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Frank J. Oteri


Your responses to my essay on NMBx have been fascinating and insightful; I would have expected no less. ;)

But now I must respond regarding your assertion that I "defend, valorize, [and] glorify music [...] with passion (rather than logic)." I too am a relativist and for me there is little separation between passion and logic. In fact, what I particularly love about music (and perhaps why I devote so much energy to proselytizing for it) is that it is necessary for music, seemingly unlike most other human endeavors, to always contain both passion and logic in its creation, interpretation, and reception.

Music is also a distinctly and innately human endeavor. While scientists have studied birdsong, whale song, and on and on, they are far more functional for their species. The non-specificity and arguably downright uselessness of human music is for me its greatest attraction; paradoxically in its uselessness it has a value that actually is transcendent.

Music doesn't judge. It can't; though people do. Therefore a statement like "My skills were never very good" doesn't really compute to me. I too grew up in the '70s when John Cage went from being an enfant terrible to an éminence grise and John Blacking shook up the ethnomusicological community by his assertions that there were no hierarchies within the world's musics; none are objectively better than any other just different.

But to return to my original essay, I must reiterate that the main reason for my being "upset" with your revelation about being a composer and deciding not to compose any more was because it struck a personal nerve since I too spend more time writing about music than writing my own. I am happy to report that in the four weeks since you joined us for dinner, I have figured out a way to carve out some composing time for myself by getting up every morning at 6:00 A.M. and carving out a good 90 minute block each day. Although the fact that I've been writing this response to you now since 6:30 A.M. belies that even that time is vulnerable, alas. So I will not continue further herein except to point out, in case it wasn't obvious (I thought it was at the time) that my title for this essay "Extraordinary, But So Wrong" referred to Edward Bellamy's 1888 futuristic novel Looking Backward, not to your delightful visit to our home. My conflation of the two in my essay is just a symptom of my quirky mental processes: both the novel and our conversation that evening were prods gnawing at my own troubles writing music. The fact that in the weeks since I have been able to write some new music that I am very happy with means that those prods ultimately worked and for that I am extremely grateful.

I look forward to our next discussion.



Well, Frank, I *very* much hope that it didn't seem insulting or dismissive to say 'passion rather than logic'. That's not a criticism; your investment was obvious, deeply felt and deeply experienced, and carefully thought through; but you didn't reach it through some abstract consideration of alternatives. Since I'm more detached from the younger self who composed, I am more abstract/distant - especially as the only feelings I could generate for composition were so heavily infected with a confused and childish egotism. (In other words, I never progressed to a more mature relation to composing - and it seems clear that I never will, that I'll focus on other things.)

On the other hand, annoyingly enough, I had a dream about performing/creating in a group last night - very specific, lively - so that can bring me up short... Oh and glad you are composing again! Now get me to do some writing again.

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