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Ryan Manchester » Are You Doing You?
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Are You Doing You?

October 20th, 2010

Well, are you? How do you know? David Smooke’s most recent article for New Music Box has me thinking about this question. One thing I find commonly when reading about new music performances is the amount of extra “bonuses.” These “bonuses” are usually gimmicks that add so much fluff to a performance it resembles more of a carnival or circus act than a concert. Unfortunately, these acts grab the media’s attention, fools judging panels, and gives our over-stimulated society MORE stimulation. All of this resulting in high profile media coverage, grant/competition money, and a false sense of originality overall.

What David emphasizes in his other posts on New Music Box is true originality. True originality comes from fearlessly exploring all things that interest an artist, rather than camping out in a particular style. Style does not define a composer, the composer defines style. David is a great example of this from his gorgeous microtonal works to his toy piano improvisations, the entire gamut is David Smooke. He is a professor at Peabody and this is David. He is an example of originality because he knows himself and draws inspiration from every aspect of his life. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of any artist? It seems with the new generation of composers one of the many things missing to create an honest, authentic statement is life experience. To paraphrase David, he says that if musicians do not live outside of music, what can they bring to music?

On both sides of new music whether it is traditional sounding orchestral music or complex chamber music, originality does not shine through the music. In the case of the traditional orchestral music, the majority of it sounds lazily thrown together for a crowd pleasing aesthetic. The polar opposite, the complex music, grabs at lengthy explanations and concepts that is not communicated through music. Neither case is more desirable as the music suffers no matter the aesthetic. The focus should be making one’s own way in the music industry through writing music with the goal of an artistic statement, rather than money, as the end result.

Originality is not easy. We have to balance what we learned from our teachers with our own vision and somehow sound like us. The constant flux between technique and aesthetic is a long road filled with strife, anxiety, and fear. Simultaneously, the journey is also filled with vast reward. The rewards may be few when compared to failures, but as long as we can draw from these personal and very real experiences, originality will take care of itself, and someone out there (performer, critic, fiscal sponsor) will seek you because of you.

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