26 March 2009

Diallers for Truth

Jonathan Bellman, at Dial “M” for Musicology, writes Against Familiar Thinking, However Correct. Among his pithy observations:

  • Times for musicians are never good.
  • . . . here is the One Rule: There Are No Rules.
  • Statistics are not relevant in our field.
It feels great to have someone say it: that times for musicians are never good. Of course, there are high-profile examples of individual musicians for whom the times are good — for some of them, times have always been good. But in everyman’s experience, the arts are always the first to be thrown under the bus when there is even a whiff of financial austerity in the air. Music has never been a “practical” field to study; and yet, for the artists of genius to emerge with the work which will enrich the world, there needs to be a musical community & environment.

In reverse order, here is an instance of thinking, both familiar and correct, with which Mr Bellman advises us that he declines to argue:

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself.
This resonates with a Charles Ives quote I once cited in (I believe) program notes to an orchestra concert in Virginia, which I repeat here with unavoidable inaccuracy, as I’ve no idea, today, where to search for it again: that if a musician (perhaps specifically a composer, or perhaps not) depends on his music to earn his money, there comes a time (especially if the composer has a nice wife and a nice family) when musical concerns yield to the need to (in Ives’ words) go “TA-DA!” for money. “Bad for him, bad for music.”

In very practical terms, of course, I live in agreement with Ives. My sources of regular income (for happily I have a nice wife and a nice family) are utterly non-musical. Nor am I going even to seem to complain about that, for it means that I can write what I like, for whatever reasons I like. I didn’t go to school to become an entertainer. It would be bold to add, nor do I have to sell myself . . . but there are many different modes of selling. One enthusiastic lady who led a seminar I was required to attend put it a bit coarsely (yet there is some truth in there), that everything one does, is selling something.

And I do need to “sell” my music, if my music is going to be performed by people other than those named Karl Henning. But, again, I write as I please, and I do not alter that a whit in any chase for greater “saleability.”

Sometimes, it means that I don’t clinch a sale. I recently spoke with a chap in a well-known orchestra; and it was an unfailingly pleasant conversation — but there was no suggestion that any music of mine might be programmed. One piece which has struck a rich chord with many listeners, did not quite convince him — and he was most diplomatic, and volunteered that this was an opinion. There was no getting around the fact that it was his own honest opinion, though; and there was no point in putting forward the names of colleagues who do endorse the piece.

And it comes back to the lesson from Matisse’s life. Whatever the ups and downs of temporal experience, the important thing is to keep writing, and write well. For the work will continue to exist; and if one writes into excellence, the work’s time will come.

One hopes, in the composer’s time, yet.

Separately, e-mail came out of the blue today, a music director at a church who has taken a liking to Bless the Lord, O My Soul.


Cato said...

Hi Karl!

In certain public school districts here in Ohio Music and Art will soon be "hypovehiculated" to save money. This seems to be a constant, as you wrote.

In an era when practically every member on the planet wants to be recognized somehow, perhaps the best way to be recognized is to try NOT to be recognized! (Like the Monty Python skit "How NOT To Be Seen"!)

You already know about The Remnant theory of Albert Jay Nock. They will find your music eventually: their numbers might be small, but they will greatly appreciate your music.

Karl Henning said...

And thus, the crucial thing is, to write the music, so that there is music to be found.

Someday ; )