Mark Carlson and Pacific Serenades

April 19, 2006

Composer, flutist, professor, and close friend Mark Carlson is celebrating 20 years of presenting chamber music concerts in the Los Angeles area. The group is called Pacific Serenades and they pride themselves, and have been awarded two ASCAP grants for adventuresome programming, in commissioning a new composiition for every concert. Mark was the first in the LA area (possibly the country) to name each concert, a trend now copied by the LA Philharmonic as well as the LA Master Chorale.

Every season, Mark writes a welcome to our season statement to his subscribers. Today, I’d like to share his statement for his 20th season.

• • •

MarkPaladin.jpgFor many years, I’ve believed that the best hope for music—not just classical music, but jazz, Broadway, rock, etc.—lay in composers (and yes, song writers are composers, too) creating some kind of synthesis of the kinds of music they love.

That came to me in several waves. First of all, when I was a grad students at UCLA back in the 70s, it dawned on me how much “non-classical” music I loved and how all of it was automatically excluded from what was snobbishly called “art music.” I realized how much I loved American music: the songs that we now refer to as the Great American Songbook, folk music, jazz, the popular music I came of age to in the late 60s. One epiphany came to me (admittedly during a marijuana moment, but no less valid because of that) when my housemates and I were listening to an LP called, “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook.” As if hit by a bolt of lightening, I thought, “These are as much art songs as Schumann and Schubert songs are,” and I became determined to include some aspect of my American-music roots in all of my music from that point on.

Besides that, my most interesting composition students at UCLA in the late 80s and early 90s were those who came into college with strong backgrounds in pop or jazz or rock, and they had no intention of abandoning their roots. They were, however, entirely willing to absorb all manner of classical music. To me, this seemed a strong indication of an ongoing healing process for music, and from what I can see today, it has born fruit in all kinds of music being not only more beautiful and more affecting, but also better written.

So the Pacific Serenades “manifesto” (below) has roots that go way back for me. And it has also been a running undercurrent in Pacific Serenades over the years, as many of our commissioned composers have incorporated various “non-classical” sources into their own so-called classical styles.

Somewhere along the way, walls were built around classical music, around jazz, around folk, around rock. “DO NOT CROSS” signs were posted in all directions. Sentries in every walled-off area spoke “truths” that only fortified the walls: our music is serious, ours is modern, ours is of the people, ours is profound, ours is genuine, ours is fun.

Composers of the past would be puzzled by the severity of these borders. Bach deliberately reached across national boundaries; Schubert loved to assimilate popular music; Brahms could not get enough of Gypsy and beer hall music. Their borders were strong, yet fluid. Even we can’t make sense of our fractured musical world, since most of us love music that carries us across various stylistic borders. And at some level, we recognize that the disconnection between one kind of music and another has hindered what music is all about: love, humanity, beauty, healing.

For all of its 20 years, Pacific Serenades has encouraged musicians and music lovers to play out of bounds: to go against the 20th century proscription that new music must be like castor oil-good for you, but unpleasant. Since its beginning, Pacific Serenades has been about rebuilding the broken trust that has made music lovers fearful of new music. This season we build onto that an invitation to composers whose backgrounds include jazz, world music, film music, and rock. As always, our hands reach across borders to reconnect with what really matters: that music is music; that music is supposed to be beautiful and moving; that music transcends all borders-and in so doing makes us all more human and more divine.

Mark Carlson, Artistic Director

Photo of Mark Carlson by Roger Bourland

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