An open letter to musicians and orchestras
The MacArthur grants were announced this morning. There is not one musician (performer or composer) among the 24 recipients. Surely, then, music must have lost its relevancy, right? The arts, and especially music, have been on a decade-long quest for relevancy. This national mandate is older than the iPhone. And what are our results, beyond splashy self-congratulatory pieces? Have we broadened our audiences significantly? Maybe we haven’t tried hard enough. Or maybe there is a fundamental flaw in our panacea.
In the West, the arts have thrived on diverse response rather than socialist-realist national agendas. How irrelevant is music? After all, when a national or local tragedy or happiness occurs, we turn to music, and often symphonic music, to bring more humanity to our lives. Four months ago, a board member of the Bay Atlantic Symphony, of which I am Music Director, told me she sat next to a student in the performing arts center of Stockton University during our performance. The student was crying. Our board member, without stating her relationship to the orchestra, asked if the student was OK. She replied, “the music is just so beautiful.” We were playing Debussy.