But what's this:
Under his watch, the cathedral has abandoned the old men-and-boys choir tradition that was past its best-before date. He composes tuneful, tonal music in an age when atonality rules. His pieces are in regular performance, unlike the one-off creations of so many contemporary composers.This is a collection of tired cliches, and none of them pass logical scrutiny. Viz:
- 2008 is only "an age where atonality rules" in the imagination of journalists. Aside from the more esoteric repertoire offered by the Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts and their ilk, the Toronto music scene is fairly conservative. When the orchestra or opera company features twentieth-century music, it's more likely to be music of the more conservative ilk (Janacek, early Messiaen, Takemitsu), rather than anything truly atonal or, God forbid, serial. The Canadian composers prominent today generally write broadly tonal music with subtle touches of contemporary harmony. Even university music programs, for crying out loud, the last bastions of old-fashioned musical styles, have embraced the new tonality, with student compositions showing the influence of Reich and Adams rather than Stockhausen and Maderna.
- Perhaps in 1970s and '80s academia, atonality was pushed down students' throats - and I've heard enough stories from that era, including Ager's own recollections, to believe that this is true. But today the pendulum has swung in the other direction, to the point that the vast majority of orchestra programs are totally uninteresting to fans of hardcore modernism. For journalists to continue talking as though orchestras were programming Xenakis and Finnissy at every concert is ridiculous. Stop.
- To me, "tuneful" is off the mark in describing Ager's music. His sacred works that I've heard are characterized by careful craftsmanship, Renaissance-inspired counterpoint, and a certain emotional distance. It's this studied seriousness, I think, that sets him apart from the many other Canadian composers who write choral music in a tonal idiom (Eleanor Daley, Mark Sirett, Ruth Watson Henderson, etc.), and which puts him firmly in the tradition of solid, unpretentious liturgical music, rather than in the camp of the choral-industrial complex.
- But the absolute most irritating thing in the article is the gloating over the demise of the "old men-and-boys choir tradition". Never mind that the men-and-boys choir at St. James was dismantled long before Ager took up his position - this horribly misrepresents a very complicated situation. Adult women simply cannot blend with unchanged boy's voices, or with the voices of male altos, so there is no halfway measure - either you have a traditional SATB choir with adult female sopranos and contraltos, or else you have an English-style men-and-boys choir. The majority of North American church choirs choose the first option, and understandably so - male altos are thin on the ground, and training boy choristers is time-consuming and expensive compared to simply hiring experienced sopranos. But in a very few churches, the English tradition is still maintained, and with good reason - the sound is incomparable for performing the traditional English repertoire, and the training it provides for a young singer is top-notch. Political correctness, however, rules that this is a smokescreen for sexism, and that our society is tainted as long as even one church in the country has an all-male choir. And so a centuries-old tradition dies, and parents looking for a good choral education for their children must instead enroll them in a children's choir where they can look forward to a steady diet of Rutter and other unmentionables.