20 July 2014

MFA Graduation Recital Program Notes (i):
Post-Prelude – Author’s Meta Program Note

Among the very first creative artifacts I produced after embarking upon graduate music study at the California Institute of the Arts in September of 2011 were the opening lines of the essay which appears below as Why I Hate Program Notes (and you should too). This moment, when I learned of the compulsory program annotation requirement for MFA graduation recitals at CalArts, was too perfectly apropos of the strained relationship even the most scholarly among us have with contemporary musical academia. It planted the first (and not the last) familiar seeds of regret, and triggered that old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” feeling that is the bond of shared suffering among American graduate students across many disciplines. I had long since resolved, however, that I was wholeheartedly there to “do,” which meant embracing privileges and obligations alike as opportunities to develop my work and myself. The document presented here is, for its author, emblematic of that resolution and affirms it as a constructive one.

Following this initial spark, the project necessarily languished in my subconscious for the ensuing three semesters, throughout which many other fulfilling projects were brought to fruition. Even so, the issue had stirred up too many old thoughts and memories to suppress, and it was armed with this pent-up determination (and an awful post-semester cold) that I stalked into the CalArts library on the very first day of 2012-13 winter break, haunting the place for months to come.

Inevitably, though, the time crunch of a final semester of MFA coursework and the purely administrative burdens of graduation proved too great to do this project the justice I thought it deserved, and so my best-laid plans of putting beautifully produced, meticulously researched, unusually long and dense program books in the hands of each listener at my May 2013 graduation recital fell by the wayside in favor of exhibiting a single poster-size copy of the already-lengthy but quite incomplete historical essay which appears below, along with a more-or-less complete but less-than-thoroughly edited version of the notes to individual musical selections, which follow the historical essay here. Specifically, the thumbnail histories of program annotation in various countries and milieus were omitted completely in the version that appeared at my recital as I simply had not been able to locate or marshal enough of the right sources; working piecemeal for the intervening year or so, this section has now been buttressed by much-needed additional research, largely rewritten, and, as the saying goes, not so much completed as abandoned as of this writing. The notes on individual works, meanwhile, were originally submitted alone to officially fulfill the program note requirement for the recital. Already based heavily on existing writings from my blog Fickle Ears, here they have for the most part merely been polished rather than overhauled so as to best reflect my thinking at the time of the performance and only minimally the substantial reflection that has taken place since.

While the document presented below has existed in my head for nearly three years, many of the ideas have been there longer than that but, in absence of the inclination to engage with traditional modes of scholarship, have mostly languished as poorly supported rants. I am pleased to archive this project here, albeit belatedly, as a souvenir both of a particular performance and of the unique opportunity that performance provided me to “find out what I think” about these questions by researching and writing about their documented histories.

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