My thoughts on this blog post:
I’m not sure about pitting ‘individual development’ against audience interest. What about development of the art form? I think that kind of thinking can lead to demoralisation and a real conservatism of artistic expression that in fact will do little to increase audience numbers (i.e. writing what people “want to hear”). What is wrong with performing passionately to a crowd of 50 passionate people? (Apart from the lack of financial renumeration for a hell of a lot of hard work, but that is nothing new for progressive artists.)
I do very much agree with a lot of your method for increasing audience numbers, and reaching new ears. However, the general abandonment of what is often termed a ‘modernist’ style in Australian composers is indicative of a pessimistic disposition towards the ability of our audiences to ‘digest’ ‘difficult’ music (which is, anyway, just music that demands time and repeated listenings in order to *analyse* – this doesn’t preclude it from the possibility of enjoyment by those that don’t wish to engage in such critical appreciation).
This certainly doesn’t mean I have in my head any idea that Australians are ‘backward’ – in fact, in my experience Australians can be more open to different kinds of new art music, and are far less judgmental of it than their European/American counterparts (once we get past the “I like it/I don’t like it” – the idea that one must have an immediate response of taste/identification), allowing composers MORE room to explore. I think it probably is the economic imperative and the idea that to be a “professional” composer – or performer – one must be earning the majority of their income from their creative practice, that has meant many Australian musicians develop a conservative taste in the name of populism (which can then come back to bite you in the backside – look at many of our orchestras!).
Sticking to your guns and, yes, sticking to your own development and the development of the art – so long as you keep in mind finding a way to communicate to actual and potential audience members *why* this is important to you and your community – can actually win you more faithful followers. Have a project! That would be my advice.
What I definitely agree with is your frustration at the people with these very negative views! Our small new music ensemble in Brisbane is quite proudly modernist, and have gained the support of a venue – the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art – despite not fitting their current mission statement, because we have a strong vision and thematic organisation of our concerts. A strong vision is only possible with a realistically positive outlook. We don’t get huge audiences, but we play in a small venue to a full house (around the 50-60 mark). This year we are also JUMP mentorees (Australia council), in a project that will bring a similar European new music ensemble – ensemble interface – out to Brisbane to work with us, and I personally received an ArtStart grant (also OzCo) to pursue my work with young composers in Australia and internationally.
How does one measure success? Is it only a dollar value? The audience headcount? Or is it the satisfaction of talking to 20 different people who came to your concert, and finding out that they all have very different responses to the pieces, and interesting perspectives – whether or not they are musicians/music ‘educated’? I guess this is a benefit of ‘small audiences’ – a better back and forward. Don’t confuse a ‘small audience’ with ‘no audience’!!
Discussions about the small audiences new music attracts have been a constant of my life as a musician since I first entered university as a 16 year old to study composition.
I have to confess I’m getting a bit sick of the topic, mostly because there’s no mystery to these matters whatsoever, and the whole ‘debate’ ends up in the field of deliberate self-delusion almost as soon as it begins.
Last night someone said to me that audiences are small for ‘this kind of thing’ because, and I quote, “Australia is so backward”.
Something in my head finally broke after all the years, and I found myself struggling to hold back the waves of derision engulfing me. I may not have won that struggle.
I’m not going to waste my breath explaining the multitude of ways in which Australia fails to demonstrate backwardness. And before I don’t do that I’m…
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