Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

A chance with oportunity

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Politics aside, I found myself watching Tavis Smiley the other day, because of Jessey Norman, glowing in hot pink, looking fresh and very lively, in conversation with him regarding her upcoming concert with an emerging new orchestra, MUSE/IQUE, in Pasadena, and attesting that, despite the classical music industry’s continuing bad news with regards to the fiscal health of so many of the more established music makers, there is also a current in this country, trying to ignite new opportunities for a different generation, and a more diverse application of musical engagement.

..she then hit the subject square on, with some deprecation, succinctly putting the point that classical music has no future as an ‘elitist’ program, and that music, as a category, belongs in the embrace and social fabric of everyone.

Tavis asked her what was on her iPod. Ms Norman gleefully stated that she enjoyed carrying a CD player and shoulder bag full of selections of her favorite music. She also delighted in the disbelief of the younger members of her family, who would just look at her and shake their heads at such insistence on ‘old style’ entertainment. But breaking into full enjoyment, she asserted that an iPod did not have the bandwidth to do her voice justice; “..there isn’t enough bandwidth on an iPod to give me what I need.”

The creativity of Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Odette travel along with Ms Norman, always; her heart proudly embraces a full spectrum of music, and she relates to a quote of Duke Ellington: “’..there are only two kinds of music, good music and that other kind.’”

MUSE/IQUE’s initial program, with Ms Norman, covers the music of Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin.

Their ambition is to reach a new generation, and new audience pool, through music programs of exceptional breadth, aimed directly at ‘populism’, and community entertainment and engagement.

Looking at their opening concert, the eclecticism in the reach is relevant, and gives me hope that I am taking the right chance with opportunity..

Programs weaving the linkage between jazz and classical music, hip hop, rap, call and response, groove and folks song, are now the aim of music enterprises that want to make sure that they appeal to the newest, future patrons of the arts.

There is definitely no place for a ‘silo mentality’ to music; it is an embrace that has many folds in its caress. The world of music is warm, and wide, and varied, and full of enough nuance to satisfy a collection of cultures, even with everyone listening to sounds all at once.

It is time we engage in the truth that music is a healthy fabric of our existence, and adorns all the rooms of our taste.

In working with this model of wide band engagement, I am involved in creating a music series, to be presented at community resource centers.

The initial presentation at Deanwood Library, a few weeks ago, was a program called “Ragtime refined: Scott Joplin, Eubie Blake and George Gershwin”, in which I took the music of Joplin, and followed ragtime into the sweep of ‘tin pan alley’ and the saucy sway of Eubie Blake’s creativity which then moved into ‘jazz’, and through the suave technical technique of George Gershwin, flowed into American opera.

The next session, this Friday, will speak to the relationship between Opera and Broadway, moving from Puccini’s La Rondine, to Kurt Weil’s Lady In The Dark, and Street Scene, to Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story.

The aim of these sessions, which I hope to continue and expand through diverse avenues of community resource centers, libraries and museums, is to engage conversation on the variety of sound-scapes that wallpaper our lives, and evidence our fluid tastes in music, as individuals scroll their iPods and attach, to every different moment in the day, ever changing musical landscapes.

To reach a population, and not just fill a niche, music must remain relevant, even to the point of embracing its use as accompaniment, if not accessory to every person’s life; and classical music specifically, must make peace with its integration and placement in this array of used sounds.

That does not mean that there will no longer be a need to understand where the roots of opera lay, or the trajectory of symphonic evolution; it does mean that there is a new consciousness, which connects to classical music, in general, with an internal cinemascope of diverse application.

So I move forward, in the trust that I am aligned with a growing current and change in how culture absorbs its musical dimension; classical music needs to be identified, as directly connected to people and their individual worlds.

The library music series I am working to sustain, is an initial engagement in connecting people to speaking about the thin lines which separate ‘genres’ of sounds; its larger ambition is to bring seniors and youths into the same room, and remind them of community and commonality, and get them to share conversation on their tastes, likes and dislikes, facilitating the exchange with examples of music, and acknowledging its use as emblem, and moniker in our lives.

Rolling out such an ambitious vision, as a series into community, is difficult at the best of times; arts programming initiatives are especially challenged now. But in the community outreach network that I had the opportunity to teach in, with the Washington National Opera, I have found an ongoing partnership of synergy and commonality.

The ambition of the music series has resonated with Deanwood Library, who are keen to offer such programmatic services to their community.

It is a unique moment in the arts landscape of DC, and as I find other groups, in the district and across the country, aiming for a new direction of engagement in music programming, I am encouraged to believe that this moment of challenge also affords a chance with opportunity.

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