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Contemporary Classical, Academic, New Music?

What sort of music do you write? This is probably the first question that a composer of contemporary classical or in fact any composer hears today. The difference between a composer of x and a musician that performs any genre of popular music is that the latter’s niche is often clearly defined. Because that’s how they get an audience. Composers, probably because of their solipsism, have not thought about this for centuries, so today we have this dilemma. So what sort of music do you write?

If you say you’re a classical composer, one suddenly thinks of Mozart, Beethoven, and assumes you must write sonatas, menuets, and symphonies. If you say you’re a contemporary classical composer, one questions how you can be both classical and contemporary – isn’t that an oxymoron? Once you say you write contemporary music, you suddenly end up in this strange world of ‘adult contemporary’ which sounds like a genre of erotic novels, with formats like ‘hot adult contemporary’ and ‘soft adult contemporary’. Do we, as composers, really want to share the word with that? If you say you’re an academic composer, it kind of rings closer to the truth, but the word academic tells nothing beyond the fact that it must be written in universities. But what type of music is written in universities? If you say you’re a composer of New Music, one would – don’t all composers write new music? Unless of course one knows the difference between New Music and new music.

Maybe it was Einstein who said that one should be able to explain what he does to a child, well, composers seem to have a problem with that. Unless we say – we make music. But this fails to distinguish us from all those ‘other’, earthly composers, with their unbearable melodies, sweet harmonies, and a seeming lack of consciousness and critique of what exactly they’re writing. Right?

In the end, this is a question of selling music. Clearly, it is a question most composers, academics, etc., prefer not to think about, because, as we all know – capitalism is evil, and artists should never try to make their art appealing to those pesky consumers. I find this dialectic to be quite comical – composers despise the listener and at the same time depend on him for their livelihood. But perhaps here hides the lack of success of x in general. Although, we do have examples of commercial success by composers like Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and a few others, but I can tell you the reason for this, the name ‘minimalism’ was attributed to this music, thus making it a consumable product.

At this point no one but composers, others who work in the industry, and the surrounding clique understands what is this x that we’re writing. No one wants x, x isn’t cool, x isn’t smart. X is boring, and it especially does not generate attention, which is pretty much the only thing that matters nowadays.

We might go with contemporary classical academic new music, but that seems entirely too long, or with x, which is too short, so I’ll just stick with saying that I put notes on paper, which in the end is also a lie.

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An End of Publicly Funded Art is an End of the Arts?

In light of a looming end of publicly funded art, it is important for artists and curators to think more seriously about legitimate alternatives to public funding. Public funding of the arts in the UK came into existence in 1948 with John Maynard Keynes’ establishment of the Arts Council, there was no policy driven or comprehensive public funding of the arts (or anything else, pretty much) before that. Now we can ask a question, were there no arts before? I am quite sure any person can answer this with a definite ‘no’, and in fact we can still say that the greatest art in history probably came before 1948.

Looking at the history of music, you can see that most if not all the great composers and musicians we know of had some sort of support from an individual or from an institution – a wealthy aristocrat, the Church, or even a monarch with a liking for art. Palestrina, Monteverdi, Beethoven, Mozart, all created work for specific people and organisations.

In a way, this makes life harder for artists – as hard as it is to write a good Arts Council application, it is even harder to find individuals with money that are interested in funding a project, but in the end it is individuals who appreciate art, not the Arts Council, and it is the individuals that appreciate art who should pay for art.

Another unintended consequence of public funding is public perception of paying artists for their work. The more the idea that public funding is normal is ingrained in the minds of people, the more people think they don’t need to pay anything to experience art and assume that art is always paid by someone else.

We do not need more public funding in the arts, we need more talented fundraisers in the arts that will work with artists and organisations and help them not only get funding for their projects, but to shape a culture of voluntary giving to the arts, and an understanding that just like everything else in this world, art costs time, and time costs money.