USA Music Panel for 2008

Jean Cook

Musician and Producer and Deputy Director, Future of Music Coalition, Washington, D.C.

Laura Mitgang

Director of New Business Development, The Metropolitan Opera, New York, NY

Robert Sadin (Chair)

Conductor, Arranger, and Record Producer, New York, NY

Tom Schnabel

Producer, KCRW, and World Music Consultant, LA Philharmonic, Los Angeles, CA

Don Byron

Musician and USA Prudential Fellow 2007, New York, NY

Statement by Robert Sadin

An extraordinary era—perhaps every culture sees itself that way. But undoubtedly our virtually instantaneous access to every musical genre, to every classical composition, to every jazz album, to the traditional music of every corner of the globe, has created an upheaval of unimaginable proportions in our cultural and mental landscape. The national boundaries, the class distinctions, the geographical barriers that kept musical styles relatively discrete and self-contained have all but evaporated.

There is a revealing passage in a letter from Richard Strauss to his librettist Hugo von Hofmannstahl. As they were developing the text for the yet-to-be composed opera Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss described the kind of ensemble scene he envisioned and referred his colleague to famous scenes in opera—one from The Barber of Seville, another from Die Meistersinger. He told Hofmannstahl that he should listen to them: “Any musician will know them and can play them for you.”

An opera coach could do that today, but the vast majority of performing musicians would not have this knowledge. The sense of a common body of knowledge has vanished in our time. And as is true in literature, the struggle to create some sort of canon, some shared knowledge, is ongoing and probably doomed.

Inevitably the access that expands our horizons also shrinks our powers of memory and concentration. The impact of records and CDs has been with us for some time. But this impact is extending to the realm of the concert. Even a few years ago, a concert was an experience that could be experienced only at the moment it occurred. (Think of the intensity of attention at the first performances of Wagner’s operas, at Thelonious Monk’s early appearances in clubs . . . musicians feverishly striving to absorb every nuance of music that they might not hear again for months or even years.) Now it is very likely that such moments will be available online within hours.

So today we are in uncharted waters. Musicians meet, finding unexpected areas of common interest and experience, and also sometimes finding themselves amazed at what their colleagues with a slightly different stylistic orientation don’t know.

The templates of past times are in shreds. We are forced to reevaluate our assumptions at every turn. There is no doubt that great things will come from this uncertainty and turbulence. Where and how this will happen is more mysterious than ever.