Rock, Bach and Bees

Monday, November 23, 2009 - 12:16 PM

The daily activities of a freelance classical musician can range from terribly fascinating and engaging to claw-you-eyes-out miserable practically from moment to moment. This past month, I’ve been involved in a particularly lovely version of my freelance life, working on some fantastic projects all over the world.

This kicked off last month, working with Meredith Monk at BAM. That experience was followed quickly by a project written by Aaron and Bryce Dessner called The Long Count. 

Aaron and Bryce are probably best know for their work as guitarists in the Indie Band The National. Their BAM piece was a big BAMstylemultimediaevent (isn’t there a German word for that yet?), featuring Kim and Kelley Deal from The Breeders, Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond, and Matt Berninger from The National, not to mention a hefty assortment of strings, winds and brass. This piece was super, super fun, full of really great extended-form songs, some mild staging, and a through-line that had something to do with the Mayan creation myth and twins and baseball.

As a freelancer, one tends to be called upon to answer the question 'So, what are you doing now?' or 'What’s next for you?'--a set of questions that can result in serious stress dreams. On a project like this (which was totally great--the most fun--omg), I found myself kind of at a loss for what to say. “Well,” I’d start, “it’s a show at BAM with the Dessners from The National, kind of like an indie rock oratorio? Or extended song cycle? It’s about the Mayans. And baseball. It’s really good!” 

This kind of thing is coming up more and more: the ostensibly classical show written by people best known for their song writing skills, or conversely, classical composers engaging in rock-style touring.

My freelance dream month was rounded out by joining composer Nico Muhly along with three other wonderful musicians from the Bedroom Community Label on a tour of Europe called the Whale Watching Tour. I saw no whales--I saw dead Bach and I documented headlight phasing.

We’re at a kind-of great place right now, where people who are writing thoughtful, well-crafted music are interacting with other people doing the same. This seems like a simple idea, but in a way it’s revolutionary that composers aren’t clawing each other’s eyes out, as they’ve done from time to time (ahem, 1970’s, cough). Anyway, I find the whole thing pretty exciting. It’s making great music! Pollination!

There’s a lot of this stuff going on; I am decidedly a fan. What do you think? Does cross-pollination dilute genres or enhance them? 

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Comments [6]

Michael Meltzer

NO NEED TO POST THIS, but if i can make a constructive suggestion to Ms. Sirota, your final sentence is a question so important and provocative that it should also be your headline or sub-headline. I guarantee that a lot more people will read past the first or second paragraph of your very amiable but not urgent copy, and then respond.

Nov. 26 2009 11:54 PM
Frank Feldman

"Jazz-rock" and "world music." Let's start with those. Then let's look at the TRADITIONS of German classical-romantic music and jazz music in the twentieth century. Can you sense what my answer to your question is? What tradition does Meredith Monk reference and why should we care?

Nov. 26 2009 08:51 PM
Richard S. Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Michael has got it going on!! My personal choice is to support living composers.

Thanks, Michael.

Nov. 26 2009 07:11 PM
Michael Meltzer

The only reason for the question needing to be asked is the problem of the artificial distinctions and worthless pigeon-holing we seem to apply to all art.
If you see a composer, just put a check in his or her hand and let nature take its course. We can always vote with our feet if we don't like the result and everyone will be the wiser.
Let's all try to be very smart without pontificating and re-directing those who really know better than we do.

Nov. 26 2009 12:28 PM
Richard S. Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Cross-pollination is underneath all great music, opening up all kinds of new dynamics.

I never get tired of seeing Mark Stewart and Evan Zyporan in the Paul Simon project "You're the One" from 2000. All of that kind of thing goes into their work at BOAC. Or, look at John Zorn. Fantastic. Frank Zappa is now what? Classical? New Music? Who knows, but his work surely now has a new life/

Nov. 25 2009 08:19 PM
jonathan kaplan from Valley Stream

I think cross pollination is where all the exciting, unexpected and new challenges are. That Long Count project sounded totally amazing! I wish I had known about it before. Best of luck to you!

Nov. 25 2009 06:48 PM

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