Monthly Archives: November 2008

John Adams and Alex Ross

Andy Kahan runs an outstanding author series at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and booked The New Yorker’s Alex Ross to interview the composer (and new autobiographer) John Adams. Andy asked me if I’d like to introduce the proceedings, which I was of course happy to do, and met two most humble and friendly gentlemen in the bargain. I have been reading both of their books, and I recommend them highly if you are at all interested in the landscape of music now (Adams) and music now and then (but not too far back then) (Ross). This is pretty much what I said to the crowd of very engaged folks who braved the first snow-dusting of the season to come hear two bright fellows speaking brightly:

I don’t know about you, but my favorite teachers were the ones who knew everything and loved everything and connected everything. In my college hymnology class, Mr. Brunner would lean forward and say, “Now here’s the thing to remember about Louis Bourgeois…,” and while you didn’t know one thing about Louis Bourgeois let alone the thing about Louis Bourgeois, you were sure not going to leave that room without learning, no matter what, something about Louis Bourgeois, so you leaned forward, too. And in the 4th Grade, Mrs. Johansen knew everything about archeology and sentence structure and the Marianas Trench and it was not only not embarrassing to know all that, it was also very, very cool to know all that. And you began to realize that it was okay to love stuff.

John Adams is not only one of the most successful living composers of concert music in the world, but he has written this book, Hallelujah Junction, that tells us how he became that. It seems to me that if you want to know anything about music from this century and the last, from someone who is not only wonderful at creating music—which you know from Dr. Atomic or Short Ride in a Fast Machine or Nixon in China or the Pulitzer-winning On the Transmigration of Souls—but who also has wonderfully big, juicy opinions about music and composers, then you have to read this book. When you listen to his works, one thing is blazingly clear: this is a man who is totally, head-over-heels in love with music.

Alex Ross writes for The New Yorker and can tell you about Stravinsky and Bo Diddley and probably the Marianas Trench in the same sentence in such a manner that you say (1) of course!, and (2) why didn’t I think of that? Great writers are like that. He knows everything, it’s very, very cool, and he’s won big awards from other writers and the MacArthur Foundation and has written The Rest is Noise, which is the story of the 20th century, in music, and which you also have to read. And Mr. Ross is going to interview Mr. Adams for us.

This is the point where I’m supposed to remind you about cell phones, but I have two suggestions. You can take them out and turn them off now of course, or, you can call a loved one in the next 30 seconds, and tell that person that you are about to hear two of the most interesting men in America today talk to each other about…well, you don’t know what they’re going to talk about, it doesn’t matter what they’re going to talk about, because it will all be very interesting because they are very interesting and that you can’t believe how lucky you are and you’ll be able to ask them questions and afterward they’re going to sign your books but you’ll have to talk all about it later because your time is up and now you have to turn your cell phone off.

Which means that I only have time to tell you of the great pleasure I now have of introducing to you John Adams and Alex Ross.

You can listen to the interview here.



chinesenewYou know there’s an article on 10,000 in Wikipedia? That’s right, 10,000. The number. I didn’t know you could have an article on a number. They say it’s between 9,999 and 10,001. They really say that.

Didn’t check all the other numbers.

I remember hearing long ago that in China, there’s a symbol for 10,000, but what it really means is a huge, indefinitely large number. And look at that, it says so right there in Wikipedia. I’m sure the banks in China have a very definite meaning for 10,000 but maybe that huge, indefinite idea is holding its ground where they don’t have banks. Now the Greeks, they even have a name for 10,000: Myriad. How about that, I did not know you could name a number, other than, you know, its name (George Carlin once invented a number—Bleen he called it—and said it was somewhere between six and seven), but those Greeks, darned if they didn’t go ahead and name a number for real. Myriad, who knew it was an actual number?

This blog went up almost two years ago, and I see that it just broke through 10,000 hits. That is a huge, indefinitely large number to me. It may be on the small side as far as blogs go, or large for the average blog, I don’t know, I don’t keep track of those things, but a myriad of hits (see? use it yourself in a sentence!) seems like a lot to me.

I kept a website for a while mainly as a way for me to track down my own things. Program notes, the instrumentation I can never remember of a five-year-old piece, an updated bio: I was always scrambling to find information, so I began the site to keep everything in one place. But as more people played my music, and more people asked about it, the website evolved into this.

The M 10000

The M 10000

The shift was gradual; at first I simply kept a calendar, and added events ad hoc. Then, as I learned more about what I was doing, I grew it into some established pages (those are listed on the right) and added posts about various activities. I started using the blog, in other words, as a blog.

I’ve never wanted this to become a place where I was just spouting off on anything that occurred to me; there are enough blogs like that already. I have expanded it beyond the “my piece is being played tonight, come on out” to various musings, but I’ve restricted them, I trust, to my immediate musical activities: compositions and performances, the radio shows, CD reviews and such. If I talk about good barbeque in Nashville, it’s a by-the-way involving my participation at a music conference there. If I mention Levi Stubbs, it’s only because I wanted to make a point about the ophicleide. No, wait, reverse that. Anyway, you get the idea.

It remains a fairly simple blog. There are bits about my music, audio samples, links to places of interest and those YouTube clips, and some thoughts on various things musical. A myriad of you (as of this writing, 49 over a myriad) have dropped in, and for that I’m very grateful. Thank you.