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A Young Composer Reflects on the Band
I first heard of Jerome Sorcsek when I heard the Temple University Band
rehearsing one of his early compositions. As soon as I entered the room I was struck
by the quality of the music and knew I was hearing a real talent. Jerry was the only
composer I have known who could write music faster than English, but his music
failed to attract conductors because it was tonal. He wrote a number of large
compositions for me and I performed them frequently. To me he was a great
composer, but eventually he became discouraged and no longer composed.
His natural musicianship, sincerity and idealism made it difficult for him to
understand the world of educational music, as the following excerpts demonstrate.
Jerome Sorcsek to David Whitwell
Harrisburg, PA, Aug. 13, 1978
[On the subject of his first publication] The game here is to ride the
corporate surf while maintaining artistic integrity, so that I don’t drown in the
ocean of the jock-strap mentality about the band business – and you know what I
mean! I refuse to compromise when I should be composing! I despise all those
phony Celebratory, Dedicatory, Jubilant, etc., Statements, etc., etc., consisting of
nothing but falsely noble gestures and bloaty scoring, slam-bang marching band
drums – but no music! One can always tell by the results that, whenever certain
composers sat down to write for band, this was the only way to do it. I dare say that
I’ve delved beneath the surface to look for deeper implications in writing for winds
and I believe I’ve begun to confront them. Perhaps, if I am to dispel fallacy and
bigotry in any sector, this might be it! Years ago, while I was still a student, I often
pondered with delight the foundation of a national organization to purge the band
repertoire of all the junk; elevate the best literature to a level comparable to that of
the listings of orchestral music; encourage new composers to challenge their
imaginations in the pursuit of the creation of new works for the band; and carefully
screen all new entities, based on the criteria for the initial purge mentioned above.
What I am asking is Utopian and even tyrannical, since I am asking people to forget
while we expunge the schlock element from the band’s history, but I would like to
see the band begin to develop outside the schools, the armed services & the town
parks, in order to elevate it into a true art form; and we do need a serious artistic
movement outside the realm of electronics, disco and the movies – essentially the
same as above, but so desperately dependent upon electronics and plastics for their
realization. And I consider the whole disco craze and all of its costumes and
trappings actually ghoulish! This, in addition to the band music industry, and the
stultified serious music crowd, make up the reasons why I don’t venture out into
really major efforts...yet! I hate to think of all the copy work spent on perhaps one
or two performances for a barely comprehending audience and no promising
prospect for publication which...dammit, I know spells money, but which means
dissemination of my musical thought...performance! – the very essence of the trigger
for creative energy in terms of music. You wouldn’t catch me dead writing an
opera, formerly a social institution for the performance of “pop” music for the
nobility. These days, who wants a new opera?
Therefore, perhaps within the wind ensemble lies the germ of hope for a
viable means of giving people some good, live, serious music. This is where I stand
now, and perhaps, once I’ve established myself with a group of starter works, I’ll
start some larger efforts...not necessarily all for the standard band instrumentation,
and I am talking about a smaller group rather than an expanded one....
I have read parts of Vol. 1 of the La Grange [life of Mahler]. I think that a
good healthy disdain for apathy on the part of individuals in high places is essential
to the growth of an artist’s expressive faculty, and a good share of screwing from
these same individuals merely promotes this growth. In the end, these folk hang
themselves! Let us not stop at apathy. In a lot of cases, it is downright vicious
aggravation, and I know, for I experienced it numerous times at the hands of certain
bureaucrats over the past school year; and sadly enough, alas, so many of our
educators fail to understand and end up inflicting the same kind of punishment. It
hurts every time these people stand up for their commitment to the arts and then
shit all over the artists because they might just be situated in a different camp from
these certain educators, and won’t simply mouth their precepts and ape their
methods and techniques....
Jerome Sorcsek to David Whitwell
Harrisburg, PA, August 31, 1978
That’s all for business. Now for some philosophy. I just saw a concert
honoring L. Bernstein on Public TV. It was a bad performance, by a bad orchestra
(National Symphony), led by some bad conductors (Rostropovich being one), of
some really bad moments in the man’s writing. Also, I recently heard part of the
Israel Philharmonic’s bad recording on DGG of his 3rd Symphony, which points up
(to me, at least) the fact that it (and mostly all of Bernstein’s music) was written
exclusively for the NY Philharmonic (speaking of which, its new music director will
probably live to regret the day he hath forsaken a better orchestra)...rather than
compose music, per se...and what Columbia’s engineering won’t do (in the way of
austerity and sheer beauty) for some rather bland music!
Concerning the band music manufacturing, etc. I like Ned Rorem’s thought
on prostitution, which goes something like...the man who sells himself short, cheats
not only his public, but himself. That’s the gist, anyway....
Irresponsibility is our worst enemy. The educators are in the business of
educating others to prepare them to educate others, who will educate others, etc...all
according to the dictates of the publishers....