Saturday, June 28, 2008

SICPP, one week later

I've been home from SICPP for a week now, which is starting to be enough time to digest whatever I learned from the experience. I've had a desire to attend for several years, but the desire firmed into a goal when Drury last January announced that Kondo was the composer-in-residence. I learned a couple of pieces better than I ever had before, performed one in a master class and the other on a public stage (a first as a pianist, although I performed on guitar in my salad days). I worked directly with a composer of international stature, a bright spot on any resumé. But on the last day, during the final Iditarod concert, I took a dinner break at the half-way point, only to have the exhaustion of the week catch up to me. I thought about my 7am flight, asked myself whether I really wanted to stay up until after midnight, and returned to my hotel and crashed (Matthew Guerrieri caught the Iditarod's second half and reports on it here).

One of the consequences of SICPP's shift from solo piano to chamber music (a telling measure of its success in new music pedagogy) meant that I had more free time on my hands than most of the other students. Combined with a lack of my usual distractions (free wifi was nearly impossible to find, except at the coffee shop where I got a large dark roast every morning), I had time to reflect on my personal goals as a musician, and notice how different they are from my SICPP colleagues. Professional musicians work very hard, long hours, not always playing music they like, seldom having the luxury of adequate rehearsels. But even further, if I have taken to heart Cage's dictum of music to sober and quiet the mind, and if a lot of new music that I admire has this same goal, there was precious little time for the mind to stay quiet, or to look around for divine influences when it got there.

There have been a couple of articles around the blogosphere since my return that address this point as well. David Harrell points to emusic blogs and a recent Atlantic article to identify "content fatigue" as the feeling of being overwhelmed by too much new music to process. The effort to slow down and listen is a major reason why I started this blog. A lot of the new music at SICPP wore Morton Feldman influences on its sleeve — even the Kondo piece that I played was reminiscent of Feldman. But one of Feldman's characteristics is the total immersion required for his late works, which start at 30 minutes and, for works like his second string quartet or For Philip Guston, can last hours (and after four and a half hours at the SICPP Iditarod, I don't think I could sit through a performance of either one). One of the composition students, Marti Epstein, brought See, Even Night, a lovely Feldmanesque piece for clarinet, viola and piano, which was performed in the first half of the Iditarod. I would like to have wallowed in this piece, listening to the three instruments softly float around each other. But immersion is another luxury that professional musicians don't often get, because there is so much music to be played.

The inevitable downside is that my musical niche becomes smaller and smaller. Glenn at Coolfer and David Harrell have both commented recently on the long tail, pointing to the long-term unprofitability of niche music. Music I admire is released in editions of 500 or less, and this takes over a year to sell out. I still have over a dozen unopened CDs on my desk (although a number of them were acquired in Boston — what a treat to find a brick-and-mortar store that actually has music I'd want to hear!) because the collector want more bright shiny things, but the listener wants to take time and savor each individual work. So now that I'm back from Boston, I will settle once again into my niche, post some reviews on this blog (which I've sadly neglected during my work towards SICPP), and spend my piano time relearning some Bach, sight reading and improvising. I am in no hurry today.

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