Friday, May 22, 2015

The occasional is okay, too.

A treasured older couple in our neighborhood just got married after 29 years of wilde Ehe (I'm leaving it in the German — "wild marriage" — because the English equivalents are not quite right: "common law marriage", "shacking up", "living in sin" etc.) and I congratulated them by writing an ironic little wedding march with that title, for piano four-hands.  It has a few tricks, but it's tonal and traditional enough both to have the desired recipients cheered and to have me worried about having subconsciously plagiarized a phrase or two (which is one of those risks you will always have when writing tonally and traditionally!)

I mentioned this to an old friend from Newmusicland, played it through once, and was immediately read the Riot Act from the Newmusicland Code of Conduct:  "You can't do that!" my friend said, "you're supposed to be making New Music, not... (as he repeatedly jabbed the score with his forefinger)... that!"

I was taken aback by the vehemence of the complaint, too much so to have an immediate replay, but now that I've had a chance to breathe normally, I wish I had said: "It's time to get over the idea that a composer is a kind of brand with a certain fixed market identity.  Most of us are much more interesting than that and can do more than one thing, whether within music, or beyond music. Sure, the best of us will have a sensibility that projects itself throughout our catalog, idea, styles, practices, and ethics that can often allow a listener to successfully "name that composer!" But not always, not consistently so.  Interesting composers and good composers — intersecting but not identical sets — are inevitably inconsistent because the issues they are concerned with and the circumstances they write in or for are always changing, and the composer responds to that change, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing (and when failing, the best fail spectacularly!)  A composer's work has trajectory, but it also necessarily has variety and it is done within lifetimes of events and occasions that aren't always of the same importance or general interest, and if a composer happens to also make work that fits such events and occasions, even if you find it to be Kitsch or worse, if others find it useful or appropriate isn't that still a net enrichment rather than a loss?  And even if you disagree with me still, (a) please rethink how committed you are to composers having to have market identities, and (b) so far as I know, no one holds a license to tell me to compose this or not to compose that, and that empty set, that no one, excludes you and me both" and (c) isn't it okay just to have some fun, sometimes?

2 comments:

Elaine Fine said...

To that I say a rousing, "Amen."

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