Perfected Performance Pedagogy:
The Annihilation of Historical Evolution

When conductors, pianists, vocalists, and other instrumentalists spend the vast majority of their energies on recreating works from the past, the composition of new works suffers. When a new work is played, it is usually done so merely as a favor, or to get "credit" from certain kinds of administrators for doing "new music." It is never seriously considered for inclusion into the "real" repertoire. Ultimately, as with most things, this scenario represents an economic power shift. The performers gain greater respect and benefits for adding an extra 0.01% of technical prowess to the skill level obtainable in the execution of a Mozart sonata. The composers lose respect and are deemed "unworthy" for historical preservation. As is the case with most creators,* the inheritors of the creations turn their backs on the creators, Wouldn't it be wonderful if performers had to be given formal permission from a committee of living composers in order to be granted permission to perform the works of dead composers. Once upon a time, most serious composers were also performers, so there was no conflict. Now, however, all things suffer from overspecialization. Some groups win, and others lose. Ever since composition and performance have become separate activities, it has become increasingly clear that most serious composers are now at the mercy of the many compositionally-illiterate performers and conductors that currently rule the musical world. Of course, performers would simply say that composers should also be performers, as if increased responsibilities were any more feasible for composers than any other contemporary overspecialized worker. Composers could just as well point out that compositional illiteracy on the part of a performer precludes their technically-accurate-playing (even of dead composer's music) from ever really accomplishing the goals of the composer. Perfected performance pedagogy might produce technical wizardry, but it certainly doesn't intrinsically increase overall musicality. A modern performer, with his or her music-selection "freedom," always seems to select pieces from the same repertoire as all the other performers do. Some freedom! Composers were servants in the time of Haydn. In our time, they are beggars. The modern performer, however, is a slave. Give symbiotically beneficial performer-composer relationships a chance! * Not to be construed as a defense for monotheism or for polytheism! This is merely symbolic referentialism. It was probably the ancient phenomenon of the "unrecognized human creator" that led (via personification) to the development of the notion that some universal creator was being neglected by its creation.
Jody Nagel
December 18, 1999
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