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Why bother composing?

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Jeffrey Parola sounds kinda bummed in his latest blog post. He outlines the all too familiar plight of the contemporary concert music composer (no appreciation, money, and little hope of either). He then earnestly asks: Why do we bother?

In my mind the answer is simple. Creation of music that didn’t exist before HAS to be its own reward, devoid of compensation, recognition, or praise. If that drive for creation for its own sake doesn’t exist, I might humbly suggest that a composer should just stop.

Praise is nice, and earning a living doing something that you love is great, but just because you love something doesn’t mean you can make a living at it. And just because you wrote something doesn’t mean anyone should care. Money and acknowledgement have to be secondary concerns for a composer.

Of course we should try to capitalize on our work. Self-promote, market, try to get people to listen, care, and support . But that’s not WHY you should write. You write because no one else will create the things that you will create. And ideally you will love what you’ve written so much that promotion will be easy and enthusiasm will be contagious. But even if it’s not, you should like what you’ve created so much that even if no one else seems to care, it was worth the effort.

Perhaps that sounds kinda glib and self evident. But there’s a real nugget in there. A composer should think about the music they love and why they love it. They should think about how they feel when they listen to it. Then they should listen to their own music, and if they don’t feel similarly, maybe they’re doing something wrong. After all, if you don’t love listening to your own work passionately, why should anyone else?

And if you DO love listening to your own work, what else do you really need? Perhaps money and adulation will follow, perhaps it won’t. But you’ve made music that you love and that you love to hear. Strive for those things that we associate with success, but don’t let those goals ever be mistaken for the real reason you write music.

(By the way, you should listen Jeffrey’s work. It’s some really lovely stuff. All of it. And then maybe go write some of your own.)

3 Responses to Why bother composing?

  1. Well said. I have to agree with you. Composing as a profession may, sadly, be diminishing in relevance, and perhaps permanently. Supply and Demand. But writing music will always be relevant to the writer. And if it isn’t then why write at all? If the music is in your head, the exercise of expelling it, writing it out, realizing it fully, hearing it realized, should be the greatest reward. Everything else is largely ego and (false) expectation.

  2. Alexander Frank says:

    Exactly right. I imagine people write music for many reasons, but there is an almost certain trade-off regardless of your motivation. If you compose for your own edification, for the pure joy that only musical creation can bring, you must accept that any fame or compensation will be incidental. A composer of talent who desires recognition or money would be better served writing music geared toward radio play or scoring for film.

    If I strove for many years, writing exactly the music I wanted and loved, and it failed to gain any sort of recognition, I would certainly be discouraged. But the frustration would be directed toward others; more of an incredulous sadness that they aren’t affected by my music the way I am. For me, a (amateur) composer who is at least capable of conceiving and writing out novel music that I genuinely enjoy, to merely be given a perfect recording of every piece I ever wrote, even if I had to listen each in solitude, would be enough. The music is its own reward.

  3. Ben Phelps says:

    Well said indeed. Couldn’t agree more. How many composers have I met who I strongly suspect don’t like listening to their own music? Most of them. I simply can’t understand it.

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How to write an #operaplot

Looking through the 900 odd (sometimes very odd) #operaplot entries, I started noticing some distinct trends, a number of “schools” of #operaplot authoring. This isn’t that surprising, there are only so many ways one can distill a multi hour convergence of music and theater into a coherent series of 140 characters (130 excluding the #operaplotContinue ReadingContinue Reading

12 Responses to How to write an #operaplot

  1. Chickenfeet2003 says:

    “Batter my ears three noted score” was Dr. Atomic

  2. Dale Matt says:


  3. Irene Vartanoff says:

    Irene Varatanoff (to my knowledge) does not exist, and this entry is not one of the 25 I submitted under my correctly spelled name. But the entry is very good, so whoever wrote it, congrats.

    • Brian Rosen says:

      Ah. You’re right. I copied that off of the OM summary, but searching the twitter archives shows that its actually RalphGraves’ submission. Thanks for letting me know!

  4. Brian/MvsT: This is a fabulous collection and assessment! Thank you! I love being defined a lyric…but, you see, I’m really a dramatic coloratura trapped in a lyric’s body! 😉 😉

    You too have proved that the body of strong entries is quite large… 30 or so, me thinks. Honestly, I think J.K. should just set up a pin-the-tail-on-the-entry to pick the top 7, it’s so subjective this year.

    San Francisco, eh? Perhaps our paths will cross one of these days.

    Enjoy my “Best of…” here:

    • Brian Rosen says:

      Yah. I have my favorites, but it will all depend on his sensibilities.

      I’m sure our paths will cross. I’d venture that we have several facebook friends in common. And if the ROTL prod of Into the Woods you were in was the one with Maggie as Cinderella (as far as I know, the only one they’ve done), I’ve seen you on stage.

      • NO WAY! That was indeed the production, and Maggie was my Cindy. TOO FUNNY! (Is she a friend?)

        That was in the earlier beginnings of ROLT. They just won 6 BATCC Awards…they’ve come a long way!

        Take care!

