Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Making a Case for Ceremonial Music

Dear Senator Schumer,

Even though the performance of the John Williams piece that President Obama and his 2009 Inauguration committee ended up being problematic (stringed instruments and freezing temperatures don't mix), the gesture of having a piece written for the occasion was one that I and many of my fellow non-pop American musicians and composers really did appreciate.

Given the care and thought that went into the 2013 inauguration, I was expecting something with more "gravitas" than simply having commercial pop singers sing a few well-known patriotic songs as the musical portion of the event. There is room at these events for poetry, discussions of art (at the dinner), food, and fashion design, but there didn't seem to be much of a place for serious music.

I have been told that there was a string quartet that played at the dinner, but if the musicians had been seen on camera, it would have made a cultural statement, even if, as I often am when I play for events, they were only hired help.

The idea of the pop singers singing the National Anthem and America the Beautiful in ways that altered their meter and style didn't bother me as much as the fact that Beyonce sang her rendition with a recording of the President's Own rather than with live musicians (I do understand the key she required is not a band-friendly key, but that is not the issue). Jennifer Hudson also serenaded the first couple to the accompaniment of a tape of musicians and back-up singers.

This kind of thing drives yet another nail into the coffin of the practice of music as a living art, one in which instrumentalists contribute at least enough to be present in person. It gives the message to the greater public that we do not matter, and they believe what they see.

I understand that the President has a lot to deal with, and I have put many of my feelings about the lack of representation of non-commercial American music on the back burner for much of my adult life. I suppose I was hoping, after the commissioning of a piece of music to mark the occasion of an inauguration in 2009, that it might happen again, and it might happen in a way that would make people take note of the fact that "classical music" hasn't been exclusively European for a good 150 years, and that much of the greatest music being written today is being written by American composers.

Perhaps you (or your staff) could consider commissioning a short inaugural brass fanfare for the 2017 inauguration. Brass players, particularly the ones in the excellent "President's Own" ensemble that plays 100-plus-year-old Sousa marches for these events, are used to playing well in the cold. There are composers who write extremely well for brass instruments, like Eric Ewazen, an American composer in his late 50s who is almost a household name among brass players. Commissioning a fanfare (and I believe that Eric Ewazen could write one equal in impact and emotional content as Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man") would send a message to the country and to the world at large that American music of the non-commercial and non-pop variety is something to be valued. Right now we, as a whole class of people, spanning through many generations, have pretty much been marginalized.

Please consider this request, and please pass it forward to the people who will be planning the next Inauguration.


Elaine Fine
Charleston, IL

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...as a whole class of people, spanning through many generations, have pretty much been marginalized." Very astute. This has been the aim of uprooting Western civilization in order to build a new society, because it has been all the institutions of Western civlization which have been blamed for supporting the old order. Welcome to being maringalized. Expect more. Copland, as an example, has been tagged as a "dead white man" and also as having benefited by "white privilege." Sadly for classical music in general, so goes the game.