Who’s listening to contemporary music?

There was a time when seeing a contemporary work on a program otherwise occupied by Mozart, Bach, or Brahms, gave concertgoers pause.  Do we bolt now and cut our losses, or sit through it and hope it’s not too painful?

In an article written for Australian publication Limelight Magazine, author Elissa Milne states that, “Someone who composes with no consideration of their audience can’t reasonably be surprised (or disappointed) when they don’t have one.”

Ms. Milne should know. She, herself is one of Australia’s leading composers and teachers. You’ll see one of her online lessons below.

There was a time when I would have been one of those cringing at seeing a new composition on the program, but a combination of things changed my reaction and my way of thinking. The best thing is that it’s available right here in Columbus.

From the beginning, one of the ongoing priorities at ProMusica Chamber Orchestra has been to commission and perform new music.  There is a committed and dedicated core of supporters who make it a priority to seek out composers whose compositions will further that mission.  

One composer that has become an audience favorite in Columbus is Michael Daugherty.  He writes music that is reflects the world in which we live, is entertaining, and fun to play.  Works such as The Metropolis Symphony, Route 66, and Lost Vegas, which you can hear above, are prime examples.

The joke goes that the most difficult thing for a composer to do is get music they wrote performed a second time.  In fact, I have heard new music which did little for me in the initial listening that, upon repeated hearings, began to make sense, to grow on me.  I guess it’s like a new food. Most of us are not born craving broccoli or spinach, but tastes change.

Back to Elissa Milne, who made a very good point when she said that composers need to remember that the audience matters.

“Start thinking about your possible audience from the inception of the creative process. So you’re composing a 90-minute work about sewer pipes – who will find this work interesting? Why do you find this work interesting? Answering questions of this kind helps you edit and synthesize. It gets you ready to connect with an audience.”

While I don’t agree with Ms. Milne that no one is listening to contemporary music, or that it has no fans, her thought-provoking article compels me to be a more active listener when something new is performed, rather than wait for the music to come to me.

Read more: Contemporary music: Why no one’s listening (Limelight Magazine)

Watch: Elissa Milne teaching her P Plate Piano method

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