        • Brian Rosen says:

          Yep. Maggie’s a good friend. We’ve been in several shows/operas together. She’s played my wife at least once. She’s actually the main reason I saw that production (I had just finished music directing her in A Little Night Music.) I’ve heard great things about ROLT these days. Lots of friends in their productions. I would have LOVED to do Jerry Springer this time around, but I’ve got prior commitments. 🙁

  5. […] wrote a fantastic assessment of several emerging categories of entries titled: “How to write an #OperaPlot.” My La Traviata/Copa Cabana entry was grouped under “Lyrics.” I jokingly posted […]

  6. […] my above “Copacabana” Traviata entry was included in musicvstheater’s “How to write an #operaplot,” under “The Lyrics,” on his blog Music vs. […]

  7. […] Digestible Opera Chunks | More #Operaplotting | It’s Time To Admit That I Have A Problem | How To Write An #Operaplot Vancouver Opera Blog – Do You Operaplot? Another Musicology Blog It’s The Most […]

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It’s time to admit I have a problem…

I wrote one more #operaplot tweet today. It’s for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. But as a rap. I thought that would be particularly appropriate, since the whole show is about Oedipus’s hubris, which seems to fit right into the rap genre.  So this is what I came up with… Oedipus Rex Ego Rex,yo! With my madContinue Reading

16 Responses to It’s time to admit I have a problem…

  1. Dave Moschler says:

    I have to say Brian, this is pretty amazing. Sort of like Prince Paul meets PDQ Bach. Definitely one of the best #operaplots I have ever seen (does #operaplot allow submissions for opera-oratorios?).

  2. Becky says:

    Love this Brian!

  3. Andy Mayo says:

    Actually, it sounds like Humpty. I think you’ve got an 80’s thing going on, or perhaps an early 90’s thing. But don’t quit the day job…

  4. Jennifer Peterson says:

    Word, yo. #operaplot

  5. Michael Fitch says:

    Guess what Stravinsky is going in his grave right now?

    (Ha ha, you thought I was going to say Rolling over!)

    Truly one of the best raps I’ve heard in the CIR (Caucasian Intellectual Rap) genre.

  6. […] with shimmy. This year’s competition features Jonas Kaufmann as the judge, and inspired a rap song and a movie trailer. I am a total […]

  7. […] rhyming couplets and limericks as well as dazzling displays of wit.  There’s even been a rap and an epic film […]

  8. Sister says:

    Oh no he di’int’.

  9. […] A hysterical rap by Brian Rosen. Watch out, he’s going neo-classical on yo’ ass. […]

  10. Gale Martin says:

    This was brilliant!!!! Good luck from a fellow wangsta.

  11. […] Best Creative Use Of An #Operaplot: Brian Rosen (MusicVsTheater) for his Oedipus Rex rap […]

  12. […] auch ausgehen mag Music Vs Theatre – Easily Digestible Opera Chunks | More #Operaplotting | It’s Time To Admit That I Have A Problem | How To Write An #Operaplot Vancouver Opera Blog – Do You Operaplot? Another Musicology Blog […]

  13. […] Did you have a favorite–yours or anyone else’s? I thought Brian Rosen’s Oedipus Rex rap #operaplot was brilliant. Probably made more brilliant by the fact that he recorded it: http://blog.musicvstheater.com/2010/04/30/operaplot-madness/  […]

  14. […] my way back to the office, I stopped to grab food, and ran into our friend Brian of the #operaplot rap back in the day, and a very sweet member of the Adler fellowship, also named Brian. He was studying […]

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More #Operaplotting

Instead of working on my own opera I seem to be spending the night trying to summarize other operas in under 130 characters. Hmmm… Maybe in a few years people will be trying to summarize Failing That in under 130 characters. Assuming I’m finished in a few years. Here’s the latest batch: La Boheme “OMG,Continue Reading

2 Responses to More #Operaplotting

  1. Andy Mayo says:


    Do we shiver in anticipation or dread when she takes her clothes off? And is it less horrifying than the head of John the Baptist?

  2. […] Mich Nicht | Wie es auch ausgehen mag Music Vs Theatre – Easily Digestible Opera Chunks | More #Operaplotting | It’s Time To Admit That I Have A Problem | How To Write An #Operaplot Vancouver Opera Blog […]

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Operaplot: easily digestible operachunks.

If you’ve been following my tweets, you may have noticed that it’s #operaplot season! What? You haven’t heard about #operaplot, the brainspurt of that blogging genius over at The Omniscient Mussel? Well, it’s high time you learned. The rules are simple. Summarize an entire opera in one tweet (ie 140 characters, including the hashtag #operaplot). YouContinue Reading

2 Responses to Operaplot: easily digestible operachunks.

  1. gerald rosen says:

    How about some classics:

    La Boheme
    Sub-let available in Soho walk-up. Previous occupant denied treatment by insurance company.

    Madam Butterfly
    Mixed race child up for adoption. Mother comitted suicide because of misunderstood e-mail.

    Sheriff murdered by opera singer. Met contract cancelled. Prominent artist shot in suicide pact.

  2. […] Solang nicht aller Tage Abend – Oper In Kurz | Twitter Will Mich Nicht Music Vs Theatre – Easily Digestible Opera Chunks […]

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Precious Toothpaste (or Why Bother?)

Why toothpaste? Composing music is not easy.  At least not for me.  It’s hard.  And slow.  And kinda lonely.  And it requires a lot of sitting around with a piano or computer or piece of paper and trying to will something into existence.  Ironically, it has almost nothing in common with the activity that usuallyContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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