The Last of the Midwest (for Now)

After my stay in the Chicago, I traveled through a large swath of the Midwest, starting with Lafayette, home of Purdue University, a place as flat as flat can be. I gave my "Breath In a Ram's Horn" talk (see my Huffington Post article by the same name) for a small, but lively audience -- a combination I am used to, after having been part of the new music scene for so many years.

I next rolled into Bloomington, home of Indiana University, and one of the largest music schools in the country, and a great Jewish Studies Program. There, I first lectured on Judaism and classical music to a class looking at this very relationship, but they leave off the adjective, which broadens the context. While I am a bit of a musical purist, if the larger context is Jewish culture, I don't object to the sociological study of klezmer, Israeli Sephardic Pop or Debbie Friedman. But if the context is primarily musical, then I would object for the reason that some music, qua music, is more important than others, and therefore more deserving of deep study.

I then rushed over to one of the music buildings for a talk to the composers about my music. This was rather daunting, as about forty students and a few faculty crowded the room. As I gazed at this gathering, I had a puzzling thought: What are all these young composers going to do? If any age produces only a very few composers whose music lasts, what does this large gathering mean? And this number is replicated at other universities across the country. That there is a compositional glut on the market would be a gross understatement. Might there also be a moral issue to look at here?

After my presentation, the fine composition faculty -- a few old friends, and a new one -- and I went off for a delicious Japanese meal. It is surprising, but the act of performance -- and make no mistake, a lecture/presentation is a performance -- creates a surprising degree of hunger. I only hope that mental cognition burns calories at the rate of an elliptical trainer.

I next whizzed across Michigan, stopping at WMU in Kalamazoo, Hillsdale College, and finally the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor.

In a master class in Kalamazoo, I took pleasure in the fresh music of the young students. At Hillsdale, I spoke to a general music audience about music and aesthetics, presenting the simple, but highly contentious, notion that the world of music and the arts, or the aesthetic realm, has a moral component. If we lose sight of this, we do so at our civilization's peril.

After playing my music in Ann Arbor to another very large group of composers, I opened up the floor for discussion. What followed, to my surprise, was a discussion on the nature of Western music in a post-colonialist age. I was lectured on the Edward Saidian notions that to privilege Western Music is colonialist and imperialist, that all musics are of equal value, and that to suggest otherwise places one outside the realm of possible redemption. In response, I mentioned that Western music created harmony and counterpoint, and thus has a richness of individual emotional expression that is quite singular. I didn't mention to these students -- that while they held this position of musical equality, they are studying in the fat belly of the Western Beast. There is clearly something in our music that is attractive to them, so they will have to deal with this dilemma.

My last stop was at Wayne State University in Detroit, one of the largest urban universities in the country. The students gathered on a Saturday afternoon, not their usual time, to hear my presentation. They are mostly commuters, have jobs to pay their tuition and take their time and studies seriously. I was awed by their dedication, passion, and seriousness.

Having declared bankruptcy, Detroit is a city in profound transition. I was told stories of embezzlement and cash -- lots of it -- found in walls. I visited the waterfront and downtown, the walk on the river that looks over to Canada, and saw the new GM offerings in their gleaming building. I also saw the burned-out areas, barren landscapes and carcasses of what used to be stately buildings. I was told that since the law isn't working to rectify the situation, some very powerful folks are taking it into their own hands to make things better. There is a feeling of incipient optimism in the air, a sense that the bottom has been reached, and upward movement is now possible.

I stayed at a cozy little bed and breakfast, the Inn on Ferry Street. The room was lovely and the food extravagant. It is in the arts district, a constellation of both small and large institutions in the center of town. I made it to the lovely Detroit Institute of Art, which is didactic without being pedantic. Many rooms are small, compact and arranged historically or by location. I never felt overwhelmed, learned and appreciated a lot, and would return there in a flash. Maybe if enough art connoisseurs visit the museum, it would aid in Detroit's recovery.

The gleaming Detroit airport made leaving town comfortable and easy -- what could be better.