"Modern" Music

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by TIMBONE, Jan 3, 2006.


    TIMBONE Active Member

    There is regular comment and discussion about bands (and audiences) being presented with original, contemporary, unfamiliar styles of music. This is music mostly commisioned for the contest arena. Now I would be the last person to criticise new musical tapestry, after all, History is full of examples. At the time, many considered Beethoven to be writing very odd music. Rubenstein told Tchaivosky that his first piano concerto was terrible. The first performance of "The Rite of Spring" by Stavinsky in Paris caused a revolution in the concert hall.

    I have read comments recently, saying that 'modern' music is partly resposible for loss of band members and dwindling audiences. This made me think. I know that there are some in the brass band movement who receive some monetary reward for their endevours. However, for the most part, brass banding is a hobby. Let me move to the orchestral world for a moment. I have heard on several occasions professional musicians saying things such as, "What a terrible piece", or "Why on earth did we play that for the concert". We must remember though, that this is their job. If they have to sit through hours of rehearsals which are unpleasant and tedious, at least they are being payed for it. What about the amatuer orchestras though? If the amateur orchestral musician goes to rehearsals playing Boulez or Schonberg, Cage, Stockhausen or Peter Maxwell Davies, would they leave?

    What do you think?
  2. Will the Sec

    Will the Sec Active Member

    To quote Paul Merton, (who was in turn quoting I can't remember who) "Stockhausen? I trod in some once........."

    Me? If I was committed to the organisation, no.
  3. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - as hobbyists (amateurs), if they found the rehearsals unpleasant, tedious and themselves in a minority there would be a good chance of them leaving! They would have little support for change.
  4. Dave Euph

    Dave Euph Member

    I think contemporary music in brass band music is essential, especially because if the music composed for the medium is not modernised then it can't keep up with other classical styles (that it already lags behind).

    Besides, who said that people don't like modern music in the brass world? Certainly the overwhelming impression at concerts is that the more traditional stuff goes down best. But pleasing the traditional brass band audience is not going to keep the movement going forever. My experience is that the more contemporary music goes down best with the professionals, and also some of the younger (early 20s) audience. These people may well have the biggest voice for communicating the brass band movement as a serious art form outside its own ranks.

    I don't think the issue that brass banding is a hobby for 99% of us has anything to do with it. The traditional stuff will always be there and will always be played.
  5. Despot

    Despot Member

    Would an amatuer orchestra play "original, contemporary, unfamiliar music"? From my experiences of them, I don't think they would, or at least not as exclusively as bands often do, especially around contest time!

    But I do think it can play it's part in dwindling audiences. Some bands can be so focused on contests that they become blinkered to the musical taste of the world outside the band movement. I have gone to concerts and come away wondering if any thought went into who they thought the audience would be? I went to one band concert (lower section band, fundrasier, open to general public) that consisted of 5 testpieces played one after another, and nothing else! As lifelong brass player and open to "original, contemporary, unfamiliar music", even I cry enough now and then!

    I'm heading for the US shortly on business and was checking out concerts by the Boston SO. The night I'm looking at they're featuring new music, but it's flanked by Schumann's
    Symphony No. 4 in D minor and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. I think it demonstrates a point; you can get away with the new and unusual in small doses, but on the whole audiences, no matter how sophisticated they are, tend to like what they know. I'm sure most of the audience there, will be there for the Schumann and Berlioz!
  6. kiwiposaune

    kiwiposaune New Member

    Despot makes a good point regarding balance. Most amateur (or professional as far as I can tell) musicians won't put up with a steady diet of Stockhausen, Berio, Birtwhistle, etc. Neither will most audiences. However programed wisely and interestingly you can make it work for all concerned.

    In the last band I conducted (2005 so it wasn't that long ago) I actually had at least 3 players who were begging me to program Prague. They're musicians who think Philip Wilby is far too mainstream and tonal for their liking. Somehow we have to satisfy them as well as the other 90% who want to keep playing the same 4 or 5 test piece composers day in day out.

