we don’t need to do, because they don’t need saving. They change, they spread out, they become something new every second. However, fine arts are receding into the background of popular culture, and those of us interested in them have felt this desperate need to “save” them for years from that position. Why? Why do we, as humans, feel such an animal-like connection to the arts that we want them to be at the forefront of everything? Because they save us. They give us life and emotion. I talked to a couple of artists I know about this question, and here were a couple of the things I heard.
David Felberg, Associate Concertmaster of the New Mexico Philharmonic, Co-Artistic Director of Chatter:
“There’s always a struggle for fine, fine art. They’re definitely worth saving, because as you said, they save us. It brings us to a higher level of plain of existence, and it transcends the everyday. People are hungry for that, even if they don’t know it.”
My friend Brennan Rose, a French horn player in the Albuquerque Youth Symphony:
“The arts gave me something to do that was really high mentally. I’m concentrating, like, 95% of my brain on music when I’m playing it. And for me, it gave me something that I can put passion into and all my focus into. In school, you’re using your brain, but you’re only using part of it. With music, it gives you something that you can focus your brain on but put your artistic side into.”
Rich Boucher, local poet who was on five national poetry slam teams:
“You want to save the arts because life is not only about going to work, it’s not only about walking a line that’s difficult to walk, it’s also about the things you don’t need but want. Without art, I actually think that it would be a very hollow experience. Imagine going into a museum and there’s nothing on the walls. Imagine going to a concert and people are sitting there and listening to nothing. Art gives so much.”
Pamela Michaelis, former owner of The Collectors Guide and board member of Ensemble Music New Mexico:
“It seems to me that the arts are kind of like the wind and air. They’re alive. The arts will survive. We have to learn how to manage the people who manage the arts, the organizers. But the arts, in spite of everything that we do to screw them up, the arts will survive.”

I’m not posting these to have others make my argument for me. I just think these show how integral the arts are, and how people can’t live without them. People ranging from a poet to a violinist. People from an opera singer to a musicologist to an opera expert to a teenager.
So how do we “save” them? We make art. We love art. We write about art. And when we deal with money or arguments for/about art, we think about the art

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Great Arts Blogger Challenge: An Educated, Supported Orange

Here's my third post for the Spring for Music Festival's Great Arts Blogger Challenge. I want to sincerely thank everyone who's voted for me, and I encourage people to vote again starting Monday! Let's bring Neo Antennae to the FINAL ROUND/countdown.        

            We’re reading A Clockwork Orange in my English class right now. Usually, every year, there’s one book that everybody can’t wait to read. This one in particular motivates everyone to call each other “droog” and “chelloveck” or wear long underwear and bowler hats the next Halloween.
            My favorite part of the book isn’t the plot, though, but Alex’s (the 15-year-old protagonist) description of things like music:
“And then, like a bird of the rarest spun heaven metal, or like silvery wine flowing from a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed.”
In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is violent and destructive, but he has an appreciation for the arts. Well, more like an obsession or addiction to them, as is evident in the quote above. Throughout the book, the reader both disapproves of and loves Alex. Yes, yes, music is a symbol for his free will, but a large reason that we still love him after all the unforgivable deeds he does is this glimmer of hope, his understanding of beauty and good.
            I promise, this does have to do with my answer to the prompt of Spring for Music’s Great Arts Blogger Challenge.

Candidate for Secretary of the Arts

Only... not. 

Many countries have ministries of culture. Does America need a Secretary of Culture or Secretary of the Arts? Why or why not?

            What I’m trying to say is this: as demonstrated by Alex in A Clockwork Orange, music or any other form of culture and the appreciation for it are things that really make us human. That ability to connect to something so instinctively and strongly is a quality I’m sure every person on earth shares. Something so engrained in our species needs to have an integral part in our governing.
            Originally, my answer to this question was “yes,” then it changed to “no,” and now it’s back to “yes” again.
            If the government is supposed to represent our country and the people in that country, why do we not have a Secretary of Culture? Someone to represent the millions of artists and organizations that need funding and support? Someone to represent this thing that makes us all human? 
            The “no” period in my thought process for this question came from, I think, the most obvious argument against a position like this. Art is something that can be inspiring, heart wrenching, satisfying, or infuriating. Politics are not these things (except infuriating, a lot of the time). It’s instinctive and protective to want to keep the arts away from Washington. I wake up to NPR every morning and automatically push the snooze button if I hear “Rom-“, “Sant-“, or “Ging-“. To people who either make a career out of the arts or are just simply lovers of them, the idea of mixing them with something that’s usually associated with arguing and unhappy people is repulsive. Other countries have some oppressive ministries of culture. In China, the minister of culture in 2011 posted a list of 100 songs that had to be removed from Chinese download sites. They outlawed “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, people—they’re messing with classics. Even if a US culture representative didn’t go to this extent, the fact that SOPA became such a big deal means that monitoring the internet is not far off the government’s to-do list.

