President's MessageIn the December 23,1996 issue of The New York Times, critic Edward Rothstein published an article on the discouraging prospects of the classical music world in the U.S. According to Rothstein, redundant rituals of classical music performances have lost their mythic function to arouse response from listeners and prospective audiences are already migrating in droves to shlockland to find emotional satisfaction in low-brow commercial pop and mass cinema. Audiences, composers, musicians, and critics blame each other for the decline while symphony orchestras go out of business.
There is no need to enumerate all the litanies in the article: we are already familiar with most of them. Though the writer covers the malaise from various angles, he fails to point out the obvious cause of the crisis. Since the 1980s we are living again in an anti-intellectual climate that has resulted in the devaluation of the arts and humanities in our society. In a world where huge political contribution monies determine values in society, the classical music composer who has no real salable commodity to offer is regarded as a naive, self-absorbed eccentric.
And here is a post-modern anecdote to ponder. My 13-year-old nephew from California visited with us last summer. His main "thing" now, he told me, is "alternative" rock, and he asked me to take him shopping to a good local CD store. Hearing "alternative", I took him to Atomic Records, which stocks small, independent labels with fringe and experimental rock. It turned out that I took him to the completely wrong venue. To my great astonishment, he explained that "alternative" music is the stuff merchandised at Target and Wal-Mart.
Please make an effort to attend our upcoming April conference in Madison even if you do not have a piece on the program. With WAC you have more chances to get a performance than with any other composers organization known to us, and your presence will be the most significant tribute to this year's hard-working and enthusiastic hosts.
WAC Newsletter, February, 1997
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