    Not so long ago Stravinsky was considered to be 'modern'. Now The Rite, Petruschka, etc. are mainstream repertoire for players and audiences alike. 30 years ago bands thought Spectrum and Connotations were 'modern'. Now they're probably mainstream 2nd section repertoire. Times change. We have to be careful, when saying that a piece is 'rubbish', that we're not dismissing something that'll go on to be a classic.
  7. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Another factor to consider is Popular Music and the growth of media technology. There is a huge diversity of musical styles and formats the person in the street can now choose to listen to. Costs are low and accessibility to music has never been as easy. It doesn't take much for someone to adopt a personal style of music these days and find recordings to suit, just like fashion. The same may be of performance too, with only certain types of personality attracted to play certain types of music to satisfy their more selfish urges, i.e., smaller groups/ensembles rather than older, established (maybe old-fashioned?) ways of organisation such as bands or orchestras. The more society moves away from tradition, the more rooted these larger organisations will hold on to their past (classic works of the 'golden era'). Classic FM is a prime example.
  8. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    It was Thomas Beecham who uttered these words first.
  9. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Many years ago, a banding friend told me that the set test piece for that year's National Finals was 'rubbish'. He hadn't actually heard the piece, you understand, it was just that a friend of his played for a band that had been rehearsing the work and had told him it was rubbish, and that was good enough for him.

    The year was 1985, the piece Cloudcatcher Fells. Mr Kiwiposaune makes his point very well, in my opinion.
  10. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    It's all about balance. If your MD gets the balance right he can both satisfy your audience's need for the familiar and introduce them to something new. A steady diet of the same-old-same-old is boring and a steady diet of new-and-different is off-putting to most people. I would not wish to stay in a band that did nothing but test pieces, but equally I would not want to be playing the same stuff over and over again.

    The big problem with popular music styles is that many of them don't adapt well to the brass band and in any case people tend to gravitate to the lowest level - where it is easiest for them. Just look at the commercial pop scene - or,if you prefer, the classical pop scene (as represented by Classic FM). How often do you hear something 'new' on there? How often does something 'new' end up in the top 10 charts that they are so fond of? It is a relatively rare occurence. Mostly because the British listening public don't like their ears (or their intellects) to be challenged.

    As an experiment one year I played a class an extract from a 12 bar blues piece and an extract from a piece based on a raga. After a great deal of discussion it was finally boiled down to "We like the blues piece because we don't need to think about it."
  11. Dave Euph

    Dave Euph Member

    Yet (as the trend shows) even if the new stuff tends to be overlooked initially, given time it is these tracks that become classics and big sellers. Groups who follow the same uninspirational formula invariably run out of ideas and then the audience complains because they aren't doing anything "different"?
  12. Pete Meechan

    Pete Meechan Member

    I think they considered him to be writting dissonant music, which of course it was at the time.
    Just an opinion - it still is!
    Not many people actually realise that they riots that were caused in Paris on that evening were caused only partially by the music - the public were mostly venting their anger at the actual ballet.[/QUOTE]
    Oh dear.

    I presume the point you are making is that if bandspeople didn't have to play this horrendus new music you talk of, then they would enjoy it more, and audiences would enjoy listening more?

    Well, this may well be true. However, I know of very few amature orchestras who play music by composers such as Stockhausen or Boulez, and even fewer brass bands! I'm sure though that should you present your local amature orchestra with music composed by some of the well know brass band names, they would love it. A refreshing challenge, the excitment and prestige of playing something by a living composer - maybe even a chance to meet the composer? - and just maybe, enjoy the chance to try something new and braoden their musical horizons.

    Brass bands are not being asked to play Cage or Boulez at contests, are they?! Not many professional orchestras go down that route any more. I'm pretty sure that you could ask the majority of composers whose music has been used over the past ten years if their music was as 'modern' as the composers you mentioned, and I'm sure they would all say 'no'.

    I'm quite sure that you have a point that is worthwhile discussing, but please give it a chance to breath, as we can all learn something from it, I feel. Starting it with this post only serves to bias the disscussion.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2006
  13. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Pete Meechan is spot on, it was the "ethnic" and "erotic" nature of the choreography that really caused the fuss.

