Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 15. 1964.
13 Don'ts For the Music-Lover
13 Don'ts For the Music-Lover
. . . (an exiled Britisher) lectures in English at Victoria, has produced Roger Savage occasional play, Moas music critic of the "Listener" for a spell, is secretary of the New Zealand branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music.
1. Thou shalt not flirt with music. Music is like me like you. Almost more than anything else it wants to be loved; and only when it is loved deeply and single-mindedly can it fully become itself. To love it is a liberal education; but education implies taking a stand, having principles, being eager. In New Zealand music is not enough loved: the shoulder-shrugging faith of "she'll be right" when it is a matter of getting better quartet concerts, or better productions of opera, or better string playing from the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation orchestra—is little more than a guarantee that she certainly won't.
2. Thou Shalt not be seduced by the Public Relations boys. If the Opera Company tries to coo you into believing that opera is a chic and flashy souffle for tired business men, don't be taken in. Listen to "Fidelio", "Wozzeck". "Peter Grimes", and think again. If the Listener gossip pages suggest that Madame X is better as an international celebrity pianist because she has a special Esparto Grass Curry recipe in her suitcase, remember that the proof of all puddings is in the eating. If the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation concert advertisers see music as just something else to be sold and don't care how unctuously, how degradingly they sell it ("come to our lovely concerts where you will be bored maybe, but bored in the most Okay way"), protest.
3. Thou shalt not be blinded by reputation. Most of the International Names touring here on the impressario's circuits tend to be either faceless automata or performing seals. Occasionally a real human being slips in as well. Be on the look out Exercise: assign the following 1964 visitors to whichever cap fits—Uto Ughi, Ingrid Haebler. Denis Matthews.
4. Thou shalt not turn a deaf ear to home-grown music, nor shalt thou smother it with special pleading. If the one and only New Zealand opera, David Farquhar's "Unicorn," sounds at first like un-adulterated Benjamin Britten, don't pretend that it doesn't. Check, however, whether or not first Impressions are deceptive. Again, if much of the earlier work of Douglas Lilburn strikes you principally as so much neo-sibelius or neo-Vaughan Williams, you may be pondering it more usefully than you would if you simply used it to conjure up cute tourist posters of Milford Sound at twilight or Ngaurahoe under snow. At least you are in a position to conjecture why (and work out how) a fine south Pacific mind can pay such homage to these Nordic masters. You may even hear Lilburn's own voice asserting itself through his masks and so prepare yourself to hear the voice unmasked in the remarkable Third Symphony of 1961. New Zealand music got started in 1961 as a result of that symphony. If some record company doesn't put out a disc of it very soon. New Zealand music may stop again.
5. Thou shalt not expect to enjoy the unfamiliar when it is In the hands of the unreliable. "My music is not modern," said Schoenberg, "it is Just badly played."
6. Thou shalt not blame our professional orchestral players for all their lapses. Just check their duty roster and touring schedule and decide for yourself whether or not they are being overworked by the big brass at New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation Concert Section. Can a creative musician (even a triangle-player is a creative musician) be employed on the same terms as a run-of-the-mill, nine-to-five public servant?
7. Thou shalt not jump to conclusions—for instance about Juan Matteucci, the new conductor of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra. Matteucci has demonstrated a remarkable thing in his first concerts—that it is possible consistently to get a clear, light, well-balanced ensemble out of our players. This is an achievement. Whether great things will come of it (as Matteucci's Mendelssohn and Stravinsky have suggested) or only suavely dull things (like his Mozart and Bartok to date). it is probably too soon to say.
8. Thou shalt not believe the newspaper critics. Too much of the time the art they should be defending is getting into the most frightful scrapes while they pay their devotions to the Status Quo, to the Powers That Be and to Niceness (the cabbage goddess). Musical journalism here has hardly recovered from the days when one reporter had (a) to boost attendance at the parish concert by enthusing over it in advance, (b) reproduce the programme given and the names of all the so-kind entertainers, and (c) hand round bouquets to everyone afterwards. It is really time we grew up. Not that a self-respecting critic wants to be believed anyway; he wants to be challenged.
9. Thou shalt not take anybody's Jehovah-complex lying down. If the Opera Company or the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation suggest that they will only put on nice operas and concerts if we are very good and don't look too closely at the teeth of their gift-horses, tell them just where they can put the gift-horses. (A cultural VIP was once heard to remark of a review of mine that "saying things like that in print" would one day spell the end of music in New Zealand . . .)
10. Thou shalt not believe that musical history starts with Mozart and stops at Debussy (with Bach and Britten as respectively Lord High Fossil and Lord High Spaceman). The planners of radio and Chamber Music Federation concert programmes tend to act on this belief; but it is a wicked heresy—just as it is a heresy that modern music is so weird it must be sealed up in special boxes marked "Contemporary Music Concert: Normal Human Beings Keep Away!"
11. Thou shalt not keep thy peace. What New Zealand lacks above all is a musical climate of opinion. Without such a climate of stringent criticism and enthusiastic talk and general argument, music suffocates, musicians disappear In all directions up their own idiosyncratic gum-trees, standards crumble, well-aimed bouquets and brickbats fall impotent to the ground. Be vocal. Be committed. Be heard.
12. Thou shalt not turn the cold shoulder. At the moment the combined ant-heap cities of Wellington and the Hutt can muster about 80 people at most for a series of concerts of 20th-century chamber music. (Not the way-out world of Boulez, Berio and Penderecki, but just good old Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartok, Schoenberg. Berg, Britten.) At the moment this immense University can muster scarcely twice that number for a lunchtime concert In the Memorial Theatre (Handel. Mozart, Lilburn) given in midterm by a professional orchestra under a gifted conductor. Are these really the Dark Ages? Apparently.
13. Thou shalt not despair. Last month I did a few electronic chores while the music for the new film "Runaway" was being recorded. The musicians were a handful of New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra players plus a Victoria University lecturer. The conductor was a remarkable navy bandsman from Auckland. The score was by Robin Maconie, who has been studying in Paris for the last year after taking his MA here. His music was radical, taut, bold, bright—obviously the result of profound affairs with Webern and the most recent Stravinsky. The players were Intelligent and alert. The atmosphere—It was in one of the new studios at Broadcasting House—was bracing, an atmosphere of imaginative group enterprise in a civilised country. With enterprise like this in big enough barrels, this country might eventually become civilised.