Friday, October 07, 2022

Squeaky wheels, and trying to move forward

All of a sudden, with musical life returning to a degree of perceived normal, I find myself looking "back" at communicating by way of the internets.

Musical life and musical tastes have changed since those rec music newsgroups organized themselves into free forums for discussion among musicians. In those golden days of text-only communication it was possible to develop correspondences and grow friendships with like-minded people who it would be impossible to get to know in normal place-bound and class-bound life.

Then the blogosphere emerged, and it was a kind of paradise. I loved reading blogs by the musicologists who posted their unpublished papers from graduate school. I also loved reading posts by performing musicians and composers who wrote about their experiences with certain pieces of music, their daily lives, and their personal reflections on things musical.

Everyone was Ned Rorem until many would-be diarists found that keeping up a public diary requires a lot of work and commitment, and is usually done without compensation, unless you are Ned Rorem, and had early success with publication.

I started this blog as a way to connect and communicate about things musical with people who lived outside of the forty-mile listening area of mostly-rural Illinois covered by the radio station I used to work for. I made my first post in 2005. This is my 2970th post. I have never monetized this space, and never intend to. I have made the occasional post linking to something I have had published, but I do it only rarely, and I do it without expectation. Most of the links I post for music I have written go to entries in the IMSLP.

I have written a lot of music and made many arrangements. To date I have made 344 entries in my Thematic Catalog blog. Some entries are for individual pieces, and some are for sets of pieces. I am happy with much of the music. Some of it seems to be popular among musicians, and some of it doesn't. I have heard that audiences like music that I have written, which is always nice to hear.

But I just don't seem to have the kind of squeaky-wheelness to promote my work that I see from composers on Facebook. And I tend to look at things realistically: there is more music of quality available now than there has ever been before. And I have resigned myself to accept that the standard solo pieces, etudes, pieces of chamber music, and orchestral music written by composers who happen to be men will always outnumber the standard solo pieces, etudes, pieces of chamber music and pieces of orchestral music written by composers who happen to be women.

Every once in a while a piece or two by a woman has made it into the standard repertoire (like the Chaminade Concertino or the Clarke Viola Sonata), but, try as I might (and try as we might), pieces written by women are still programmed more often because they are pieces by women regardless of their value as pieces of music.

There are young people (well, people younger than me) dedicated to maintaining a social media presence for Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn (or Fanny Hensel), and excellent pianists who specialize in only performing music written by women. But I fear that these are flickers of a movement that won't flame unless there is a constant bellows (and many squeaky wheels) keeping them in the public eye.

There have been some baby steps taken towards "legitimacy" for music written by women: Ethel Smyth has finally had twenty-first-century performances of The Wreckers that have been noticed, written about, attended, and enjoyed. It would be great if it remains in the repertoire. The same with works by Pauline Viardot, who many people have come to know during the past two years.

For two years during the pandemic, when I connected with musicians on Facebook again, I found that my work was indeed useful for musicians who needed new music to keep them occupied. I had time, energy, and a sense of purpose, so I wrote a lot of solo music and music that could help connect musicians who were isolated from one another before vaccinations and good masks helped make rehearsals and concerts possible again.

While I believe that I have done my best work, it doesn't seem important at all (anymore) in the larger world of music. There is so much music readily available that is so much better than what I am capable of writing. And while I continue to grow as a musician, and am able to understand and appreciate more fully the compositional strengths of Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert, Franz Josef Haydn, and, yes, Georg Philipp Telemann (all men, all dead, all European, all white, all Germanic), the work I have done seems rather insignificant. And for that reason I don't have it in me to use the squeaky wheels of Facebook and Twitter to promote my work the way I see other composers promote their work.

I think it will be a while before I write something new. Unless somebody asks me to. But I'm not holding my breath.

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