    I've also heard players say that too much old stuff and "brown paper music" from the depths of the library drives them away. There are many issues that cause dwindling attendance, more sociological than musical, and anyway I've never been to a band concert (except at the RNCM Festival) that consisted entirely of modern music and test-pieces. In fact at the average run-of-the-mill lower section band concert I don't remember a band ever playing any test-pieces.

    I worked for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Halle (music librarian/"fixer") for a while and often heard musicians complaining. NOT usually about the repertoire, but about the conductor's inability to draw the best from it - nobody ever moaned about Sir Charles Mackerras, Vernon Handley or our mate Bramwell Tovey. Many people underestimate the role of the conductor in making a rehearsal or concert enjoyable, usually because they haven't come across a really good one. I played Alun Hoddinott's Symphony for Brass and Percussion with the NYBBW years ago and thanks to Eddie Gregson's clear grasp of the score and talent as a conductor, thoroughly enjoyed it. I could name several big name conductors that would have murdered the piece. I also know that, despite all the fuss, a great many players enjoyed working on Prague a couple of years ago simply because it was something new and different.

    The trick is to draw a balance. Maxwell Davies rarely conducts an entire concert of his own music, preferring to pair it with much more familiar composers whose technique he admires - he regularly programmed Haydn symphonies with his Strathclyde Concertos, for instance, because the clarity of development and strict control of form were similar even though the actual sounds were entirely different. Incidentally, amateur orchestras rarely perform Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Boulez or Birtwistle because a) it's too hard and b) the logistics are nightmarish. Stockhausen's Gruppen for instance requires three orchestras and most orchestral Boulez (e.g. La Marteau Sans Maitre, Pli Selon Pli) is an utter swine to both conduct and play.

    I know a number of orchestral musicians (not just brass) who would kill to get the opportunity to regularly play music by living composers like we do in the brass band world. Personally I think all bands should include their most recent test-piece in their concerts, no concert material will ever be as well rehearsed as the area test-piece!
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2006
  14. FlugelD

    FlugelD Member

  15. BigMal

    BigMal New Member

    Another point to bear in mind is that it is all very well for the test piece composers (Wilby, Bingham, Sparke, Aagaard Nilsen et al) to compose test pieces which only the top few Championship Section bands are able to master.

    From My experience the more modern music tends to be too difficult for some lower section bands to play to an acceptable standard in front of an audience (or adjudicator).

    Whether this is because modern rhythms and harmonies being unfamiliar prove difficult to play, and sounds produced indicate to some that the music is "rubbish and not worth the effort". I do not know.

    Perhaps the "modern music composers" could tempt players in lower section bands with some music that is playable by them. After all, organisations such as the Salvation Army has provided music for differing levels of expertise for many years.
  16. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    There's definitely something in this. "Modern" i.e. dissonant harmony is often very carefully constructed to produce a particular sound and therefore works much better when the band can play in tune and are fully in control of their intonation. I think most lower section bands/MDs could cope with 7/8, 11/8, 13/8 etc., and quite often do, but some may struggle with 5/16, or 4/10 which I think we saw in Eden last year, or with rapid changes of complex time signatures, or unusual tuplets.

    However, youth bands cope very well with this sort of stuff, and it really is a matter of getting used to it. Once you've got over the fear factor, the only question is can you play the notes accurately and, crucially, in tune? I'm often horrified at how little attention lower section bands pay to accurate tuning/intonation.

    Bear in mind also that quite a lot of "modern" music gets written for lower section bands but often it gets only one hearing. When was the last time you heard Tuba Mirum by Gareth Wood, or John Phillips Variations? Neither of these are especially difficult or dissonant, but they're not in a familiar style. British lower section bands like the comfort zone of pieces they know in a familiar idiom; the Norwegians are much better at encouraging composers to write "new" music for the lower sections.
  17. Steve

    Steve Active Member

    Why does 'modern' music have to be dissonant or in compound time signatures?

