Against the Anti-Kitsch, or:
How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Audience
“I never had any use for all foreign music. It always seemed to me stale, empty, disgusting, cloying, false, and awkward. Without exception. Now I know who the French, English, Russians, Belgians, Americans, and Serbians are: barbarians! The music said that to me long ago . . . But now comes the reckoning. Now we shall send these mediocre purveyors of kitsch back into slavery.” – Arnold Schoenberg, 1914
“If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.” – A.S., Style and Ideas
In the 100 years since Schoenberg’s Copernican revolution against functional harmony, contemporaneous trends of music have witnessed an untiring pluralism and an obsession with invention. This impetus toward innovation has unified the pendulum ticks between complexity and simplicity and all of their corollaries, despite vast differences of style and aesthetic. Many composers seeking to avoid kitsch have been compelled to define themselves according to a wholly invented language. Some have succeeded, resulting in a magnificent array of music (and stupendous challenges for the analyst). However, many have ignored the functional role of music in society altogether. This is akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater! In this lecture I will describe my composition as a synthesis of other composers’ inventions, as an on-going effort to redress this grievance. Ultimately, my goal as a composer has not been to invent something entirely new. Rather, I have asked myself: how do I connect with as much of the audience as possible while sating my intellectual appetite? I will also discuss this issue within the context of my successes and failures in the professional world.
James J. Ogburn (b. 1974) is a US-born composer whose recent works have been featured at over two-dozen festivals in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has also has served as Artistic Director/ Conductor for several ensembles, as well as been resident conductor at a number of festivals in Asia and the US. While living in Thailand (2009–2015), he was Chair of Composition and Theory at Mahidol University College of Music, Founder and Director of Enclave Ensemble, Program Manager of the Thailand International Composition Festival, Director of the Young Thai Artist Award, and Researcher for the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO). For the Ninth Season of TPO, he was appointed as the first “Composer-in-Residence,” for which he composed five works for the 2013–14 Season. Dr. Ogburn received Composition & Theory degrees from Central Washington University (B.M., 2004), and the University of Pittsburgh (M.A., 2006 & Ph.D., 2009). Currently, he is Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at the Schwob School of Music of Columbus State University. For more information, visit: www.jamesogburn.com.