During the past decade or so an important change has taken place in the location of those activities surrounding our serious musical life. The composers and performers of this music have migrated to the environs of our universities. This small segment of our culture can not begin to compete in the heavy money world of pop, sock and rock; thus it has moved into a community which offers it, at least for the present, the best locum tenens for the development of an atmosphere conducive to its evolution.
Virtually all of the younger performers who are playing a vital role in this evolution are trained within this setting; a portion of the most talented remain here to join such new music ensembles as those presently at the Universities of Chicago, Iowa and Rutgers University. Their influence on pedagogy and literature is inestimable. Some of these musicians have developed new concepts of sound reproduction and by sustaining daily contact with students are influencing a whole generation of teachers, performers and auditors. At a time when the stagnation of our orchestral and operatic repertoire is all too evident, these performers are eschewing offers to perpetuate these mighty musical museums as high salaried automatons, and instead seek the invigorating challenge existing within the better of the academic musical centers.
The potential audience for new music is, of course, made up of the same types of people who are attending colleges. The rebirth of creativity of a high order in some recent popular music is sensitizing them and making them more susceptible to the excitement and relevancy developing in "serious" music. These students are doubtless more responsive to the novel, the innovative and the divergent and therefore contribute immensely to the creative environment.
In recognition of these conditions, the American Society of University Composers was founded three years ago. While many of the composers teaching in universities did not particularly relish the idea of being labeled "academic composers" (whatever that may mean), the potential importance and reasonableness of such a union was obvious enough. One of the most severe handicaps facing those under the academic umbrella is the isolationism that almost invariably sets in; even an isolationism from nearby institutions, much less from non-academic centers. A main function of this Society is to improve communications by sponsoring concerts, symposia and publications, both on the national and the local level. The organization also seeks to raise the standards in the compositional and theoretical portions of the music curriculum and to act as a forum for the discussion of these efforts.
The Society is divided into regions. Each region develops its own internal organizational structure and is responsible for those activities which it is capable of pursuing. The regional members elect a chairman who is a member of the National Council which is the governing body. The national membership also elects the members of the Executive Committee. This body attends to the legal and daily functions. Allowing as it does for basic policies to be formulated by that portion of the official machinery which best represents the total membership, the organization has sought to avoid the too-frequent suspicion of bias and vested interest which seems to be present at the formation of such unions.
Among its national activities, the Society holds a Conference each year where concerts, lectures, discussion groups and brief business meetings are held. These Conferences, in the past three years, have been held in New York, St. Louis and Philadelphia. Next year's conference will be held on the West Coast. The materials presented at these meetings are gathered and published in the PROCEEDINGS which are sent to members and libraries. The Societies' Summer Institute, held last year at Tanglewood and this summer at the University of Michigan, provides a more informal opportunity for composers to congregate and participate in seminars, performance demonstrations and concerts. A NEWSLETTER is issued several times yearly allowing members to keep better informed concerning their profession.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the existence of this organization is the realization that it was in the vested interests of those involved to form such a body. A realization that we must ourselves vigorously pursue those ends in which we believe and are willing to devote some of our energies to accomplish; that no longer should we wait for others to form our own environment for us; that we must become involved in a truer sense; and that if we are unwilling to become so involved we should not be surprised when others, less knowledgeable and less informed, fail to create so satisfactory a community.