I recently attended a lecture given by Greg Sandow; a composer, author, critic, and faculty member at The Juilliard School. He spoke on the diminishing health of classical music, an issue that is on every musician’s mind these days. Throughout the lecture he gave historical examples and timelines that explained what exactly has happened to the popularity of classical music over the past century. As fascinating as that was, what motivated the audience were Sandow’s suggested solutions to the problem. His ideas were centered upon “outside of the box” creativity and approaching classical music from new angles.
Over the past week while keeping this lecture in the back of my mind I have been reflecting on the book Towards a New Music by Carlos Chavez. It is a rather short, essay-like publication on the future of music. Even though the book was published back in 1937, there is definite synergy between it and the Greg Sandow lecture.
Towards a New Music discusses the issue of living in the past. I believe the most influential section of the book is the very first chapter, for Chavez brings multiple points to the table for thought. First of all, he addresses that humans tend to dwell in the past instead of focusing on the present. I believe this is especially true for classical musicians. If you observe what is often focused on in most of today’s concert halls, you will no doubt see works performed by old European masters such as Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. This speaks in itself in regards to how often we musicians dwell in what’s behind us. Yes, many organizations and ensembles are focusing on bringing newer music to the stage, but our attraction to that which has been done countless times greatly outweighs them.
Chavez argues that on top of having great respect for the old we must find a way to create an everlasting view that is always moving forward. This would bring a more healthy and balanced approach to how we nurture our music. Being 1937, Chavez believed this forward-facing view was acceptance of technology in order to create new kinds of music. Obviously he hit the nail on the head, for countless styles and genres of music have appeared in last century due to the implementation of technology. However, we have “seesawed” (in Greg Sandow’s terms) to one direction and the old ways are being forgotten.
I cannot help but ask myself what Carlos Chavez would say if he could see the state of our musical world today. Would he be thrilled to see the shift in popularity from the old to the new or would he be concerned about the dying flame of the old ways? Either way, I think his input would be welcomed by all.