The CD as music

It’s audi­tion time at music con­ser­va­to­ries yet again. I thought I would share some­thing that hap­pens with a lot of fre­quency, and it’s got me thinking.

Some­one will come around and intro­duce them­selves as a com­poser, and we’ll say, “That’s fine, that’s great, let’s see some scores!” We com­posers like to share our scores and have a look and see.

A lot more often than you would think, though, the com­poser in ques­tion will offer CDs instead.

This is met with some col­lec­tive eye-rolling in con­ser­va­to­ries. Does this per­son not know how to pro­duce a score? Does this per­son even know how to read music? With soft­ware nowa­days most peo­ple can cre­ate some kind of music and put it on a CD, but the printed score is still para­mount in clas­si­cal music. In fact, when see­ing a new score for the first time, I know of sev­eral com­posers who refuse to even lis­ten to the accom­pa­ny­ing CD, as if this is demean­ing in some way. The printed score, for these com­posers, is appar­ently all that matters.

And yet.

I men­tioned in a prior post what John Har­bi­son calls “us notes-and-rhythms com­posers.” Of course ¬†a philo­soph­i­cal argu­ment can be made that music need not be lim­ited to notes and rhythms. Almost every week the New York Times reviews some man­ner of con­cert that involves live elec­tron­ics in some way: usu­ally a lap­top pro­vid­ing play­back of sam­ples or pro­cess­ing live sounds.¬†As well, these kinds of per­for­mances are not nec­es­sar­ily sup­posed to sound the same from per­for­mance to per­for­mance. It just so hap­pens that, as with jazz or pop­u­lar styles, the abil­ity to read music can be rather inci­den­tal to someone’s inher­ent musicianship.

I’m not sure who is more at a loss here. On the one hand there is the aspir­ing young com­poser who might glean more by learn­ing about the­ory, nota­tion, etc.; on the other hand there is the con­ser­va­tory that cre­ates a fire­wall of musi­cal lit­er­acy, one that keeps out a gen­uinely tal­ented composer.

Is there a happy medium between the two?

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.