EXACTLY! Great Zoë Keating interview

Zoë Keating: Composing a Fever Pitch

Some wonderful quotes:

“I love it when people hear something in my music that I didn’t hear, and when they have some vision of what it is that is not my vision. That’s fantastic, because it’s like these pieces go on to have multiple lives.”

“[A choreographer working to her music] has no idea about their origins, because I never told her! The thing is that after I write the pieces, they take on all these different meanings, both for me and for listeners. I love that.”

“The thing with writing music is you have some sort of an inspiration that makes you write a piece. But when you succeed writing music, it transcends things, so it can mean lots of different things at different times. If you think about the music you like to listen to, it probably doesn’t have just one meaning to you.”

We have got to get rid of this garbage attitude in classical music that there is one Ur-Way To Perform A Piece, according to the godlike dead spirit of the composer, and if we only channel exactly how he would have done it (always a he, natch), his dead spirit will rise from the grave and be with us tonight! It’s like a seance, and it’s stifling. No wonder the whole attitude came to be in the age of a bunch of death-obsessed spirit-medium-babbling Victorians. How would BACH have done it? How would MOZART have done it? I even remember one interview with a concert pianist (thankfully I do not remember his name, because I’m about to call him a complete jackass) insisting that any musician, when they play their own interpretation of a piece — only one of course — was de facto stating that everyone else’s interpretation was wrong! What a blithering moron.

You know, there’s a time and place for a historically accurate performance, but come on … they’re DEAD, people. And I’m sure they wouldn’t have felt that there was only one exact, precise way to perform their piece, and that the only way the performer can inject their own individuality is by holding a fermata for one zillionth of a second more or less, or playing a single note heavier or lighter. Jesus, what sort of music is this that the performer’s own individuality is shoved into such brutally small cracks, and the One Godlike Overarching Way To Play It takes up all the rest of the space? Did it ever really take up all that space when the composer wrote it? (Okay, maybe Beethoven, but he was a pushy, egotistical bastard, and either way, he’s still dead so who cares?)

I like arranging Haendel, and yes, it sounds like Haendel written by Billy Joel while trying to fake Beethoven. Who cares? Haendel didn’t buy my damned piano.

Classical music “revolutionaries” and middle-aged teenagers

From the way some of the po-mo middle-aged hipsters who pretend to promote a “revolution” in classical music talk, they’ve never heard of this guy. They’re as ignorant of Virgil Fox and his rhinestoned shoes, too.

I mean, Jesus. 1881. This whole “bring classical music to the masses” stuff has been around for a lot longer than those overgrown teenagers imagine. I tend to be tolerant and maybe a bit overprotective of youngsters anymore, but not of greybeards who pretend to be one of them. It’s understandable although annoying when a 17 year old thinks that just because they’ve felt a certain feeling for the first time that it’s the first time any human being ever felt it. But when you are approaching retirement age and are still completely disconnected from the history of your culture, and imagine that nothing of note happened in music before Woodstock, it’s pretty pathetic.

And in classical music, this attitude is even more so. We’re talking about a musical tradition that goes back about 800 or so years. Isn’t it a little too perfect that the “revolution” is poised to happen just as you happen to approach adulthood (or to have gotten tenure)? Even as they pretend to be knowledgeable about all of this, there is still a deeply buried, not even acknowledged, conviction that the “revolution” will happen just in time for them to get on the NY Times bestseller list by writing about it. It won’t. People have been writing books about culture and society — and topping the NYT list — for a long time now, and they will continue to do so as the years roll forward, whether there is a “revolution” or not.

Meanwhile, the Arthur Fiedlers and Virgil Foxes of the world (although they may now be named Mark Wood and Zoe Keating) will continue to steam along nicely, selling out auditoriums and making ordinary people very happy.

It’s worth noting that in a great two-part interview with Berklee radio, Keating remarked that she has found herself “at war” with the music hipsters because her music is pretty and accessible. They always seem to attack those at the forefront of the revolution, and then — in all innocent disingenuousness — retroactively claim as Of The Tribe them three decades later. (Happened to the Beatles as well, and it’s starting to slowly happen to some other bands.)

Marketability and its severe lack

I’m reminded of a comment the wonderful Jeff Schmidt made in an interview about selling oneself as well as one’s music, when he said that despite the success of a lot of information-age musicians like Zoe Keating and others, that paradigm posed a problem for him: “It’s hard enough finding people that like my music. But if my livelihood depends on all those people ALSO liking ME personally? Oh boy.”

I feel the same. As much as I think my music might be sellable, I am a smartassed, unpleasant, middle-aged hermit with a very unforgiving outlook on life and a real short path from brain to mouth writing something that is close enough to New Age piano to at least bump up against the rainbows-and-dolphins crowd. That’s not a marketing match made in heaven.