Rebirth of Reason


My Teacher, Myself
by Adam Buker

One of the reasons I study at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is my professor of composition, Dr. Frank Stemper. I generally find his compositions to be abysmal and abhorrent and metaphysically grotesque. I've even stated my opinion of his and other avant-garde crap to him in class (though with a great deal of tact). I write music that is more akin to Ravel, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff. Why on earth would a person like me study with a Post-modern like him?

It's rather simple. He does not want me to pursue anything other than my own artistic vision, even though it radically departs from his own. Everything he does as a teacher, springs from this basic premise. So instead of talking about aspects of indeterminacy, serialism, and minimalism (as he does with some of his other students) we talk about counterpoint, instrumentation, tonal harmony, form, etc.

As a teacher, I think he has integrity. As a composer, I think he has 'integrity' in the sense of consistency in following his own ideals. Though they are not my own, I respect the fact that he follows them, though I will never cease to bitch to him about that awful trash that he writes. Maybe bitching isn't the right way to go about it, come to think of it.

Why would he as a teacher encourage me to develop my own vision even though it is in direct conflict with his? In other words, why does he value my integrity when my ideas in composition are drastically different from his? Though I am grateful that such is his approach, I must say that this has always baffled me. From my own personal experience, it's clear to me that he is not talking about being original for its own sake. If that was the foundation of his teaching, I would have left this university long ago.

A couple of years ago, I was having a philosophical discussion with my dad and I remember him saying, "I respect a great deal, men who are true to their own principles." In order to be true to your own principles, you must have a great deal of self-honesty, discipline, and courage. You need self-honesty in order to know that you are following through on your ideals and to determine whether those ideals are working. You need discipline and courage to be more than just an armchair intellectual. Developing these qualities is a difficult task, and it is rare to see men and women who embody them.

In many aspects, I think that this applies to my teacher. When he teaches his students to pursue their own artistic vision, he is interested in his students who apply these qualities to their work. He doesn't teach me to write compositions in the style of Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Cage, Schoenberg, or even Frank Stemper. He teaches me to write in the style of Adam Buker. Among the many teachers of this field, this is indeed a truly rare exception.
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