Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NPR Behaving Badly?

It pains me to write that, because I love NPR and I really don't want to bash them. But every Tuesday night (well, they probably do it every night but I only have direct knowledge of it on Tuesday nights), I get annoyed all over again about this thing that happens around 8pm. First of all, before I say what it is and everyone thinks I'm a horrible person, I'm very glad they do this. It's important to acknowledge that we're still actively at war and losing soldiers all the time. So here's the thing: the announcer comes on and says something like, "We are now going to have a moment of silence for our fallen American soldiers serving their country overseas." And I think, yes, of course, I'd be happy to honor these brave soldiers with a moment of silence. But then... THE MUSIC STARTS.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Composers Behaving Badly

We've talked a fair amount about institutionalized bad behavior, but composers are also guilty of many bad behaviors ourselves, especially when it comes to how we present ourselves in our professional bios. I think we can all agree that writing a bio is pretty overwhelming. I can remember the first time I sat down and really thought about constructing mine for my website. What a horrible process! You don't want to sound too modest, because then nobody will take you seriously. But you also don't want to sound too overblown (although, unfortunately overblown bios are sometimes--often?--taken more seriously than modest ones). So how do you find a happy middle ground that makes you sound like a professional and not a braggart? I think the answer lies in avoiding flowery language and ambiguity, as both of these writing styles often lead to misleading and exaggerated claims.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leaving a Legacy

Natalie's last post really got me thinking about legacy and why we compose. I can't speak for all composers, but I think most of us got our start in composing because we loved music and were curious and excited about creating it ourselves. I know a lot of composers who, like me, started out as performers and got bored of practicing what someone else wrote. I thought it was more fun to write my own music than to play someone else's (and it was a really good procrastination technique, which is probably why I'm not such a great performer anymore...). Luckily, not everyone feels this way, otherwise we'd have no one performing our music.

But back to the topic at hand- why we continue to compose. Most of us began doing it in the first place because we enjoyed it, but I doubt many of us at the young age when we first became composers thought about what kind of legacy we'd leave. I still don't, or at least not in so many words, and that's why I was so fascinated by the composer Natalie mentioned in her post who seemed to be more concerned about recognition than the music s/he was writing. Of course I am somewhat concerned about recognition, otherwise I wouldn't bother entering contests or ever having my music performed, and I'd be lying if I said I had never daydreamed about being famous or winning a huge composition award. But to answer Natalie's question: No, I had never before thought about it in terms of leaving a musical "legacy."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Connections, Legacy, and Other Non-Musical Distractions

I know I’ve been spoiled by having several down-to-earth composition teachers, including my first teacher, who made a huge impression on me. This particular composer was neither interested in schmoozing nor in shamelessly promoting himself. In fact, he often saw through the schmoozers and wouldn’t take their schmoozing seriously (a truly valuable and rare trait in an authority figure!). During lessons he was relentlessly focused on the music. He never suggested to me that it would be savvy to embrace a specific style or idiom or to try to compose in a certain way in order to win the respect of persons (or groups) x, y, or z. He was only interested in helping me to write the best kind of music that I was trying to write. I left my studies with him assuming that this was how every composer was (or at least how every composer was striving to be).

More and more, as time goes on, I’ve felt somewhat disillusioned by the reality of what drives composers, how composers choose to market themselves and network, and the effect that this has on what our culture thinks of as good music (both in the larger cultural sense and within the music community culture).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Competitions Behaving Badly

One of my pet peeves, as someone who fairly frequently enters composition contests, is the professionalism and respect that some of these competition organizers seem to lack.

I recently was made aware of the results of two competitions I had entered over the last few months, and the stark contrast between the two made me mad. I even sent an email praising the application process to the organizers of the first competition after I entered because they tried so hard to have each applicant remain anonymous (they even wanted the bios to be anonymous, which is somewhat impossible but a valiant effort nonetheless, as it makes it more likely that compositions will be selected based on merit alone). Some other great competitions email you to inform you that they have received your application and sometimes even include the date of when they will make decisions (and these are usually the same ones that send timely notifications of the results). The best competitions send semi-personalized rejection (or acceptance) emails in addition to the larger announcement, as opposed to the ones that merely send a mass email with the winners to inform you that you haven’t won, although that is far better than no notification whatsoever.