Thursday, December 20, 2007

Decoding Composer Biographies, Lesson One

Here, then, are quotes from real & official composer biographies found on the web:

(n.n.) is one of America's most distinguished artistic figures.

"Distinguished" means older, academy-dwelling, and out-of-fashion. "One of (the) most" describes neither the size nor the selector of the cohort. "Artistic figure" is a phrase designed to lift the subject out of the lowly class of musicians (you get an even more exaggerated effect in German by insisting that "Ich bin Kunstler").

The compositional and intellectual wisdom of (n.n.) has influenced a wide range of contemporary musicians.

"Wisdom" inevitably means aged. Note that the compositional and intellectual influence is noted but not the music itself. This particular quote is a surprising one to find on a publisher's page, since a publisher should be interested in promoting the works more than teaching skills of the composer, and if you're staking a claim for influence, give some evidence and argue the point. Note also that "contemporary", in this context is an insider signal for "uptown": Danger, Will Robinson! There's never anything less novel than self-described "contemporary music".

(n.n.) is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Who cares? I side with Groucho Marx: Any club that would have me -- or any other composer -- as a member is suspect. The same goes for a list of prizes: keep them buried in your resumé for your colleagues and your tenure committee to discover and admire, but curious performing musicians and lay people out looking for interesting new music really don't give a flying fermata.

(n.n.) is one of America's most successful composers

Again, who's in the cohort? How is "successful" defined? Pocketbook? Performances? Notoriety?

(n.n. is) among the first composers of his generation dedicated to the combination of music, science and computer technology.

Don't use "first" (even when qualified by "among") when it is falsifiable. ("Leading" (as in "a leading composer for toy piano") is a frequently encountered alternative, safe but wishy-washy.) And by all means, don't use these kinds of qualifications in an autobiographical context -- wait for someone else to make the claim for you. Stick with the facts: "n.n. is a composer dedicated to the combination of music, science, and computer technology" does just fine.

Next Lesson: Some official composer biographies to admire.


Corey said...

Excellent post!

Peter T. said...

"Young composer"

Pejorative. Most frequently used to designate some kind of weird experimental composer over forty. Sometimes just reads "bad composer".

docker said...

There appear to be several composers claiming to be "one of America's most successful composers" - which follows logically. Otherwise all your quote lead to unique results Googlically