The Future of art Music

The Future of art Music

The Future of art Music    08:06 on Thursday, August 04, 2005          
(Co-op Press)
Posted by Archived posts

As a composer, performer, and educator, I am constantly concerned with the future of art music. A recent newspaper article about the Pittsburgh Symphony budget deficit is the impetus for this posting. The article mentioned a deficit of $500,000 or more for the 2004-05 season and attributed the deficit to lower than expected ticket sales for the classical subscription series. Ticket sales for the classical subscription series have grown only 2% over the past 22 years while ticket sales for the pops concerts have grown 8%. In my opinion, this is reflective of three national trends that I feel need to be addressed.

Because of outside influences, music education in our schools has been watered down. In an effort to be more inclusive, classroom music, music ensembles, and college music courses for the general student have indirectly equated vernacular music and art music. There is nothing wrong with being inclusive, but I feel it is the music teacherís responsibility to point out the similarities and differences between vernacular music and art music. Each offers its own rewards, but art music involves more understanding of musical elements and their relationships, and therefore functions on a higher intellectual plane. I feel it is the educatorís responsibility to help the student grow in the intellectual understanding of music and not succumb to pressure from administration, parents and students by allowing vernacular music to be equated with art music.

Most performers display a lack of interest in music being written by living composers. Unfortunately, the trends of composition in the middle and late 20th century contributed greatly to this problem. However, performers should realize that there are many composers writing art music that is accessible to both performers and listeners as it is based on the traditions established prior to the mid- 20th century. John Winsor, in his book "Breaking the Sound Barrier: An Argument for Mainstream Literary Music", makes a wonderful case explaining why music went astray in the mid-20th century. I feel his book is a "must read" for any educator, performer or composer. A way for performers to show their audiences that music composition is an art that is still alive and vital is to include a recent composition composed in a "mainstream literary music" style on every program.

Many of todayís composers emphasize intellectualism and innovation over perceivable craft. There is nothing wrong with innovation except that it has become an end within itself. Intellectualism and innovation are rewarded through composition contest prizes and grants that are judged by other composers, therefore perpetuating a style of music that is no longer accessible to both performers and audiences. I would like to quote from the final chapter of my book "A Composerís Guide to Understanding Music with Activities for Listeners, Interpreters, and Composers" regarding composing trends. "Throughout musical history, the balance between the classic (of the mind) and romantic (of the heart) modes of thinking has alternated. The center of the pendulum can be thought of as equal treatment intellectualism and emotionalism. The pendulum swings that occurred prior to the twentieth century have not eliminated the other mode of thought. They have just changed the emphasis. During the early to mid-twentieth century, the swing towards classicism went to extremes by over emphasizing the intellectualism and rejected anything associated with emotionalism. The composer, Igor Stravinsky, stated that "music is powerless to express anything at all". He later retracted that statement, but it clearly illustrates the rejection of emotionalism in music. The intellectualism that dominated much of twentieth century music, and still exists today, has been a contributing factor to alienating audiences and performers from new music. The majority of the relationships between unity and variety are mostly perceivable through in-depth score study, rather than by active or passive listening."

Educators, performers and composers must work together to ensure the future of art music. I welcome your feedback regarding my comments and invite you to visit my web site at to learn about the programs that Co-op Press has established to encourage partnerships between composer, performer and audience.

Dr. Sy Brandon
Professor Emeritus
Millersville University of Pennsylvania


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