5 Question Interview Series with Glenn Kurtz

Glenn Kurtz is the author of “Practicing - A Musician’s Return to Music”.

Kurtz is a graduate of the New England Conservatory-Tufts University double degree program. He also holds a PhD from Stanford University in German Studies and Comparative Literature. His writing has been published in ZYZZYVA, Artweek, Tema Celeste, and elsewhere, and he has taught at Stanford University, San Francisco State University, and California College of the Arts.

Glenn Kurtz graciously agreed to take part in my on going “5 Question Interview Series”.

1) My only complaint about the book is that it made me want to put the book down and go practice my guitar. Did the same urge happen to you while writing the book?

I have a fantasy that the book will inspire a nationwide resurgence in art-making by all sorts of former artists, musicians, painters, etc. So many people have spoken or written to me about wanting to pick up their instrument or their craft again after reading the book. It's very gratifying. For me, while writing "Practicing," I was constantly picking up the guitar; putting it down to write; picking it up again. Playing was research, as well as practice. I tried to capture the rhythm of a practice session in the writing, along with what it felt like to play.

2) The physical act of playing the guitar seems like a meditation practice for you. Do you have a personal mediation that you practice in your daily life?

Not really. When I was a performing musician, I used to do an idiosyncratic form of breathing work, which I suppose you could call meditation. But I haven't done it in a long time. These days, I find that practicing itself is my best practice, whether music or writing.

3) Bach is a major motivator for your inspiration. Are there any current/contemporary musicians that give you Bach-like inspiration?

I get inspiration from so many different kinds of music that it's hard to keep track! When I was younger, I think I was pretty snobbish about the kinds of music I listened to: Bach and Mozart were at the top of my list, along with classic jazz--say, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Django, and Charlie Parker. I also listened to a lot of classical guitar players: Pepe Romero, John Williams, and the Davids: Leisner, Tanenbaum, and Russell. But I didn't really listen to much else. These days, my ears have opened up much more. In any given day, I'll run the gamut from Bach to John Cage (I love the "Music for Prepared Piano"); from The Beatles to Death Cab for Cutie; from Gnawa music of Morocco to Javanese Gamelan. For some reason, I've been in an Anton von Webern phase lately, listening to his string quartets. Any music that takes me into its own time, its own temporality, and shapes my experience there inspires me.

4) In one of your essays, “Who cares about Classical Music”, you write about public response to a master violinist. Do you foresee the public schooling system (or even media) placing greater emphasis on the arts?

Sadly, no. I don't see much chance of the public school system or the mainstream media placing much--indeed, any--emphasis on art or arts education in the near future. Schools, especially, are still staggering under the profoundly misguided "Standards" movement, which has swallowed most "non-essential" subjects like art, music, and drama. It's pretty discouraging. But I have to say I'm of two minds on this subject. When most people speak of "arts education," they tend to mean things like music appreciation classes, in which students are taught that Beethoven was great. I'm definitely of the camp that believes Beethoven is great. Yet I'm also of the camp that believes it may be more important to teach students to play an instrument--any instrument, in any style--rather than perpetuate a veneration for the past. For this reason, my essays for The Huffington Post, "Who Cares About Classical Music?" have been interesting. I'm just as despondent about the loss of interest among the general public in classical music (and "great literature") as anyone. But I think it would be far more valuable to get students interested in making music or creating literature than to sit them down and tell them how great Beethoven (or
Charlotte Brontë) was. It's a pedagogical difference. --But a moot one, I fear. Neither is going to happen soon.

5) What’s next for you? New book, additional essays?

Both. I'm working on a novel now, set in the closing days of World War II. And I'll keep writing shorter pieces--on music and art, primarily--because there's a lot to be said for keeping things brief!