The right-wing Gleichschaltung of New College of Florida continues apace, and in this dismal context, the recently announced shuttering of New Music New College comes as no surprise. But what makes this move especially galling is that, despite its avant-garde ambience, NMNC was about the least counter-cultural institution imaginable. The concert series combined well-prepared presentations of experimental music with thoughtful discussions of the music's relevant historical and aesthetic context. Every effort was made to show how the music on offer, no matter how strange it sounded, emerged from earlier precedents and responded to the historical realities of the modern world. This curatorial sensibility allowed the series to exist for 24 years, to attract audiences from beyond campus, and to win the support and involvement of the local classical music establishment.
Underneath it all was a basic idea with profound philosophical and political implications. Traditions are important – in fact we can't do without them – but if they aren't exposed to the renewing energies of creativity and critique, they ossify into dogma, becoming a mockery of the high-minded values they purport to represent. Experimental music – or any other art form that challenges our assumptions – can be not only a source of aesthetic delight, but also a reminder of the infinite human potential for growth, change, and progress. With dedication and optimistic faith, NMNC conveyed the message that "new music," when done right, can truly become a force for good in the world.
NMNC was not simply an extracurricular activity, but an integral component of the music program at New College. It shaped my thinking and feeling about what music is and could be, and it continues to do so, over twenty years later. Even as we continue the struggle to defend a New College worthy of the name, let's keep its flame alive by advancing the radical traditions of joyful rigor and serious play.