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Andrei Strizek is a doctoral musicology student at the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign. He holds an assistantship at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, in the Events office, where he advances all of the School of Music concerts and several Marquee performances.

Andrei is an active performer, and is in demand as a music director and keyboardist for many musical theatre productions.

He earned his Bachelor's of Music Education from UW-Eau Claire in 2005, after studying with Dr Jerry Young, Dr Mark Heidel, Dr Randal Dickerson, and Dr Donald Patterson, and his Master's of Music Education from the University of Illinois in 2011.

He holds a wide range of interests, from musical theatre to jazz and popular music history to aesthetics, from the use of technology in education to audience development.

Please contact Andrei if you have any questions, comments or suggestions!

Read here for a full bio, or download Andrei's CV.

Entries in aesthetics (9)


The Artist as Tortured Genius

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What really pisses me off is this idea that I am this tortured artist. That is something based on flimsy evidence which is endlessly being projected back onto us. It is just reductive and dull. In order to be creative there has to be a distance from you and the thing itself. It is only when the distance gets confused that things go wrong. If you actually start to believe that you are what you write, then you have f***ing had it. You have had it and you ain't coming back. To assume that everything is about somebody's life is to assume that that person is inherently stupid and isn't capable of absorbing anything else. The whole point of creativity is that you spend your whole life absorbing things almost to where it is unbearable. The way you deal with it is (to) get out.

-Thom Yorke of Radiohead, in an interview with Pulse, quoted in Kid A by Marvin Lin.

The media has created an image of Thom Yorke as tortured artist and genius. They have done this with a wide range of people, from Phil Collins to Mozart, and are moving beyond Beethoven to others like Schubert, and including performers (Glenn Gould comes to mind, as does the craze around David Helfgott when Shine came out about 10 years ago).By Goldberg ((Goldberg)), via Wikimedia Commons

Do we need to have this mystique of the artist/performer as a tortured soul to help explain their music, to give it some authenticity? Why are we continuously attracted to this story, even though historians have shown that Mozart and Beethoven, for example, weren't as tormented as we believe?

Lady Gaga has said that "Music is a lie. It is a lie. Art is a lie." Is that any different than what Thom Yorke said? Should we, as artists and performers, believe that art is a lie?

Share your thoughts below!

Related post: Is Lady Gaga Wrong? (Is art a lie?)


The Story Behind the Music

Last night I saw the wonderful November Dance performance, by the Department of Dance at the University of Illinois. I started getting into modern dance this spring, when I went to a few performances for one of my classes on aesthetics and education. I didn't understand it too much it until we were talking about it one day, when I realized I was looking for a story being told. While there may be a story, there isn't necessarily one, and getting past that hurdle opened up the wonderful world of modern dance to me. Already this fall I've see Hubbard Street twice, in addition to last night's performance.

After the performance I tweeted some Twitter friends (Erica, Grant and Sam) with this (modified for real English): "I started understanding dance when I stopped expecting it to tell a story. I think we should do same for music." A nice little conversation ensued, and as much as a I love Twitter, sometimes the 140 character limit is too short for an interesting topic.

But here's my basic point: we teach a lot of programmatic musics in music appreciation classes. It's easy to teach and easy for the learner to understand (and, perhaps more important, it's easy to assess). We can hear the witch or the guillotine drop in Symphonie Fantastique. Discussions of Schubert's songs talk about his marvolous use of word painting. And what doesn't have a story gets one imposed on it: fate knocking on the door in Beethoven's 5th Symphony; Mozart & Mahler writing their final pieces, knowing they were going to die (I'll leave aside the question of if that's really true or not, because regardless, we still do this). But not all music is programmatic. I'd say most music isn't programmatic. (Unless you're looking at middle school band repertoire.)

It's my opinion that in leading with this track to novice musicians (and I'm including listeners in that term) - or at least emphasizing it - we limit our students (or friends, or family, or audience, etc.). Some music is great because it doesn't have a program - just like, as Erica tweeted, the same can be said with visual arts, poetry, dance, etc.

How can we teach appreciation for musics - not just Western art music, but including it - without looking for a story? Bach doesn't tell a story; Mozart doesn't; Reich, Schoenberg, Gorecki, etc. etc. etc. don't tell stories all the time. Jazz musicians might tell a story through their improv, but it's likely doubtful. So much of "world music" doesn't tell a story, but is ritualistic instead. Taylor Swift definitely does tell stories, but ... we can usually grasp what that story is pretty quickly, without needing a degree-laden professor to tell us what it is.

I'll admit I've fallen into this trap. I'm just as guilty as the next person. I taught this way as part of my AP Music Theory class. I wrote an undergrad paper on Mahler's 2nd Symphony, connecting themes in the piece to Mahler's program, which is probably a good paper, if you forget that Mahler redacted the program he wrote for the work.

I don't feel guilty for this, per say, but I do feel bad. A beauty of the arts is its subjective nature, yet we're telling people what needs to be heard and understood so much of the time. Is this a fault of the nature of schooling? Or our own engrained ideas about Western art music?