    Seems to me that a lot of new composers are trying to incorporate as many new ideas and as much complexity as possible to make their music stand out when someone like Malcolm Arnold managed it for years with a well constructed tune and decent scoring.

    I had a look and listen to St Magnus for Butlins and its a cracker, cant see the need for all the time changes in the middle though. Its a great piece and on this occasion I dont think it was done so the piece will always be remembered, it is that good, but does it really enhance the piece? do the audience appreciate it more because of this? Do the players get more from it?

    To answer your question though Tim, I would indeed leave if I was taking no enjoyment from rehearsals and the music. Same as I would leave a job if I didnt enjoy it.
  18. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I'm fairly sure I know the passage you mean. When that was the set test piece in NZ, I know for a fact that at least four of the bands that went on stage, (and suspect but cannot say for definite that there were many more) re-wrote the offending passage with identical notes, but in diferent bar-lengths. The effect was therefore exactly the same, the audience and adjudicator knew no different, but it made it far simpler for the band to play. Which begs the question why it wasn't written that way in the first place.

    What is sometimes noted as artistic expression through notation, seems occasionally to be writing something in a deliberately obstructive manner, simply to make a piece look harder than it is. I'm not saying that's what Mr Downie was trying to achieve in the aforementioned passage of St Magnus, only that it is an interpretation that can be placed on it, looking in from the outside.

    There's no reason a piece cannot be listenable and testing for a band at the same time. I have a few non-band friends who I can occasionally persuade to listen to brass. (Sort of a 'control group') They seem to rather enjoy some test pieces while others seem completely impenetrable. Tallis is a favourite, so is year of the dragon, Les preludes, and Harmony Music won over more than i'd expected. Rienzi was met with a little derision as being tedious and repetitive. Last time I put Wilby's "Jazz" on, and halfway through I got asked when the music started. :shock:

    If a composer wants to express something though music, and has to use a discord, clash, or a 17:32 bar to express that, then so be it. But it would be interesting to note how much of the dissonant nature of current test-piece thought is brought on by the composer's own compositional style, and how much is brought on by 'this is the way music is moving, so I have to move with it' thought. As has been previously stated, experimental and boundary pushing compositions have even caused riots in the past but since dissonance is now nothing new, how far are our composers experimenting, and how far are they merely conforming to the current trend?
  19. Spanky Rear

    Spanky Rear Member

    I think all living composers should be encouraged.There are too few of them.Who knows who the next Mozart/Beethoven is ,or where they will be found? M/B did not write in a vacuum;there were probably many composers writing contemporaneously of whom few,if anyof us,have heard.Brass Bands are in the vanguard of those encouraging living composers;and long may it continue.A good start would be if all Bands unearthed their local composerand encouraged/commissioned them to write something---anything even.Who knows you could be responsible for unearthing someone,or something,top class.
    I,myself,like "modern" music.For instance if it's really avante garde the player can have,if necessary,more than one attempt at a difficult measure and almost noone will notice.
  20. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    I dont think its modern music thats the problem because after all some of the truely great pieces of music that we know and love were once modern. The Problem is the quality of music being written.I just think there isnt the standard of composer around anymore who is willing to write for brass band or proberbly more like willing to write for the money thats on offer. You only have to listen to most music being used for TV or Film to hear there are good composers around who write interesting, exciting and yes sometimes challenging peices,lots it would appear in America (surely a avenue worth exploring by the people who commision these peices). Some of the phrases that are regularly used to justify these peices are "the music is rythem bassed,tunes dont form the works structure" "the work requires imagination of the listener" or the dreaded "well everyones talking about it so it must be doing something right" Im not much of a academic (as you can tell by my spelling!!) but i do know i had to sit through two weeks of rehersals for Prague,Atlantic,Maunsal forts and various other works of garbage.It frustrated the players,anoyed most conductors (except the ones who are part of this emporers new clothes gang) and most importantly drove great,experienced players away from our movment and turned the paying audience right off. We need quality pieces and soon before theres no banding movment left!!