If you open your mind too much your brains will fall out

So here’s what has happened to me over the last few days.

I’ve been involved in a conversation with someone about performing more contemporary Australian music. I’ll say this up front – I don’t search out a lot of it, and I don’t really enjoy playing it. How do I create new programs?I often have the radio on at home, to discover new things that I haven’t come across before, and friends send me things they have heard or played too. I sometimes sit and wade through pages on the internet looking for compositions to perform. But it’s generally not contemporary music. It’s mainly stuff by dead people. Music that has been played before.

And I got told the other day to be more open-minded. That I might find something that I actually like – and surprise myself. And that the audience might like it too. Now, first I got cross at the patronising tone that these sentences had been delivered to me. But then I thought about it. And talked to a few people about it. Perhaps this critic had a point. (If you wanted to save time, I’d just scroll down to the last sentence, or you could read my reasoning…..)

And so here’s what I thought……
I don’t get paid much for the concerts I run. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that. But I do them because I love playing the sort of music I program, and I love communicating this music to the players I work with, and the audience who comes to share it. And so I want to play music I love. Not stuff I think I ‘should’ play.

Do I have a duty to play contemporary music? No, I don’t believe I do. I feel that my duty is to communicate the love of music to others, and that’s the only duty I want. I do this duty (that I have chosen) by teaching in schools, and training other teachers, and performing as well. That is the battle I have chosen. Not to champion contemporary music.

And if this music is good, shouldn’t other people want to play it too, rather than just me being duty-bound to play it? I guess you could counter that argument by saying that a lot of composers that are now popular (Arvo Part, for instance), all had a champion at one point (Gidon Kremer), because there was a time that they weren’t popular. So maybe I should be doing that too. But I am not Kremer. I am not travelling the world, playing what I want, with huge budgets. I do not have time on my hands to learn really hard pieces that take hours and hours and HOURS to perfect.

And actually, if it boils down to it – I don’t really like contemporary music. I listen to it with friends at times – ‘Listen to this! This is great!’ they say, laughing. And I find it makes me uncomfortable. My spirit soars when I listen to Bach, or Dvorak, or some gem I have discovered. And right now, at this stage in my life, I choose to play the music that gives back to me. I mightn’t do it forever. But right now I will.

So am I close-minded? Possibly. I think I am more interested in putting percussion to Bach suites, and exploring works I can play with piano accordion, and adapting Mendelssohn songs for different sorts of instruments, and championing education in primary schools, especially to children who wouldn’t normally get it. If that makes me close-minded then I will happily be so.

My great hero, Mr T. Minchin, once said ‘If you open your mind too much, your brains will fall out.’.