Friday, August 14, 2009

The Only Way to Win Is Not to Play the Game

Lesson one for young composers: Not everyone will love your music, and some people will decide that you, too, are unloveable, because of your music. 

Lesson two for young composers: Get over lesson one and get on with your own work.

Lesson three for young composers: Should people in positions of real economic or political power within the musical community use their dislike for your music and/or person as a basis for exercising their power, then feel free to call them on it, even if the stakes are modest.  Keep cool, speak clearly and loudly about this, but do not expect lasting change and make concrete plans for the independent material and moral support of your work.

Lesson four for young composers: Having wrestled with the authorities, get back on with your own work. 

*****

The most rewarding part of this blogging experience has been the exchange and conversation with musicians and people who like music who happen to inhabit very different corners of New(andnotsonew)musicland.  I'm continually surprised by the amount of fruitful practical, technical, and aesthetic exchange I can have with someone who writes tonal music for windband or modal music for church choirs or who specializes in big bands or rock or computers or hardware hacking or is a serious student of film music or even hard-core opera fans or barbershop quartet singers. The only lasting conflicts I've encountered online have actually come from people with musical repertoire interests closest to my own.  I guess that this is sometimes just a matter of strongly territorial competition, or fear of too much oxygen been consumed in a very small space, but it's mostly just a side effect of caring so much about the music and the ideas behind it: one can come to identify with some music or have the feeling that they own it, with all the exclusive rights associated with ownership. This often leads, to my ears,  to a dangerous intolerance for a diversity of viewpoints, which is hardly the most useful viewpoint for an experimental musician.  I have myself been guilty of this, and if you find me at it again, please call me on it!

*****

If you write tonal or modal music, there will be partisans of music which is not tonal or modal who are unhappy with your work.  If you write music that is not tonal or modal, there will be those who do who are unhappy with your work.  If you write tonal music, there will be other tonal composers who are unhappy with your particular technique or syle of tonality.  If you write music which is not tonal, there will be other not-tonal composers who are unhappy with your particular technique or style of not being tonal.

If you write music, there will always be someone who is unhappy with your music for being too complex and there will be someone else who is unhappy with your music for being not complex enough.   If you use a system or method, some people will be unhappy; others are unhappy if you don't use a system or method, and still other are unhappy if you use the "wrong" system or method. There will be people unhappy if you write music with catchy tunes and rhythms or refer to any other repertoire, classical, popular, or outside of the immediate historical and cultural context.  There will also be people who are unhappy if you write music that doesn't do any or all of these things.  There are people who are unhappy with music that is not active enough or diverse enough in content or character and there are people who are unhappy if they find music to be too active or too diverse.  There are people who are only happy when music is neatly packaged while there are other people who are most unhappy when they find music to be too neatly packaged.  There are people who are only happy when music contains some intellectual, cultural, and/ or emotional depth and there are people for whom happiness only comes with music that entertains and goes away without disturbing the soul.   

If you write music for instruments there will be those who are only happy with music for voices, and the same goes in reverse.   If you use "extended" techniques with voices or instruments, some people will be unhappy; if you don't use "extended" techniques, other people will be unhappy.  If you write music using electronics, there will be souls who become unhappy anytime they see a power cable or even a dry cell in a concert hall, while there are others who are unhappy anytime they don't see an electric power source.  If you bend circuits there will be people who are unhappy because you're not using a computer, the big computer people have always been unhappy with the small computer people, and there are some people who are unhappy when you do not use the same Mac laptop model.

There are some people who are unhappy if you use an alternative tuning, while there are others who are unhappy if you do not. There are people who are only happy when they hear an accordion or a vibraphone and there are people who are unhappy when they hear a cowbell or a vibraslap.  Some people are only happy in the presence of vibrato, others are happy only in the absence of vibrato.  There are people who are only happy with live music and there are people who are only happy with a broadcast or recording.  There are some people who are only happy when music is played a certain way or by certain musicians.   There are some people who simply are not ever happy with music.

It is difficult, very difficult, when the music one makes and loves does not make others happy. But when you are in a position to recognize there are some people who will never be made happy by music and others for whom their musical happiness is predetermined by a categorical preference for this or dislike for that, isn't this an opportunity to recognize that these people are lost causes, and it's better to treasure and cultivate people who still have their ears open than to worry about, let alone make music for, lost causes?   

 

 

8 comments:

Osbert Parsley said...

Bravo. I think this is just right.

My addendum here.

Alfredo said...

Great.

Anonymous said...

Nicely put. Writing out all the possible combinations (ala Becket) makes it therapeutic.

And while, yes, we should "treasure and cultivate people who still have their ears open...", I'd like to suggest a more proactive approach.

That we should all do our part to break the pattern of musical 'Style Wars' that we inherited. Maybe that's the next musical revolution? Where we finally stop squabbling amongst ourselves and actively support anyone (regardless of style) who is sincere, passionate, and committed to their music.

Or is that just too radical?

paul bailey said...

draw a straight line and follow it.

frakk!!! somebody already said that.

"draw a straight line and follow it"

la monte young

great post

p

Art Simon said...

Well put. I'll tape this one on the wall above my workspace. Thanks!

Elaine Fine said...

I have come to realize that the only thing that matters when writing music is getting the music to come out the way you want it to come out--getting the notes, rhythms, phrasings, dynamics, and tempo markings right. Writing music to try to please the whole range of "other people" is as futile as living a life with the purpose of trying to please other people, and, yes, deciding that you are not lovable because people don't love your music is terribly counterproductive.

In my musical administration I am the chief executive. I call all of the shots. If I don't like a note, chord, or articulation, I remove it. I take (and hope for) suggestions from people who are physically uncomfortable with something I have written, or people who find balance errors, because I believe that writing music does have an interactive component.

I have to say that I rather envy the dialogue (even the negative responses) that you seem to have with musicians. In my world there is far too little interaction.

Daniel Wolf said...

Osbert:

Nice follow-up.

Art:

I don't think I've ever made to it to pin-up status before, an honor!

Elaine:

There is never enough interaction! As much as I value the dialoque here, I think that online exchange is still more potential than reality. The fact that I blog so much and you blog both so much and so well, often strikes me as more of an indicator of the non-blogging by so many interesting musicians. The scene, such as it is, is still far too fragmented by all of our various specializations. That's why I find it useful to pay attention to trombone and clarinet lists or forums for computer music, tuning, engraving, or even orchestra librarians. Sure, you have to wade through more than you ever wanted to know about reed-making or font coding or other specialist arcana, but the practical information is often very useful and the discussion sometimes even turns to really vital musical concerns.

Sarah said...

"...there are some people who will never be made happy by music and others for whom their musical happiness is predetermined by a categorical preference for this or dislike for that, isn't this an opportunity to recognize that these people are lost causes, and it's better to treasure and cultivate people who still have their ears open than to worry about, let alone make music for, lost causes?"

Oh, that's brilliant. I really mean it. As a program annotator, I work very hard to dispense with, avoid, repel, and destroy the pre-fabbed, pre-written, pre-thought, convenional conceptions that persist about all sorts of music. I enjoy reading composers' blogs, including yours, because they remind me that all of us -- program annotators, listeners, performers, conductors -- need to approach music of ALL periods with open minds and hearts. There is much to love and we may find what we love in the places we least expect it. Thanks for writing and for helping me to see what's inmportant.