Why the next 20 years of classical music will smash the last 20

OPINION. That’s all this is. Totally unmerited, unfounded, unresearched, unverified 🙂

I’m in the UK right now, where I spent my childhood and early professional career. My teens and current professional career were/are in the USA. My college life was mostly spent up & down the UK, throughout East & West Europe, and later a sojourn in a couple of countries in the Southern parts of Africa. Next stop? Ah well, wouldn’t you like to know!

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown grew up and lived in both the USA and the UKBut as I’m sitting here for a few moments, pondering the extraordinary life I’ve lived split primarily between two continents, cultures and languages (yes, I’m bilingual: I speak English and American), I find it remarkable how much our environment has changed but our enterprise has not. For example, in the late 1980s I predicted that orchestras would start dying out in 20 years or so if they didn’t radically change, and I was correct.

So what about 20 years from now? Hmmm…

“Keep classical music live!”

First, I still believe that acoustic/ unplugged performance affects us in so many more ways than anything reproduced through loudspeakers (click it to tweet it) if only we can be bothered to listen & allow ourselves to fully engage in it, and it cannot be replaced.

From that perspective, I wonder what was I doing 20 years ago that I’m still doing now? Am I doing it differently? How will I be doing it in the future?

Classical Music

  • “Classical music” was an art form studied by many, performed by a few, and enjoyed by a multitude.
  • No-one wants to call “Classical Music” Classical Music anymore. It has a stuffy reputation and technically only refers to the period in history in which Mozart and Haydn lived. We are confused.
  • “Contemporary Music” will be only a [major] part of intimate and huge all-encompassing events that remind us there’s a form of communication that isn’t verbal or visual, but emotional.

 

The Towaco Story by Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown

Composing

  • Manuscript paper could be bought or drawn, and music was created & shared by using a pencil, ruler and eraser/ rubber (see? I told you I’m bilingual).
  • Computer software is readily available, both audio-based used primarily for output such as films, and visual-based used primarily to print music for live performers to read.
  • Even without Steve Jobs around, composition technology will continue to grow and astound those of us born before 2009.

Music Theory

London Sinfonietta Postcard Score Event

The music score of “One for Vonnegut”

  • Musical rules and regulations developed over 400 years were studied and followed rigorously prior to being broken and expanded upon.
  • Sometimes musical rules and regulations are followed, sometimes not, sometimes they don’t even apply, especially in graphical scores.
  • People will like music that affects them, whether it is disturbing, pleasing or in-between, and the rules and regulations of multiple cultures’ musical traditions will be meshed together to create new musical theories.

Commercialization

  • Specific performers were adopted by a benefactor such as the aristocracy, a publisher or a record label, who paid the performer to perform or the composer to compose in order to entertain themselves & their staff, or make money.The Three Tenors became a commercial goldmine
  • Anyone can self-publish, self-record, and self-promote. Many consumers are getting fed up of hearing the same financially viable repertoire pumped into their ears time and time again.
  • Private enterprise will promote performers and composers through hosting or advertising at large live events and online, kind of like Pepsi and Verizon have been doing with (currently-commercialized) female pop stars. Consumers will favor living composers but still occasionally wallow in the music of Dead White Men.

Funding

  • As above, musicians struggled or were adopted by a benefactor. In the Olden Dayes of Classical Music, there was no public government funding.
  • Musicians still struggle, but many are supporting themselves handsomely through ‘entrepreneur-like’ activities such as teaching, producing (live & recording), publishing, retail, and performing all combined. Some governments still spend as much as 0.5% of their nonviable budgets on all the arts.
  • Musicians will still struggle and many will be a part of larger organizations and co-ops. But, administrators will support not direct, and Boards will over-see not make decisions. Public funding will still be a hot topic but far less influential.

 

One thing I can assure you about classical music in 20 years’ time: it will still be here. It is not dying. There will always be someone scraping a wooden violin, someone tooting down a metal tube, and someone banging on an array of so-called ‘instruments’ (aka Percussion). It may morph, shrink and grow, expand and minimalise itself to 1 note (or nothing, in the case of John Cage’s 4’33”), but it will still exist.

