USA Music Panel for 2011

Anne LeBaron (Chair)

Composer and Professor, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Valencia, CA

Miguel del Aguila

Composer, Los Angeles, CA

Rob Ickes

Musician and USA Cummings Fellow, Franklin, TN

Mark Travis

Audio Producer, New York Philharmonic, New York, NY

Jenny Lin

Pianist, New York, NY

Statement by
Miguel Alvarez.

There are many pithy quotes one can turn to when writing an essay about music. The great Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso wrote that, “Music is God’s greatest gift.” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Napoleon Bonaparte—in a rare humble moment—once stated, “Music is the voice that tells us that the human race is greater than it knows,” and in more recent memory, Jimi Hendrix called music, “a safe kind of high.”

For the last 20 years, however, it is a phrase from Ralph Vaughan-Williams’s 1934 book, National Music, which has made the most lasting impression on me. In it he wrote, “Music must be offered to all… though it will not be accepted by all.”

This simple, direct truth has formed the backbone of my own approach to music—as a record producer, as a broadcaster, and even onstage. And I think it also effectively captures the essence of what the USA Fellows program is all about.

Music is never something that is “finished.” Moreover, a life in music presumes a lifetime of study and betterment in all aspects of the discipline: performance, style, history, theory, and—perhaps most importantly—listening. A life in music also presumes a certain amount of risk: financial hardship, public criticism, and academic dismissal are but a few of the challenges most music professionals will face at some time or another. For many in the field, however, there is never any thought of pursuing anything BUT music; their musical voice must be heard, though it will not always be accepted or understood. As such, I think it might be fair to say that music may be one of the last true vocations in our Modern Age—a covenant between the artist and his spirit.

And so on one of those typically perfect summer days in L.A., a world-renown pianist, two noteworthy composers, a Dobro master, and a veteran broadcaster and producer gathered together to discuss the list of nominees for the 2011 USA Fellows in Music. By the time this group met, each and every panel member had already reviewed dozens of applications and listened to nearly two day’s worth of audio material. Some rather spirited discussions ensued and while individual tastes varied, the panel was of a single mind in seeking to award fellowships to artists that not only demonstrated a great talent or technical facility. Rather, the panel chose a diverse group of deeply committed artists from a variety of genres—each with an innovative and distinctive vision, and each poised to have a major impact on the wider world. The 2011 class of USA Fellows in Music each have something to offer to us all. Accept it or not, but please do listen.