Monday, December 10, 2007

Tradition and Innovation

Many of the participants of DePauw's Post-Classical Symposium have already blogged their views: Tim Munro of eighth blackbird (Part 1, Part 2), Greg Sandow (Part 1, Part 2), and Eric Edberg. What finally got me stirred enough to comment was a lecture given yesterday by the Dean of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. He was talking about the concerns of the Episcopal Church, with declining attendance and lacks of connection between clergy and laity. Dean Hall has been exploring ways to change seminary education to train priests for today's environment. Replace church with concerts, seminaries with conservatories, and priests with musicians, and you have the discussions from the Post-Classical Symposium. In both cases, there is a tension between celebrating tradition and pushing for innovation. In classical music tradition is found in theory and history classes, ensemble repertoire, and the canon studied in lessons. Religious tradition holds to certain interpretations of Scripture, core values of morality, etc. But because not enough people are going to concerts or churches, there are moves to innovate, by altering the canon (Episcopal pun intended) or the organizations. Emphasis on chamber music and lay ministers, rock-influenced classical music and rock-influenced liturgical music, these efforts to progress and grow can also be taken as disrespect for traditional values. Listening to Greg Sandow and Joe Horowitz, it is clear that these gentlemen greatly respect the traditions of classical music while looking for ways to change it. And just as the tensions in the Episcopal Church could be alleviated by realizing the respect for tradition as well as growth, the tensions involved in "saving" classical music also need these reminders.


Marc said...

I know it's a blog post, and so probably not your final thoughts on the subject, but I have to say that you can't change traditions. Those concepts stay as they are, and it's our interpretation of them that may be changed. This is a key difference between tradition and fashion. Sandow and Horowitz may try to create new traditions, but they can't change the existing ones wholesale, only how we relate to them.

Scott said...


I think traditions can and do change. It used to be traditional for the parents to arrange marriages, but in most current cultures marriage by choice is traditional. Alex Ross describes how intramovement clapping used to be traditional, but now is a cultural faux pas (though there are some trying to shift that tradition back again). There have been psychological studies of composer popularity that show how rankings of composers such as Tchaikovsky and Franck have changed significantly over time.

ThumMeister said...

Is it fair to say that students enjoy studying the music that they know, and especially the music that's hot right now?

If classical music could be made to be "hot right now," wouldn't students be more interested in studying it?

Classical music isn't hot because it's sooo yesterday, or even yester-century. According to Schoenberg, it's been dead since the resources of tonality were exhausted around 1900.

If new tonal resources could be found -- resources that were familiar enough to be accepted by the mainstream audience, yet novel enough to pique the interest of creative artists -- wouldn't that be the best of all possible worlds?

A recent scientific breakthorugh may have the postential to make exactly that outcome possible.

But, what do I know? I'd welcome your comments at