A post card from my alma mater just came in the mail, inviting me to an event tomorrow (?!) to celebrate an award given to my old music theory professor, David Macbride. A composer as well, the card says that he “is universally recognized for his work in the challenging and exotic world of percussion music.”
Challenging and exotic in Hartford, maybe. Professor Macbride’s music is beautiful, and there’s quite a bit of it. I remember hearing his music on faculty recital nights, which were some of my first exposures to music that was more “modern” than the Hindemith I was playing on my horn at the time. In class we learned how the Afternoon of the Faune breaks down familiar tonal structures, we wondered if Schoenberg’s murky “Summer Morning by a Lake” wouldn’t be better named “Midnight at the Swamp,” and we listened to modern masters like Mario Davidovsky and Milton Babbitt. I showed up late on the day we were studying John Cage, inadvertently providing a climax to the opening moments of 4’33.”
One day we listened to an early Berg song – still sort of Romantic, but struggling out of it. Professor Macbride asked us for our thoughts. I had just read a Bernard Holland review of Dawn Upshaw’s recital of early Berg, so I had a ready opinion to parrot back.
“Why even perform these early works when he wrote better music later?” I quipped. (This is, at best, a bastardization of what the esteemed critic wrote, but he did point out that attractive early works of “difficult” composers become a “false canon, misrepresenting, for better or worse, what these composers eventually stood for.”)
“Oh I disagree,” Professor Macbride answered in a soft voice. “I think all music should be played.”
I was chastened, because he was right. Now, I enjoy performing any piece of music, even the ones I don’t like very much. It’s a work of art. How many works of art are there really in the world?
So Professor, sorry I can’t make the party, but thanks for the better outlook.
A couple of clips of David Macbride’s music: