Milton Babbitt (1916–2011)

January 30, 2011

Seated from left, the composers Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, and John Harbison rehearse for “L'Histoire du soldat,” led by James Levine, right, in 2006.

In the first twenty-four hours since his death, much has already been written about what Babbitt‘s contributions to music were and were not. And much more will be. My own small piece (though large enough for me) is not a technical or argumentative one.

In the ’90s, I had dinner with him, Victor Yellin, and Martin Bernstein. What seemed to me an almost unbelievable privilege then seems no less so in retrospect. The easy conversation lent reality to historic events in music, as narrated by him, that was new to me — even though I had been educated largely by men and women of his generation. Witty, generous, and helpful: those are the adjectives that I carry around as captions under my mental image of him whom I had thitherto thought of as a terrifying lion of modern music.

Die Kunst der ______

January 30, 2011

I imagine that I’m not the only musician who will identify with this craftsman well before the article discloses his passion for music.

An interview with the two:

In music there are many kinds of teachers. There are many kinds of good teachers, even. The kind that is sure of everything, that dictates every detail of fingering, phrasing, stylistic and esthetic attitude — even if these are entirely defensible and “correct” — will have drawbacks:

Through two experiments with pre-schoolers, Bonawitz has found that teaching can be a “double-edge sword”. When teachers provided specific instructions about a new toy, children learned how to play with it more efficiently. But the lessons also curtailed their exploratory streak. They were less likely to play with the toy in new ways. Ultimately, they failed to find all of its secrets. …

Context clearly matters. When the apparently knowledgeable teachers in the experiments provide a seemingly complete lesson about the toy, the children deduce that there is no more to learn. If the lesson is interrupted, or if the instructor seems like a novice, the child deduces that there is more to discover. Bonawitz thinks that these abilities start from a very early age, when children are still in pre-school or kindergarten.

Ed Young, “When teaching restrains discovery”

The clear-thinking Nicholas Carr is talking about processes that, in modern Western music, have a specific application. Thanks to different synaptic paths that are developed in the process of achieving music-reading proficiency, actual physical changes in the brain inevitably take place. Just as verbal literacy decreased our ability to memorize the exact words of epics and sagas, something is gained and lost in musical literacy. Should this temper people’s concerns about the new ways in which young people are processing music?

An International Incident

January 21, 2011

Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang in an extraordinary moment of Chinese-American cooperation:

Third Blogging Birthday

January 20, 2011

Today is the third anniversary of this site. I take the opportunity to greet and thank those who follow it or just drop in from time to time. There are so many more of you than I dreamed likely three years ago!

An MIT researcher has made a flute via a 3D printer. It’s far from perfect, and they’ll have to work a lot on refinements. But whoa! Think what this could do for the economics of pipe-organ building!

Tip of the hat: Nelson Barden