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The Arts: A Continuing Dialogue

The music world lost two of its own early in 1996. They were miles apart geographically and ethnically, but they were kinsmen in spirit and attitude, and in the way they perceived the role of music in society.

Toru Takemitsu died in Japan at the age of 65. He was his country's leading composer and his music was known and revered throughout the world. Takemitsu was a bridger of gaps, having been influenced from earliest childhood on by American jazz and European classical music as well as the music of his native country. In a 1988 interview, he confessed that he thought that Western music of the 1950s and '60s had become "too intellectual. But at the same time, composers began thinking about sound only in terms of its function, and in the process music lost its sensuality." Sensuality in the arts mattered greatly to Takemitsu. He gravitated naturally to films, composing no less than 91 movie scores. And another dimension in which he sought sensuality was nature. In an obituary article in The New York Times, Allan Kozinn wrote: "He was particularly fascinated with the combination of natural beauty and cultured formality to be found in Japanese gardens, and sometimes called himself `a gardener of music."

On the day following the news of Takemitsu's death, music lovers everywhere were saddened by the sudden death at 82 of Morton Gould in Orlando, Florida. A pianist and conductor, a composer and arranger, an inimitable raconteur and effective administrator-he served as president of ASCAP from 1986 to 1994 — Gould reached out to all who loved music, and most particularly to those who made it. He gladly put his own success at the service of his colleagues, performing and promoting their music and adding luster to the art form in its totality, from its most fundamental to its most highly distilled. Although his own music has been a mainstay in concert hall, Broadway theatre, ballet, movies, and television for decades, it was only towards the end of his life that he was recognized and accepted by the musical establishment itself, and he became the winner of a Pulitzer Prize and recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors Award. "I wanted to share my music with others," he said. "Communication was always terribly important to me."

Both Takemitsu and Gould showed an admirable curiosity about their art. They both wished to know what other musicians were doing and how they were doing it, regardless of where they dwelled. They were both willing to suspend judgment, never prematurely ruling out musical expression, no matter what form it took. But both remained absolutely true to themselves, never attempting to feign or synthesize a musicality that was not reflected by their own unique personalities. And both intuited the arts' duality — that there must always be an artist whose concern was creation, as well as a listener, reader, spectator whose concern was receptivity, and that both of the partners to this dialogue had their own spectrum of qualifications.

Being integral components of society, the arts and their audiences are dynamic and tastes are subject to change. What may be high fashion in one age may be totally uninteresting to the next. But (and here the arts may be unique) the neglect of a style or artistic expression at a given time does not necessarily signify oblivion. Just think of the works of yesteryear that were "in" and then were "out" and then came back again to new, passionately involved groups of audiences who obviously brought with them quite different kit bags of experience than had the initial consumers of this art. Don't we today — must we not — hear Mozart differently from those 18th-century ears? In this sense — unlike anything else that man produces, unlike consumer goods or technology or political postures — the arts are potentially imperishable.

We have been reading disturbing reports about the decline of interest in the arts, about the "graying" of American audiences, particularly for the "high culture" arts which involve the ability to abstract and are usually associated with a marked degree of literacy. Those art forms — such as television and the movies and, to an extent, the dance — which are more representational by nature and therefore lessen the receptor's burden, are faring far better than those making greater intellectual demands. But this may be a passing phase, society undergoing a period of passivity brought about in part by our stunning technological advances, and in part by the "generalization" of education. There are simply more things to learn today than there have ever been, meaning that we are learning less about more. Only once we have assimilated the information generated by the computer age can we again concentrate on the more creative, more abstract dimensions of human achievement.

The arts have always been the domain of those who love and admire people, who believe in them despite their frailties and shortcomings, and who wish to conserve the energies of people for future generations. More through the arts than anything else, individuals and nations may be remembered by the yet unborn human beings of tomorrow. How artists of the future will choose to manifest their craft is not the issue. Nor is it really critical for us to foretell of what education will consist some lifetimes from now. Of sole importance is that there be artists and that there be those literate people who will expect to have their lives enhanced by them, and that the dialogue, in whatever shape or form it takes, continue.

Judging by the music they wrote and by the lives they led, both Toru Takemitsu and Morton Gould believed that it would.

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