Daniel Asia, professor of composition at the University of Arizona and board member of the National Association of Scholars, is serving as festival director for UArizona’s Thirteenth Annual Composers Festival, a four-day event hosted by the Fred Fox School of Music. The event honors the music of visionary American composers George Gershwin, Steve Reich, and William Bolcom.
Gershwin, perhaps the most widely known of the three, was an early-20th century composer widely recognized for his incorporation of jazz flavors into classical music, bridging the apparent divide between the two and pioneering what would later be called “third-stream” music. Most classical music appreciators will know his iconic orchestral work Rhapsody in Blue.
Steve Reich is a father of American minimalism, a movement that served as a direct reaction to the somber, ultra-modern music coming out of post-war Europe in the mid-20th century. His music is characterized by its use of extreme repetition, pandiatonicism, phase shifting, and West-African rhythmic concepts. New listeners may enjoy Reich’s work Music For 18 Musicians—or they may be driven mad by it. We’ll let you be the judge.
William Bolcom’s music was at first thoroughly aligned with European modernism, but he later branched out and embraced different idioms of American popular music, including jazz, pop, and country. As Professor Asia himself writes, “[Bolcom’s] is a music of the greatest eclecticism and stylistic diversity. It is a music of wide emotional expression that includes levity, humor, and grace.” A stellar example is his Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a setting of the eponymous book of poems by William Blake.
What does this have to do with higher ed? Well, for starters, the National Association of Scholars holds as an organizational pillar the promotion of virtuous citizenship. A vital part of being a virtuous and informed citizen is knowing with at least some degree of familiarity the major artists and artwork that have shaped the culture in which we live. Indeed, this is one of the primary purposes of undergraduate core curricula. Gershwin, Reich, and Bolcom certainly qualify as such culture-shapers and each helped create the modern American soundscape through their idiosyncratic lives and work.
NAS congratulates Professor Asia on his festival directorship and encourages all who are able to attend to do so, even if only virtually.