A lot of talk about the new-music scene is based on a metaphor in which the people who write and listen to “difficult” music are the elitist aristocracy, and the people who write and listen to “accessible” music are the downtrodden average joes. There’s also a lot of talk about the new-music scene which is based on a different metaphor, in which the people who write and listen to “accessible” music are the jocks who rule the school, and the people who write and listen to “difficult” music are the picked-on nerds. And when someone who sees things through the first lens tries to have a conversation with someone who sees things through the second, real communication is almost impossible.
Part of the problem is that both of these metaphors are spot-on, in certain situations. The first one might seem very apt if you’re studying in a composition department where anyone who writes music that’s tonal or in 4/4 or influenced by popular genres is accused of being naive, unsophisticated, and unable to appreciate the weight of history. The second might seem very apt if you’re working in a scene where populism reigns supreme and modernist-oriented composers are mocked and dismissed. But these metaphors are so culturally and politically potent that it’s tempting to apply them to the new-music world as a whole, or even the entire art world — and then suddenly you have a situation where two people could be at the same concert or presentation and leave with two completely contradictory understandings of what they just saw and heard.
What do you think? Is there any way to reconcile these two worldviews, or is that like saying that Ralph Nader and Pat Robertson should try to find common ground? Is one metaphor more apt than the other? Would it be better to stop politicizing style altogether, or is doing so useful for fighting aesthetic prejudice and closed-mindedness?