Wednesday, June 10, 2009

California Adventure

I'm back from grey, rainy, chilly (man, was I unhappy about that) California, where I attended the IASPM Conference, giving my Weezer paper. It's probably my favorite paper to give, if only because everyone promptly tells me how much they love the Blue Album, how they haven't listened to it in years, and how they're putting it on when they get home. I remember writing the paper for a seminar, and enraging the people who came upon me watching music videos and having the gall to call that work. The conference itself was entirely delightful, despite only knowing a couple people (and not that well), but relaxed and friendly, populated with a nice variety of disciplines happy to meet new people. Elsewhere in California, I enjoyed brief jaunts to the Warner Brothers Archive at USC and Bernard Herrmann Papers at UCSB, both of which were more or less successful (I wasn't sure what I was looking for at USC, and they don't have a finding aid, so I really didn't know, and UCSB had the Vertigo score but nothing else), a delightful chamber music concert at the beautiful Disney Hall (Dvorak Piano QUintet and Schubert B-Flat Sonata, two of my favorite chamber pieces), the SFMOMA's excellent Robert Frank and William Kentridge exhibits, the Exploratorium (a blast), a walk along the Sutro Baths, and of primary importance the company of a number of good friends I hadn't seen in years. Business and pleasure.

In other news, I'm intrigued by this pair of posts from Greg Sandow, discussing meaning in classical music in China and Palestine. In the former, he sees a lack of political content:

Rock, again, has meaning. Which means it has content. Rock songs say something. ...Classical music, by contrast, has no such content. You can study Chopin, let's say, without much chance that you're going to explode on the scene playing his music in ways that threaten any government.

In the latter, he writes that the music gives Palestinians a sense of escape, as well as a connection outside:

Classical music thus takes on a political meaning, precisely -- what a paradox -- because otherwise it wouldn't have any. You rise above any stereotypes others might have of you (or at least in principle you could) , and take your place in a worldwide enterprise in which those stereotypes no longer make any sense.

I think there's something to be said about the contrasts in how the music is viewed across (and even within cultures), and I will readily make the caveat that I'm not an expert in either of these two cultures, but these posts feel oversimplified. The comments do a nice job of drawing out at least some of he complexities. To me, these seem less about whether classical music has content (it always does) or what it is for whom (it varies), but about the intersection between the two. Classical music is easily seen as apolitical (is in the China posting), or universal (as in the Palestine post), but these ideas trouble me, about as much as the ideas about classical music as escapism trouble Mr. Sandow. Might we ask what it means for a state to sanction classical music at large, or more intriguingly, only by certain people or in certain contexts? Or what it means for classical music to be "international"? Which is not to say we should deny that these myths are very powerful ones (about as powerful as the myth of authenticity in indie rock, to bring it back to my Weezer paper), but simply acknowledge them for what they are- and what they aren't.