A symbol of doom, to many 
            While these thoughts ran through my mind, I realized that a “yes” answer to the prompt outweighed the “no.” Yes, I do realize that many responses to this question will be "no" because of the seemingly doomed future of any political venture. But let's not talk about the political likeliness or the actual process of establishing this position. Let's not be our cynical, government-hating selves. Let's talk about people and human necessities. 
            Almost exactly a year ago, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. I had gotten to know many of the musicians during the past year before the filing. Out of nowhere, this family of musicians I had come to appreciate seemed to crumble, leaving most of us arts lovers in New Mexico with disbelieving expressions on our faces and a sense of emptiness. I know that sounds dramatic, trust me, but that’s how it really felt. Of course, we still have great organizations like Chatter or Santa Fe New Music, but this seemingly-solid, or at least should-have-been-solid, institute was more fragile in real life than it was in my head. Some blamed the board for the collapse of the NMSO, but it made me think of the unparallel ranking of “the arts” in the minds of actual people and of governments (thankfully, we now have the New Mexico Philharmonic, a new orchestra made up of many of the same musicians as the NMSO and has been sounding amazing). While the National Endowment of the Arts provides support, they are limited and have controversial choices for grant recipients. If we had a Secretary of Culture, we could see recognition and elevation of groups and organizations that we love. To me, and to a large population of the country I’m guessing, the arts are more important than many of the things the federal government is spending money on.
            Now, a Secretary of Culture probably would not vastly change the spending of the government’s budget, but perhaps it would remind Washington of what’s really important
            There’s something else that a Secretary of Culture could do that also has to do with A Clockwork Orange. In the novel, Alex’s music tastes are an anomaly. He walks into a record store to buy a Beethoven album, and he acknowledges the trashy-leaning tastes of the youth he lives among. While the book was written in the 60s, it was set about 40 years in the future—about now. And I’m afraid the author, Anthony Burgess, got that “anomaly” part of his future right.
            Arts education in America today is something that I can speak much more intimately towards than government funding. I was fortunate to go to an elementary school with a stellar music program. We learned what the instruments of the orchestra were, how to play many percussion instruments, the basic aspects of music (rhythm, beat, syncopation, etc.), and we were all pretty immersed in Bobby McFerrin. It's safe to say I wouldn't be where I am today with my love for the arts without this education. I do, however, know that this is certainly not the case for most of the children in the country during their elementary school years. Quincy Jones, the record producer who has for years been lobbying for a Secretary of Culture position, said,
"A month ago at my high school in Seattle, I asked a student if he knew who Louis Armstrong was. He said he had heard his name. I asked him about Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. He didn't even know their names. That hurts me a lot."

Quincy Jones wants YOU to establish a Secretary of the Arts
Many adults accuse my generation for being culturally ignorant and void of good taste. Some of the time, however, I don’t believe this is the fault of my peers. Many public school programs don’t have the money to pay for consistent music classes, and even if they do, most don’t spend money on educating students about jazz legends or iconic operas. The music tastes of many teenagers and kids today are handed to them by radio stations and iTunes top 10 lists. While there is sometimes great music from these sources, not much of it shows kids the history and evolution of the arts. We learn about the history of our country and the landmarks in literature—why isn’t arts education a required course? If the lack of cultural knowledge has been going on for decades, the younger half of the US population is bound to become less and less knowledgeable about classic culture as these culturally unaware kids become parents to culturally unaware children. Sure, we live in a world where you could just Google any aspect of culture, but education makes learning about these figures and historical moments understandable and fundamental. Instead of having to go look for something that a kid might know nothing about, education would show him enough to become inspired himself. A Secretary of Culture could make strides towards better arts education in the US, even if it’s by small steps.

Dudamel with young musicians--El Sistema, a youth music program in Venezuela, is overseen by the government. It's the reason we have Dudamel toay (photo by Leo Ramirez/Getty Images)
Another necessary result of quality arts education is the psychological benefits. The arts make us happy. That statement is simple, but it’s one of the truest sentences I know. If a child never was exposed to the arts before entering the classroom, learning an instrument or hearing a piece of jazz he never knew existed could be life-changing. Not only would he have a passion in life, but he would do better in other subjects and have a community of peers waiting for him outside of school. Doesn’t every child have the right to a passion? Coming from experience, I can say that being passionate about something is the thing that makes me grateful to be alive, to live on an earth where I can pursue it. For many people, the arts can be this passion, and education can foster it.
            Culture is what makes us human. While our species has created politics, militaries, and social issues, the arts are something so natural that they take no effort to connect millions of people. So why does culture not have a seat, or more appropriately, a throne, in the US government? A Secretary of Culture could not only bring arts organizations funding and support from Washington, but could make progress in advancing US arts education in schools. Of course, the actual process of creating this position, electing someone, and getting it started would be difficult and controversial, but let’s not look through the perspective of a politician here. This position is something that the people of America need, and that should be more important than the threat of annoyance and arguments.
            Alex from A Clockwork Orange has qualities that many would categorize as evil; he’s violent, destructive, and narcissistic. But his love for music gives a glimmer of hope, makes him a human that the reader can empathize with. In a novel about free will and the possibility of a government that can take it all away, the arts symbolize choice and humanity. A society like A Clockwork Orange is probably the last one America would want to have, and the arts need an important place in our country’s makeup in order to stay away from one even remotely like that dystopian society. Maybe we also need a national “Listen to Beethoven with Your Droogs” day. I would miss a day of school for that. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Great Arts Blogger Challenge: Wordless Connections

