Guest blog post: Brian Sacawa asks "New York City or Bust?"
(This is a guest post by saxophonist Brian Sacawa, co-curator of Baltimore's Mobtown Modern. I'm always happy to consider guest posts. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to submit one.)
Musicians in Baltimore, especially the young and talented folks around town looking to launch a career in new-music, need to rethink their definition of success and get over the idea that New York City is the center of the universe with Baltimore serving merely as a low-rent stopover on the path to bigger things.
New-music (or alt-classical, anyone?) is in the midst of a zeitgeist. There is an undeniable energy and vitality to much of the music being created.
And although there are different streams within this movement, there seems to be a common overarching goal to create a new musical culture. This new hybrid combines modern composition with sound worlds drawn from a wide range of genres — from pop to rock to hip-hop and beyond — as well as aspects of the cultures that surround those forms of expression. Some attempts to realize this new culture, such as juxtaposing a new-music ensemble and an indie-rock outfit on the same bill with no clear purpose, do absolutely nothing of musical value (except maybe make the new-music kids in the audience feel a bit cooler and the indie-rock kids in the audience feel a bit smarter), while others get much closer to the mark. The most successful experiments have been those that combine genres unselfconsciously while highlighting the similarities between musical cultures and forgoing the gimmicks that this sort of synthesis lends itself to much too easily.
The majority of the credit for this movement has been bestowed on the scene in NYC, which might lead an ambitious new-music composer or performer to think that in order to be a part of the vanguard and really "make it" they need to be in New York themselves. That's been the traditional benchmark of success. And if you can’t make it there, well, why the hell would you even want to try to make it anywhere else since you've failed already?
I think it’s time that we
About two years ago there was an article in the Guardian about the booming music scene in Brooklyn, NY, which addressed, in part, the role Baltimore had played in the borough's so-called musical renaissance. It was cool for Baltimore to be recognized for its "curveball creativity," but I was honestly a little offended by the notion that Baltimore was merely serving as Brooklyn's farm team — a stepping stone to the musical big leagues — and couldn't be a place where a hip and innovative musical culture could throw down roots and thrive. But that article was published almost two years ago and paradigms have shifted. More and more musicians who call Baltimore home are defying the stereotype that you need to live in a closet in a dingy Brooklyn apartment for a chance at notoriety outside of Charm City.
I think it's time the emerging new-music voices get on board. Jason Foster, the owner of the Baltimore-based record label and management group We Are Free, was quoted in the Guardian article cited above saying, "There's nothing [in Baltimore]. Absolutely nothing. So you can do what the f*** you want." I don't really agree with the first part of that statement. However, the second part is spot on. You could argue that you could do whatever the f*** you want anywhere, but the atmosphere in Baltimore does seem much more conducive to that sort of thing. The city's DIY ethos combined with the overwhelming sense of community within and across artistic disciplines will enable the realization of the yet-to-be-defined hybrid culture that many are attempting to establish. And the relative smaller size of Baltimore — you've heard the term Smalltimore, right? — makes it possible to create an interconnected city-wide artistic front — rather than a series of artistic ghettos.
Artists have a choice these days: you can go to NYC and be one in a thousand playing against stacked odds, or you can stay in Baltimore and create your dream on your own terms.
ILLUSTRATION OF "THE LIBERTY BOH" COURTESY OF BRIAN SACAWA