I also appreciate hearing a performer's connection to the piece - but that doesn't necessarily involve a story behind the composition. I think we all look for an easily-found human connection in music, and perhaps that's why we take this route. We can associate with love lost (Berlioz, Taylor Swift) a lot easier than we can "only" sound (absolute music as a whole).

What can we do to get more listeners, appreciators, performers, etc., involved with the music without using this simple cop-out? Once I got past it I got more into modern dance. I imagine if musickers get past this they can get more into the marvolous world of music.


**Two questions/connections that come up that are beyond my writing at this point in the night:
-That programmatic music is essentially a Romantic concept, and may be connected to the Romantic concept of genius
-The observation that dance is more receptive to the new and unexpected than music


Glee on Aesthetics

This last week's episode of The Rocky Horror Glee Show had two different messages about art and music:

"Isn't that the whole point of the arts? Push boundaries, doing things people say you can't do, for the sake of self-expression?" - Mr Schuster (Matthew Morrison)

"Artists are free to push boundaries to make art. But when pushing boundaries is the only aim, the result is usually bad art." - Sue Slyvester (Jane Lynch)

Critical commentary about Glee and this episode aside, these thoughts come from the hero and the enemy, and we're led to believe what Mr Schuster says. But should we?

What do you think? Is it necessary to push boundaries to make art? Is self-expression a requirement for art, or is art "a lie"?

Chime in below!








Spring Impressions

How often have you gone to a musical performance of one of your favorite compositions, only to walk away with mixed reactions: slightly disappointed because the performance had its flaws, but also having been affected by the performance - at least a little?

That was my experience last week when I saw the touring production of Spring Awakening, and it happens to me somewhat frequently. It was my second time seeing Spring Awakening and I've listened to the original cast album countless times since it was released. The show is great - a must-see if it comes to your area - and the cast - overall fairly young - did a fine job with it.

One issue with the production, though, was its venue here in Champaign: Assembly Hall. The home of the basketball team. The venue for a recent Kid Cudi concert and an upcoming Bob Dylan concert. It's not the best place to view theatre, but I make do with it for its convenience and the great shows that come in from time to time.

Other problems were some of the audio and lighting glitches, which are understandable. They were only in town for this one performance, and they likely didn't have a lot of time to test everything out, like they would if they were settling in to a venue for a week or more.

Unfortunately, too, the female lead (Wendela) was less than stellar, and during her solo and duet songs I started to focus more on my disappointment rather than the story that was being told.

Yet, even with those distractions, I was still moved by the overall production and performance. Part of me recognized that, even though it wasn't flawless (can any performance really be, though?), nor was it as good as the original cast album I've heard so many times, that it was the same work of art, that it had similar effects on me as when I saw it the first time and when I listen to the cast album. How can we do this with music: recognize something that isn't quite the same as being, essentially, the same thing?

We see visual arts as an object, because they are. They're something we can see, touch, smell. Music is different. We can (sometimes) hold a score, but that only gives us a part of its experience (unless you're Arnold Schoenberg). Ideally, we should be able to know music through listening, but sometimes that can only give us part of the whole picture, too.

Theories of aesthetics can be summed up as two types: that music is an object, or that music is an activity/experience (I'm being severely reductionist here for the sake of brevity). I tend to lean towards the latter, but there has to be some truth to music being an object - how else could I know Spring Awakening as Spring Awakening?

My main problem with the idea of music being an object is that it's deeply connected to the idea of a canon of music, and that Western art music is "the best" and the ideal to which all other musics should be held. In our diverse and post-modern society it's difficult to defend this position, especially since so much of "Western art music" comes from non-Western composers and/or has influences of world music.

But I digress from my original question. How do we recognize something as the same music even if it's not played accurately, or even the same as it was intended (how do we know what was intended?) or how we've heard it before? How can we recognize Beethoven's 5th Symphony in an arranged form for a 9th grade orchestra? Or a jazz standard like Summertime arranged by Gil Evans?

(Or, as Nicholas Cook writes, "If you play the (Chopin) E minor Prelude and get one note wrong, then nobody will claim that what you played wasn't the E minor Prelude. But heaven knows what they will say if you get 95 percent of the notes wrong.")

If, as John Dewey says, art is experience and our reaction to it, does that mean a composition changes with every performance? Embedded in the word "composition" is the idea that it's not only written down, but that it doesn't change ... yet it does. We refer to something as "Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony" or "Oklahoma" even though no two performances are the same. What is it about music that allows us to do this?

How was I still moved by Spring Awakening even though it wasn't what I've heard and seen before? This is a question almost unique to music, since most visual art isn't flawed, or doesn't change from one viewing to the next (unless that's the intent of the creator).

I don't know the answer. I'm reading a lot in hopes of finding something I feel comfortable with, but I doubt that I - or anyone - will be able to come up with a solution satisfying to everyone (or even a majority). To me, that's one of the wonderful things about music: its multiplicity.

What about you? What have you seen or heard that wasn't "perfect" but was affective nonetheless? What is it about music that lets us recognize these similarities and differences as the same "thing"? Is one view of aesthetics better - or, perhaps, more accurate - than another?

Leave comments below. Let's start a dialogue. This is a topic I'm keenly interested in, and I'd greatly enjoy hearing what you have to say about it.

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