Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pastiche and narcissism

So yesterday's blog garnered a rather generous anonymous comment, "please shut up, you self-important arse hole." I'm pleased to note a correctly-punctuated adjectival phrase; these things are a very important aspect in the art of trash talk. I happily hold my hands up, however. I suspect I may well be a little self-important. Writing a blog is, by its very nature, a narcissistic act... But at the same time I'm pretty sure yesterday's entry wasn't any more narcissistic than usual... If it was, I apologise. I can only assume Mr(s) Anonymity is otherwise a great fan of my oeuvre. I'm deeply sorry to have let him or her down. If this is not the case, perhaps, as a suggestion, in the future, they might like to try to avoid reading my blog? I realise it's very difficult to avoid - what with its weekly serialisation on primetime BBC TV, and the countless adverts I've placed in the broadsheets - but it IS possible to live a thoroughly pleasant life without the Pepys Motet. Believe me. I used to!

We've just returned from central London where we watched the workshop performance of a new musical by Nick Barstow, who was assistant MD and musical coach on Brass. He's just finished a postgrad year at Goldsmith's college studying musical theatre composition. I'm genuinely very pleased to hear that such a course exists. They never used to in my day. They've had them for years in the States, of course; at top universities, where leading lights from Broadway like William Finn and Stephen Schwartz will happily teach. Not here, though. The arts establishment in the UK looks down on musical theatre as, at best, commercial and at worst, a load of desperate tripe.

I was appalled to hear that the actual music department at Goldsmith's won't acknowledge the musical theatre course, so poor Nick was forced to buy himself a £30 toy glockenspiel for the percussionist to use because the music department wouldn't lend him one. Sadly, I'm ashamed to say that I think the very same thing would have happened at York University. I tell you, if I ended up teaching on the musical theatre course at Goldsmith's, I'd be in that music department like a shot, humiliating them into sharing their equipment!

Nick's show was great. He has a lot of potential as a composer and revels in scrunchy choral writing and interesting harmonic shifts. We had a fascinating discussion afterwards about whether a composer should have a distinctive voice or whether he should be able to write in any style. My view has changed on this recently. I used to think the more versatile a composer, the better, but these days I think that society actually wants to pigeon-hole an artist. We like Kate Bush, Adele and Sam Smith because their voices are like no other. We can tell a Vaughan Williams piece regardless of which part of his career the work comes from. Ditto Sondheim. Ditto Andrew Lloyd Webber. No one ever got famous for writing pastiche, or for having too much variation in their sound. In their early days, ABBA experimented with all sorts of musical styles from Schlage to Glam Rock, but it was only when they found their sound that they become successful. I guess the journey towards uniqueness is littered with pastiche!

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