Writings about Music
Buoyed by Grainger, Wild & Stravinsky
Western classical music is mine as much as it is for anyone else. The very nature of music is how it evolves absorbing new influences in terms of content and instrumentation, applying to myself with the relatively recent historical influences of jazz, Indian classical music, rock, other "popular" forms, avant-garde, and computer-electronic instruments.
Wonderful to learn how Percy Grainger believed nearly 100 years ago that the future of Western classical composition would center on music performed without direct human interaction as I evolved to on my own volition with the Meruvina. Similarly, I just read how Earl Wild also believed the future of Western classical composition would be in the domain of computer and electronic instruments. What some miss is how this practice involves human participation just as deeply if not more so while being necessary to capture the zeitgeist. And what some also miss is how American jazz and Indian classical music superseded European classical music of the time intellectually, expressively, technically and spiritually, jazz doing so roughly between early Charlie Parker and late John Coltrane; and Indian classical music doing the same as it was brought to the attention of the Western world largely through Ravi Shankar, John Coltrane and The Doors. Similarly, rock and other "popular" forms from American and England surpassed jazz roughly from the time of the Beatles continuing to the present time, including notable exceptions, and considerable overlapping, of course. In other words, as the world evolved and intermingled, what was previously thought of as being the dominant classical music no longer applied in terms of superior substance wrought by America, India and England.
People who disagree with these opinions oftentimes lack significant understanding and experience with American jazz, Indian classical music, rock and other "popular" forms, and seem to project an unfortunately feeble rationale that music culture created by African Americans and South Asians is either irrelevant and/or inferior due to false feelings of racial superiority conscious or subconscious, as if Anglo-Saxon cultures are the only ones that matter and apply. Even that absurdly ignorant position is skewed by how American jazz resulted from a historic synthesis of Jewish, Italian, Irish and other Americans together with African American pioneers. Attempting to reason with such people is like trying to explain Japanese or Chinese cuisine to someone who insists upon only eating German, French and Russian cuisine, believing that any others must be inferior by definition, or instead evaluate such different cuisines superficially by using irrelevant criteria.
Very fortunate for those who appreciate and understand my music. Pantomiming music of the past, still largely European in nature, is antithetical to the spirit of those masters who created the body of European classical music, as opposed to creating new American or world music of the present time consistent with the vision articulated by Grainger, Wild and others.
Igor Stravinsky was incredibly excited by early electronic music instruments that promised to do what instruments like the Meruvina do today. There is that stale, erroneous story attributed to Jacob Druckman, with whom I had classes at Tanglewood, that the essence of music expression is how human musicians are less perfect than computers or computer-like instruments, and how the former's inherently natural tension is preferable, but that completely misses the point of how the very nature of musical instruments has always been to focus on their individual virtues, and not bemoan how they are different from another instrument, instruments, or the larger issue of performance medium, not to mention how the very issue Jacob raised is absolutely not an absolute. Additionally, much of what Druckman overlooked is how instruments like the Meruvina are ideally suited to enter the expressive realm of anahata nada.
The only musical instrument created by God or nature is the human voice, known as the gatra vina in India. Humans create all other musical instruments, including those found in Western orchestras, and the Meruvina. And, like Louis Armstrong said about folk music, all music is folk music because he never heard a horse make music.
To be abundantly clear, I love music performed by traditional musicians fervently, and am inspired by it every day, if mostly through recordings. In fact, I even enjoy improvising and playing music on the piano. It's just that for composition my preference is for the Meruvina. And it's good to learn even after the fact how Percy Grainger, Earl Wild and Igor Stravinsky all anticipated how I feel.
- Michael Robinson, September 2020, Los Angeles
Please note this is a brand new essay, with additions and edits likely to be made over the next few days, so you are invited to revisit.
© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).