Hey guys.
This is the second post for the Spring for Music Great Arts Blogger Challenge! I have no idea who voted, but if you did, high five and thanks. If you like the post below, go to the contest page and start voting on Monday again! Voting closes Thursday at noon. 

We live in an aggressively visual age; images dominate the popular culture. But which art form has the most to say about contemporary culture, and why?

            Because of the internet, I am able to say what I have to say. Right now, as I am writing this, I’m able to show the entire world my opinion. It’s instantaneous, free, and unfiltered. A couple of decades ago, I (and the millions of other people on the internet this second) would not be able to do this. There are even differing opinions about this blog competition (some of which I understand and agree with). Contemporary culture makes having something to say and saying it easy.
            Art usually beats out the internet in terms of most effective outlets for opinions. Through all the different forms of art, perspectives are successfully absorbed. But if we are going to be talking about an art form that says something about culture, we have to be careful of contradictions.
Contemporary culture is characterized by aware and connected populations. If something happens in Tokyo, people in France will be tweeting about it in a couple of hours. #instantaneousknowledge, people. This constant sharing of information and ideas allows everyone on earth to have an opinion about pretty much everything. I mean, the internet houses everything from awesome letter archive sites to Santorum-deprecating Tumblrs. Contemporary culture also brings universal experiences. Ten people who all speak 10 different languages can be learning about, understanding, and forming ideas on the same thing at the same time.
            If the culture of the entire world is jam-packed with opinions, it seems a little inappropriate to pick an art form that itself delivers an opinion on culture. That would just be another singular perspective. So, an art form that has the “most to say” about current culture would actually allow others to do the… saying? themselves.

Dallas Symphony

            For me, this art form is instrumental music. This term may seem broad, and you would be right. It is. It could mean Beethoven, Aphex Twin, Christian Wolff, or Oscar Peterson. But wordless music accurately reflects the attitude of our culture. It does this by allowing listeners to interpret it in completely different ways, like we do with things that circulate the web, television, or newspapers.
            Instrumental music doesn’t have the language barriers of lyrics. And, like the ability technology gives to experience many things by proxy, instrumental music transports everyone to similar places. It’s how listeners react to those places that’s different. It’s impossible for two people to view one song or piece in the same way. Instrumental music is also immediate—your brain doesn’t have to figure it out or translate it. As soon as music hits your ears, you feel it and understand it for yourself.
            It’s in these ways that instrumental music mirrors contemporary culture. For example, when the Arab Spring was in full swing (poetry, man), people from around the world were involved. People were able to read news updates every hour, express their views online, and discuss the events with others. Or take Kony 2012, the anti-LRA campaign that took off on Youtube. While everyone watched the same video and took in the same information, it sprouted countless responses, ranging from support to criticism to parodies.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir 
            These types of experiences are reflected in music. The Icelandic composer AnnaThorvaldsdottir released an album called Rhízōma last year. Many people have listened to this album—it’s pretty awesome. Its echo-y, creepy, ghostly tones bring every listener into the same realm of dark landscapes. But each listener has a different experience. Read some of the reviews on her website. While all complimentary (one of them is mine, high-five for self promotion), they come from completely different perspectives. Some say the album is simple, others say it’s challenging. Some pay attention to the details of each note, and others focus on the large orchestral sweeps.
            Does this make sense? I HOPE. Perhaps an aural reinforcement would help.

Here’s “Hrím.” Now, perhaps someone is also on this here webpage, listening to the same piece at the same time you are. You’re both in this world Thorvaldsdottir has created. But perhaps that other guy is envisioning a desert, and you’re seeing the sounds in a watery way. You can experience this piece at the same time, even though you may be in different countries, but it gives you the ability to decide what it means to you.
            That’s pretty contemporary. 

And here's a lil' drawing/painting I did to illustrate the brain connectedness that instrumental music brings. I doubt this strengthens my argument, but it shows my ability to concentrate different sections of the orchestra to singular colors, as well as my strength in the "lumpy brain" category of art.