In the latest Atlantic Monthly (not online), Hanna Rosin has written a fascinating article where she describes the growing rift within religious denominations, rather than between them. She quotes a study where:
the survey subdivides the three largest religious groups--evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, and Catholics--into "traditionalists," "centrists," and "modernists."
So, for example, traditionalist evangelicals actually share values with, for example, traditionalist Catholics.She cites an example where a Southern Baptist leader says he has more in common with Pope John Paul II than he does with Jimmy Carter.
Rosin defines the three categories:
Traditionalists...want to preserve "traditional beliefs and practices in a changing world." Centrists are defined as wanting to adapt beliefs to new times, while modernists have unabashed heterodox beliefs, worship infrequently, and support upending traditional doctrines to reflect a modern view.
In a belated self-realization, when it comes to applying a similar categorization of classical music listeners, I would place myself in the modernist category. If you look at my recent, apparently trivial post on ten tracks that popped up in my shuffle mode, it reasonably approximates what I actually listen to. No Beethoven, no Schubert, no Bach, no Handel, no Chopin, etc., all of whom I had heavily listened to in the past, but don't right now because I choose all of this modern music instead. Even this morning, some Schubert Impromptus came up on shuffle to little or no effect.
Extrapolating,those "classical music is in crisis" articles are only vaguely relevant to me, especially when discussing the state of the orchestra. At this point, it takes a John Adams premiere for me to even bother attending anything at the SF Civic Center. I had the opportunity to hear the San Francisco Symphony last week, and the prospect of hearing seven minutes of Busoni wasn't enough to counteract the rest of the (more traditional) program. So, even if orchestras folded tomorrow, I'd be disappointed but could shrug it off. Granted, I am an enthusiast with no professional investment in classical music, so I can afford to cast my lot with the modernists. In my professional life where there is real economic self-interest at stake, I'll place myself in the centrist camp, trying to balance the old and the new.
OK, so now that I have declared my modernist allegiance, I'll use Roger Reynolds and the Once Festival to illustrate that just because one is clear on aesthetic direction doesn't mean one finds it easy going and rewarding. For those who don't know, the Once Festival was a series of avant-garde concerts led by young composers and visual artists, centered around Ann Arbor (Hi Fred) in the early sixties. This is documented in a box-set of CDs from New World Records that, I have to say, has been a challenge to understand, to decide if it is of historical import, or to even see if it is listenable. To quote Reynolds on his work Wedge:
The intent of this music is to create a situation in which time moves at different rates and with different sorts of momentum simultaneously.
As a listener, I can't even hear this yet, let alone enjoy it. So, why go through this, other than from some fundamental compulsion for the musically new? Slogging through modern music of all types does help me be in awe of someone like Aaron Copland who captured (albeit maybe opportunistically) the tenor and style of modernism and the Thirties and Forties era, and yet transcended that to produce universal music. I've been blogging about American classical music for several years now, and the biggest surprise for me is that if I go to the proverbial Desert Island with one composer, that while ten years ago it might have been Bach or Schubert, today, I'm going with my buddy Aaron. For some reason, it took Henry Cowell banging his forearms on the piano for me to "get" Copland. So, the theory is that hearing "time moving at different rates" or whatever, will lead me to figure out who incorporates this into something truly masterful.
Back to the Rosin article, she tries to describe the future of this categorical religious divide. Given that fundamentalists are engaged and optimistic, but subject to the "burden of high expectations," and Protestant and Catholic progressives aren't even clear about how to proceed, she only speculates that the traditionalists could dis-engage politically.
The other thing I wonder is who will play the Copland "popular yet substantive American composer" role over the next couple of decades. I believe the tone and mood of American society will be much different than the post-modern era we know from the last twenty years; the composer to capture this transition may be unexpected. Still, the pat answer would be John Adams but I'm not sure he is as substantive and thus enduring, although I hope he is.
Finally, I won't speculate on the broader future of classical music or even the categorical classical music divide between new and old. Hey, for all I know, ten years from now, I'll be the jazz traditionalist bemoaning the music of John Coltrane and coming home to Dexter Gordon.
Amazon does sample Reynolds' Wedge. P.J. O'Rourke, also in this month's The Atlantic Monthly, gets the last word:
By applying hasty generalization, unconscious prejudice, and invidious comparison, we can start all sorts of arguments.