I continue to be troubled by something in the past. I have explained it before, but no explanation removes the anger about what must have been a big trauma for me. What I have grown to despise is that whole world of “how can you like/do that?” I remember a composition teacher at the Royal College of Music looking at a piece of mine which had a dreamy ending disappearing al niente. He said “you don’t need to do that”. He meant I shouldn’t write something sentimental like that. He didn’t say it, but he meant “we don’t do that”. And “we” meant “the club”. It was that whole golf club thing actually, but, bizarrely, transposed to a London conservatory and to a class dealing with contemporary music. “We aren’t sentimental, we aren’t nostalgic”. “One doesn’t do that”. “No we don’t find that acceptable”.
Incidentally, I have meant in recent years to base a piece entirely on that al niente figure. Maybe I should dedicate such a piece to that distinguished old R.C.M gentleman. But there are so many more interesting things to do…
When you are young you hear a lot about what is and is not good behaviour. If you take it all in, and keep to it, you can belong to the club. You are true to the club but not necessarily true to yourself. Every married homosexual living in the bible belt of America knows precisely what I am talking about here.
This evening by chance, I heard a Bette Midler song and was quite attracted to some chord progressions during the course of it. Do I have to go back to my old professor and ask his permission to like that? Well that’s not necessary, because if the professor was a powerful character, he still sits there, inside my head, and a disembodied voice just has to say “you can’t like/do that”. So you won’t like/dare to do it. That is “training” like dog training. It’s a voice amongst a collection in your head that I call “the taste police”.
I can’t claim that I am completely free of taste “training”, even at my age (59). Indeed a voice does pop up now and again to say to me “you can’t like/do that”. But I grew hostile to that voice long ago and I grew conversely more attentive to what attracts ME. And I say that there is one freedom that no one can take away from you:- the (secret, if necessary) knowledge of what attracts you. You can cloak it, yes, but that’s another discussion.
Now there is a problem inherent in this call for freedom. First, not everything that attracts a man is tolerable. Those ghastly men in this world who would enjoy to torture an animal, are not to be tolerated, of course. Maybe God loves them, but I certainly hate them. There is something peculiarly and uniquely terrible about cruelty to animals. But we are speaking of music and the difference between someone liking Johann Strauss and liking Karlhenz Stockhausen is a matter that can only be treated with tolerance. And the freedom that I refer to here counts also for our audience too. If it finds the idea of a composer writing like Strauss or like Stockhausen unattractve, then fine. The audience should be free. We should be free.
From that freedom can come exciting art.