Thursday, July 24, 2008

What he said

"The history of poetry, like the history of any art form, is not a procession of its “best works.” Indeed, the well-wrought urn is, if anything, the deservedly forgotten one. Having codified and smoothed out the rough edges of any given tendency in poetry, such works are monuments to triviality and soon ignored." -- Ron Silliman, here.

One of the benefits of training in ethnomusicology is a focus on the concept of a musical repertoire — the size of a repertoire, how widely shared or segmented it is, how it develops over time, the processes through which communities comes to consensus or dissent over repertoire, and the connections, if any, between repertoire items and the values, both musical and general, of individuals and communities. Repertoire, a term which refers directly with the practice of music-making by real, existing people as musicians and listeners, seems to me to be a much more useful idea than that of a canon, a term associated more with the management of information about and access to music than the practice of music. The initial impulse for this blog (by a composer with perhaps too much ethnomusicology training) was, in part, to respond to canons and canon formation (which, despite the martial tone, is actually a phrase describing more complacency and passive consumption than dynamism and engaged performance and listening) with a more supple notion, in which repertoire change is the central dynamic -- most music, after all, will come, go, and be forgotten & AFAIC we're none the worse for that -- but up against which background there are musical works that need to be identified (and, in some case, reintroduced into the repertoire) precisely because they have qualities that continue to reward although, and sometimes because, the background has changed.

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