After all, the community and youth orchestra scenes are enjoying unprecedented success and are clearly still on the upswing (if not just reaching their height).

What YOU think “Classical Music” will be like in 20 years…

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I’ve got 7 years left – #PsalmQuest Compositions

Some of my compositions were recently submitted as materials for another Masters-level qualification which would permit me to teach higher education in the USA – something my experience and approach is well suited to. The application was not approved, and that hurt. When I shared the assessor’s report with my select circle, most of the reactions were along the lines of “These comments make no sense,” and “I haven’t got a clue what he’s on about.” One comment suggested how the assessor seemed to be looking for negative things to say and ended up saying the same thing about each piece that was submitted. There is no recourse to appeal the assessment, and therefore I particularly reveled in one friend’s description of the assessor as a “Schmuck” (all in good jest to lighten the weight I’d put on his career-jolting opinion.)

A colleague in the academic world seemed to corroborate but put it like this:

You have wonderful ideas and a sense of exploration. Maybe there is a voice in your head wondering if anyone will like what you are doing so you play it safe. As with any creative venture, safety does not result in efforts that fully show one’s capability. I also think you have been limited by [composing for] players with modest ability and so you have had to avoid writing anything that pushes the envelope too far. Break out of that. Quiet the voices of questioning that I can imagine are speaking to you and see what happens.

Wow! Nice! Thank you, G!

 

My action plan must be:

  • Something that doesn’t require seeking the participation of musicians I can’t afford or are of “modest ability.”
  • A project that doesn’t require coming to you with my hand out asking for funds.
  • Something with changing flavours, aromas and colors that last over a long period of time.
  • A project which produces results but is not dependent on what happens to them.
  • Something that can be created with the resources I already have, and that can be shared with you if you’re interested.

 

Major influences:

Heard of Chris Guillebeau? Several years ago he set himself the goal of visiting all the countries of the world by his 35th birthday. He just completed his quest ON his 35th birthday last month. 193 countries in less than 11 years. No-one else has ever accomplished it.

Most of Bach’s work, much of Mozart’s, Beethoven, Verdi, Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Taverner, Part and a multitude of other composers have written music influenced by the Bible, including two of the most amazing pieces ever: the ultra-famous Messiah by Handel, and the incomparable Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton (watch below). Even outlying members of the post-WWII British atheist movement, including composers such as Benjamin Britten and John Rutter, often turned to the Bible for source material. So why not me?

 

I recently heard a reading of Psalm 33 and it caught my attention. It is far from famous but its descriptive content is unique. There are many pieces of music in the world influenced by the psalms, but… all of them? Yes. Plenty. But that’s like asking if every country in the world has been visited. Until Chris G set his goal, no one person had visited every country in the world.

My Quest:

To advance my composition skills by writing 150 pieces of music based on each of the 150 psalms by my 50th birthday in 7 years’ time.

How on earth will that get done? I have a plan. [In fact, I’ve already started].

It’s going to be a fascinating journey! I hope you’ll stay the course with me.

 

keep-calm-and-stay-the-course

Update Jan 8, 2014:
Project going VERY well! 13 completed and two more underway. In the meantime, I’ve adopted the hashtag #PsalmQuest to help organize my composition project. Spread the word! [Click it to tweet it]

Update Sept 10, 2018:
Four years of web content got deleted through malware that also infected by backups. Regardless, this project was on hiatus for three years during my Dad’s rather cruel terminal illness (PSP) and I am only now figuring out how to re-incorporate the #PsalmQuest schedule back into my daily routine. I doubt the project will be finished by my 50th birthday, but the important thing for me right now is to simply finish.

 

Tell me in the comments below how you’ve overcome adversity or a big disappointment. Did it spur you into action? Did you setup a project or quest? Did you move onto something completely different? I’d love to hear how you managed to move on with your life. Go on, add a comment, and then share this post so others can benefit, too: