Friday, December 1, 2023

Students can embrace a new era of ‘classical’ music


“The beauty of music lies in its ability to convey a message without using words,” writes Justin Liu of Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois, in the school’s student newspaper.

Justin is a flutist in the Glenbrook Symphony Orchestra and knows high school classrooms are filled with students who don’t typically enjoy contemporary Western art music such as “O Lux” by Brian Ferneyhough, played here.

Beginning in the 20th century, composers in the classical tradition took approaches such as polystylism and musical eclecticism, and these trends have grown extensively in the 21st century. This means their creativity was expressed more through their individualism than adherence to any particular style, especially given the influence of jazz and other popular music trends.

In general, music is too diverse to classify according to any one style, and composers have been defined more by the calendar date than by any particular category based on type or compositional techniques, such as “baroque” or “romanticism.” A sample of compositional styles and techniques can be found by considering the work of composers in the 20th and 21st centuries:

  • Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School: 12-tone, serialism
  • Ben Johnston: Just intonation (influence of mathematics, physics)
  • Varèse, Stockhausen, and Xenakis: electronic music
  • Jazz, Western pop music plays an influence
  • La Monte Young: performance art
  • John Cage: the I Ching
  • Reich and Glass, then John Adams: minimalism

“O Lux” may sound like 15 instruments playing random notes, but it actually introduces intricacies and harmonies that have not been heard before and reflects favorably on the creativity and individualism of the composer.

A similarly frantic piece is “My Name is Amanda Todd” by Jocelyn Morlock. What you may not know from listening to new sounds that seem to defy any organization or even a complete thought, is that the piece was composed after the suicide of Amanda Todd, who was a victim of cyberbullying. According to the student-flutist-reporter, “the chaos of sounds depicts the victim’s helplessness and desire to escape.”

A jury in British Columbia found a Dutch-Turkish man guilty of harassing and sexually extorting Todd, based on the fact that he convinced her to expose herself on a webcam, recorded it, and threatened to show her friends unless she gave him a “show.” Those criminal acts led to further exploitation and cyberbullying.

The cyberbully was sentenced on Friday to 13 years in prison for his part in the 15-year-old’s 2012 suicide, CBC-Radio-Canada reported.

A language-based learning disability led Todd into situations that may have impaired her judgment. The cyberbully, who was already serving a sentence for sexual blackmail in the Netherlands, knew how to take advantage of weaknesses.

Words cannot say that as well as Ferneyhough’s piece does. If you are a cyberbullying victim or know someone who is, we have provided some resources below that might give you important insights.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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