Thursday, June 28, 2007

Advice for Listeners new to New Music

by Christopher Dylan Bailey, Composer, Visiting Professor of Music at the College of William and Mary

So, the situation you find yourself in is: for the next 10-? minutes, it's just you and some wierd, unfamiliar music. So how the @#$% are you going to get through this abyss of time?

First of all, you can learn something from the museum-going experience: relax. It's only music. Don't feel that you must concentrate on the music at all times, or that you are required to have some sort of ecstatic experience on the first hearing of a piece. Maybe a good rule to think of is this: try to have 5 seconds of "contact" with a piece for every two minutes. I mean, 5 seconds of time when you are "in" the music, loving those "wild, flashy chords" or that delightful pizz passage.

5 seconds for every 2 minutes: that's pretty @#$% undemanding. You have plenty of extra time to think of how you have to mow your lawn (if you're suburban) or the roach problem (if you're urban). And those 5 seconds will hopefully sow a seed of curiosity, which you will (maybe) act upon, by obtaining a recording of the work and listening to it further.

Once you have chilled out, de-intimidated yourself, relaxed, and opened your mind to whatever may come along, there are other ways to get yourself "into" the music. Trying to hum and bounce along with it can help (in your head, if you're the shy, self-conscious type). "But it's a new piece, I don't know the tunes; how am I supposed to hum them? Besides, it's new music, there aren't any @#$% tunes!!" This is all totally my point. I'll answer the second critique first: stretch what qualifies in your mind as a "tune." That's one of the points of "New Music," to stretch your mind and its conceptions and/of possibilities of what music can or could be. Now I'll answer this statement as a whole: by humming along, trying to "predict what will happen," you will find your "predictions" sometimes confirmed, sometimes denied; but the important thing is that a "dialog" is forming between you and the music. And that keeps you listening.

Read the Whole Thing!