Writings about Music
It Has Been Stunning
Michael Robinson (Sherman Oaks)
It has been stunning meeting a number of music writers from the New York Times and New Yorker, and music faculty from Harvard and Yale, both in person and exchanging emails, whose focus is Western composition and jazz, realizing how ignorant and apathetic they are about Indian classical music, this being the primary influence on Western composition and jazz improvisation in our time. Additionally, there are similar intellectual and spiritual deficiencies regarding rock among those whose focus is Western classical and jazz. In general, in all of these I've found a general subservience to conformity and convention expressing interchangeable views. They are skilled writers if sadly weak on relevant substance giving the impression of being primarily tasked with the former.
The reason why I'm stunned is because growing up I was led to believe these institutions had the brightest, most enlightened people, but that is oftentimes not true in my personal experience.
Furthermore, what concerns me is how other disciplines outside of music may well be the same in terms of not knowing and understanding what is most relevant in their fields, not to mention how the limited musical consciousness described here likely inhibits appreciation and understanding of my compositions, realizations and piano improvisations, and, secondly, my essays about music.
Conversely, I have friends who graduated from Harvard, Yale and other similar universities whom I value greatly, who have been crucial in my musical life, including being teachers and encouragers of my music. Just a few of these are Leonard Altman, David Lewin and Greg Sandow.
And artists like Lee Konitz, Pandit Jasraj, Shivkumar Sharma, Anindo Chatterjee and Ray Manzarek, together with professors and independent teachers like Don Funes, Joel Chadabe, Harihar Rao and Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, among others, transcend institutions, being shining lights of learning, inspiration and encouragement I've been beyond fortunate to know.
All this said, the formal places I've been educated, including Tanglewood, CalArts, the Crane School of Music and Stony Brook are all highly regarded, with Tanglewood and CalArts apparently at least equivalent to the Ivy League in terms of music. And UCLA and Bard College are among leading schools where I've been a lecturer.
My best high school friend comes to mind for some reason, he graduating number 3 or 6 in our class, or something like that, continuing at Brown and Harvard before becoming a leader in business. I recall how he was dazzled by my intelligence and creativity, not to mention how Rollan Masciarelli told me I was the most intelligent person in our class, going too far while introducing me to the audience at our senior year jazz band concert.
One humorous occurence is how I coincidently dated two university valedictorians, one from St. John's University, the other from Tulane University, something only learned from each of them after a number of dates.
All in all, I suppose I am insecure about things, Mr. Masciarelli once telling me musicians are the most insecure people in the world.
Lastly, self-validation and humility in the face of God or nature and personal interactions are paramount, sometimes getting perilously close to the border when unburdening myself with writings like this!
But thankful-Lee, Lee Konitz taught me how it's sometimes important to toot our own horn.
And Bob Longhi, a Cornell graduate, taught me his favorite expression if one is simply being true and honest if different from others, abbreviated here - WTF.
- Michael Robinson, January 2023, Maui
© 2023 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Please note how new essays are often edited and added to for up to 72 hours after initial publication, so you are invited to revisit.
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 198 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.