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Monday, October 5, 2009

Professional Development

One of the long-established requirements for professionals in any field is to continually stay in touch with latest developments in their respective discipline. This "Best Practice" is known as "Professional Development," and the process pretty much applies to every discipline and subject area.

Just as we expect doctors to stay informed about the latest advances in medicine, musicians too should keep pace with emerging trends in the field of music.

In the spirit of keeping my skills current and evaluating if my creative work is in sync with the times, I regularly make a concerted effort to learn about the latest and greatest trends in music. It forces me to think outside of the box.

One of the better barometers of current musical culture is the popular late-night television program "Saturday Nite Live." It is essentially a comedy program, but it features one well-known musical artist or performing group each week. The musical artists selected for the program seem to be a good indicator of current musical trends in American culture, and as a working composer, I consider it an obligation to know something about what's happening in the broader musical spectrum.

For example, this past Saturday evening I proactively decided to experience the music of an emerging musical artist working outside of my immediate area of specialty. Although I could barely hold my eyes open that late, in the spirit of Professional Development, I stayed up past my bedtime to watch the featured musical guest.

The SNL musical guest artist was a singer/performer who goes by the name Lady Gaga. It is said that her music is influenced by "glam rockers" and select pop singers. I'm not sure what a glam rocker is, but I've heard of a number of the pop singers she is purported to be influenced by: Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Madonna (who joined her on SNL as well). Lady Gaga's musical genre falls somewhere in the categories of pop, electronic, dance, and/or 1990s Europop.

From reading about Lady Ga Ga in Wikipedia, I learned that she is 23 years old, from NY, and of Italian American heritage. Her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. My 17 year-old son shared with me that Lady Ga Ga once attended the same summer camp that he did (Camp High-Rock in the Berkshires). Wikipedia says that she grew up in Yonkers, but Ga Ga has indicated on "Leno" that this is a mistake in her bio that she has not been able to correct. She says that she is actually from Manhattan.

In addition to songwriting and singing, Lady Gaga plays the piano and synthesizer. She started playing the piano at age 4, and her parents dutifully sent her to study at the Juilliard School when she was 11. After graduating from a private Catholic high school, Gaga was accepted at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, but dropped out to pursue her musical career.

I don't know what to say about her performances. I'm out of my league when it comes to objectively discussing the artistic merit of pop divas. I can be neither constructive or critical of something that I don't understand and can't relate to.

Clearly, the musical value of Gaga's work is quite significant, since she has rocketed to fame at such an early age. But from my perspective I found her medley at the piano amateurish, primitive in the worst possible way, and thoroughly unoriginal. Perhaps being clothed in virtually nothing except a cage of large elliptical metal rings hindered Gaga's piano technique. For me, her lyrics seemed single-dimensional and inane. Her voice is bland, nondescript, and vocally limited.

In terms of Professional Development, I've done my duty. I can claim to be informed about the latest musical trends - although the Gaga phenomenon seems to be more about bizarre costumes and glitter than musical competency.

I will climb back into my cave and re-immerse myself in the world of Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, Don Martino, and the second Viennese School. But when someone from modern civilization makes a snap judgement about the limited scope and aesthetic narrowness of my musical influences, I can rebut by saying that I know who Lady Gaga is. I've done my homework, engaged in Professional Development, and subscribe to the philosophy of Best Practices in my field.

With all due respect, I can't say with any confidence that they have done the same.