"Lightbridging" is Bridging, Too.
At the 2005 CMS meeting in Quebec, the session "Bridging the Communications Gap between Classical and Popular Musics" stirred in my mind a reflection upon individuals who bridged this gap and transmitted music through what I call "lightbridges." Without giving up high standards, and as long as their energy, their money, or the regulations permitted, these individuals succeeded in sharing their art by branching out through various community approaches facilitating access to it.
We often read about the challenges that await graduates entering the professional world but rarely about the challenges that await our potential audiences—everyday working people desiring more from their current existence. Our responsibility might imply promoting changes out of the dominant trend. John Cage, in 1970, in an interview with Max Nyfeller (as quoted in Richard Kostelanetz's Conversing with Cage) had already noticed in the U.S.: ". . . when you get a job in society and enter in the economic-political structure of capitalism, you no longer have any time for art. You're not interested in art any longer; only a few people are. The people who are interested in art are the students." Are we ready to try to change the situation "beyond the walls?"
Internal competition might entertain the illusion of attainable goals, but we can also imagine that the survival of our species cannot be limited to the survival of a sub-group. Dinosaurs could not modify their environment, but human beings can. For example, online courses are changing the academic landscape so much that I must prevent myself from concluding that soon people will go to the university only for home-game days and commencements. Lightbridges are intermediary structures, with an informal entrance providing exposures and exchanges. They offer opportunities to improve knowledge and skills that are taken into account by official educational agencies. In fact, a minimum of administrative power is often delegated to a lightbridge in order to facilitate transfers.
I am providing four examples of lightbridges, as found in (capitalist) Geneva, Switzerland. These examples demonstrate how lightbridges can be structured:
- Founded and directed by a musician who devotes to it his time and part of his money;
- In the form of a cooperative;
- Sponsored by a patron who offers facilities and subsidies to an association gathering different types of expression; and
- Supported by the state in response to a demand from part of the population.
a. It took ten painful years, from 1959, for the isolated "Boulezian" composer Jacques Guyonnet to become a lively musical alternative in Geneva. He owned an audio and electronic art studio that doubled as the lab for students in electronic music courses offered through local high schools. A percentage of the profits from other ventures went to artistic research and educational workshops—free or low cost and open to anyone interested (adults included).
Guyonnet co-founded the Cartel de la Musique (1969), the official executive committee for program policy and coordination in Geneva. As chairman of the youth concert committee and methodologist for the Department of Education, he was able to design ways (announcements, presentations, visits of musicians) to get students from class to a seat, among adults, in a concert hall (free tickets).
In order to avoid the trap of "confidential concerts" (small ensembles in small halls for small, elitist audiences) and to develop an appreciation of contemporary music, Guyonnet conducted the Stuttgart Philharmonic for eight years; he regularly brought this orchestra to Geneva. For five years, the orchestra played - for free to all ages - an open rehearsal including commentaries (even Stockhausen presented Momente). Later, he wrote monodramas to be performed by an actor and the orchestra. These monodramas served as introductions to works (e.g. Schoenberg et son Double, which preceded Schoenberg's Kammersymphonie, op. 9). It is worth noting that Guyonnet was also chair of the ISMC (International Society for Contemporary Music) from 1976 to 1981.
b. Rainer Boesch, former director of the Conservatory of Lausanne, installed the cooperative Studio Espaces in an apartment located in a district of artisans. The studio served as headquarters for a group of four professional composers, but Boesch was also teaching electroacoustic classes there for the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique. This conservatoire was one of the members of the Council of Schools of Music, along with the Conservatoire and the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze, in charge of public music instruction. Two researcher-technicians occupying an adjacent room were ready to help upon request. The City subsidized several concerts yearly. The impact this studio had, particularly among young people, was amazing, thanks to the informality that prevailed during well-structured classes and to the number of individuals who were invited by students to help "make noises" for their electroacoustical works.
c. From 1969 to 1974, a patroness supported an interdisciplinary center: ERA--Etudes et Rencontres Artistiques ("Art Studies and Encounters"). ERA also housed a program in dance and theater as well as the Centre International de Percussion created by Pierre Métral. As Métral was a teacher for the Conservatoire, all the conservatory percussion activities (lessons, classes, and juries) moved to ERA. As for the Centre's activities, Métral organized introductory percussion workshops and classes for the general public (with no age limit). Not surprisingly, a large number of people between 18 and 30 who were not students frequented ERA.
The percussion concerts introduced audiences to South American composers such as Ginastera (then living in Geneva) and Santoro (who at the time was also living in Germany). They served as guests and advisors. ERA also presented experimental performances in jazz (e.g. Alan Silva's Big Band) and dance.
In addition to activities held at ERA, performances were organized or repeated in the suburbs under big tops and in schools. Financially speaking, concerts of contemporary music and jazz were "in the black." But miscommunication, in particular with the immigration services, caused the project of a professional dance company to fail and the dance program to collapse. ERA closed. The State bought the building for music schools and maintained, with the City, ERA's theatre company for children.
d. Following demonstrations in the 1970's, the Department of Education and the City granted subsidies and facilities to young people gathered in the Association pour la Musique de Recherche (AMR) to develop activities (courses, performances, and lectures) of improvised music, mainly jazz. The members of this association chose their instructors, founded a big band and various combos, organized a concert series, numerous parties, regular ethnomusicology lectures, managed budgets, etc. Furthermore, they learned how to report to and negotiate with state officers and representatives. Later, some of them became teachers in the official music institutions or members of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. AMR, with time, acquired an image of high standards that did not please the younger generations too much, who were more attracted by rock music. So the State and the City then successfully repeated the process in the 1980's with a rock association: Post Tenebras Rock (Geneva's maxim being Post Tenebras Lux, "After Darkness, Light").
In summary, lightbridges are located in places other than the traditional educational agencies, and they are able to mix people from different backgrounds, ages, and education. By acting in some ways in partnership with educational agencies, lightbridges can carry individuals over gaps and impasses towards new horizons.
Jean-Claude Coquempot, a native of France, began formal studies at the Conservatory of Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 27. Some years later he became a double bassist in the orchestra "Collegium Academicum," Geneva, and substituted in the big band of the Radio Suisse Romande (RSR) for whom he wrote several tunes. He took classes of harmony, counterpoint, music analysis, and, with Rainer Boesch, electroacoustic music.
Given his background and the workshops he attended, the scope of his mentors in composition ranges from Norbert Bichet, a small farmer and guitarist from France, Jacques Guyonnet, twice president of the International Society for Contemporary Music, Alberto Ginastera in Geneva, to Max Deutsch in Paris.
From a negligible amount of music, he has fond memories of his submission for a workshop with Ginastera: his piece for four percussionists and piano – later selected by the International Center of Percussion, Geneva; the Festival Tibor Varga (Switzerland); and for radio broadcast (RSR).
Following a return to France, Jean-Claude completed degrees in French literature, teaching French, and music. The advisor for his doctorate (on music and society, University Paris VIII) was Daniel Charles – musician, philosopher, and author of For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation with Daniel Charles among other works. Nine years spent in various agencies and in the Secretariat of the United Nations offered Jean-Claude the opportunity to work with people of different cultures.
Studies in the U.S. include French Literature (ABD, University of Maryland, 1998) and
Information and Library Sciences (Master, University of Southern Mississippi, 2000).