Tag Archives: futility

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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A new unit of time: The Wagner

After a full evening of writing music, I am proposing a new unit of time. The Wagner (abbreviation Wg). One Wagner is equal to one thousand minutes, approximately the length of the entire Ring Cycle. Here are some useful conversions: 1 day = 1.4 Wagners 1 year = 511.35 Wagners 1 minute = 1 milliWagnerContinue Reading

One Response to A new unit of time: The Wagner

  1. Delightful!

    So by logical extension, 255.675 Wagners (Wg) = 1 Friedman unit (fU)

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Kushner, Communism, Serialism, and Obsolescence

Tony Kushner’s epic play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (currently playing at the Public Theater) is a hyper intellectualized allegory disguised as a family drama about a clan of hyper-intellectuals. The action centers around the patriarch, Gus, a lifetime communist who has lived long enough toContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to Kushner, Communism, Serialism, and Obsolescence

  1. I too feel more alienated from popular culture with each passing day. Maybe I’m getting old. In any case, there’s plenty of unpopular culture out there. More of it every day, in fact. I already have enough CDs to last a lifetime, and new ones are being released faster than anybody could listen to them. As the world changes, some people lose out. I mostly think, though, that people who really like classical music aren’t among them.

    • Brian Rosen says:

      Agreed. But people who like to compose serial music and then have their pieces performed by large ensembles may be. Maybe.

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On the Not-So-Glamorous Life

My fellow singing waiter Mark Hernandez notified me (and all his other Facebook friends) of this cutting “dark bio” from regional opera performer Robert Orth: Robert Orth’s “Dark Biograpy” While it’s tongue in cheek (and damn funny) it offers an honest glance into the not-so-glamorous life of most working musicians that’s much more common than theContinue Reading

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Merit vs Success

My friend Natalie Wilson recently did a remarkable job of setting an enormous goal and meeting it almost to the date. At the beginning of the year she challenged herself to write an entire play (her first) in nine months. Using the extended metaphor of birth (which time and again works uncannily well) she startedContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to Merit vs Success

  1. mary beth woodruff says:

    a very important point is made here. it is my humble opinion that the arts is riddled with far too many success whores and it can tend to drive quality into the ground. imagine beethoven’s output if he cared what people thought? we would have no late quartets, as they weren’t even commissioned. we probably wouldn’t have a ninth symphony. then imagine a musical world without these a part of the landscape. scary. there are so many examples of this being the case in centuries past. i wonder if this body of work really exists in the 20th/21st century – works that have received no earmarks of ‘success’ but that will so clearly be recognized as such, via the fortitude of merit alone, at a future date.

  2. Thanks for this, Brian. Both for the buzz but more importantly for your thoughts. I’ve written another post in response (because I love the term “meta” and a blog post about a blog post about a blog post is just so very meta).


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Arts funding as psychological torture

Does arts funding do more harm than good? It’s no secret that arts funding is scarce, especially for smaller, unproven, “emerging” artists. I wrote a post a couple of months ago about how competitive it is to become eligible to apply for most grants, let alone to actually win any of those grants. The organizationsContinue Reading

2 Responses to Arts funding as psychological torture

  1. Brian Young says:

    Well, I don’t remember the name of the event, or movement I heard about. But, NPR ran a story a few months back about a new thing in the arts. The basic idea is that groups of artists are throwing big dinner parties where the guests come with the intent to fund the art projects they like. I can’t even remember if during the parties, the artist pitch their ideas, or what. But, the guests are not meant to be deep pocketed well known patrons, but instead average art loving folk.

    The articles main point was that this direct connection between the artists and a larger pool of people giving smaller donations was working because the new patrons were feeling like they were important to the process.

    I don’t know if it’s a better idea. But, it’s an idea. 🙂

  2. Nolan Love says:

    Here’s an idea: Have the grant makers accept no applications, and rather take it upon themselves to discover art that they want to support. Artists can keep channeling resources toward evangelizing their wares to the general public, among whom will be said patrons. No overt rejection, but instead delightful acceptance & support for the chosen few.

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Where often is heard…

I have to admit, before I started actively doing this composition thing, I was pretty naive about the whole endeavor. This is gonna sound pretty stupid and potentially a bit arrogant, but I figured that since you never heard much about new music or new operas, not many were being written, or at least notContinue Reading

3 Responses to Where often is heard…

  1. Thanks Brian.

    Just as I was ready to abandon my pursuit of attempting (and failing) to sell out writing for TV and return to new opera/music theatre writing, composing and performing, I get this reminder of the reason why I stopped trying to make new work.

    Maybe I’ll just give give massages a dollar a minute on the Venice Boardwalk and become one of the crazies there. Or I’ll hole up in some desert cave like Harry Partch and build my own instruments to play for myself as I completely retreat for society.

    Way to start a Monday morning.



  2. Todd Schurk says:

    You may think it “corny” Brian,but I think Sousa was right about recorded (canned)music sir. With recorded music so readily available and mass produced,music performance in home (the piano in the parlor)became a thing of the past. And I think folks just got less serious about what they wanted to hear,play, or go listen to. Real listening to music that might make your brain work a bit was replaced by mindless 3 chord repetitiveness. I don’t know,but it just seems most people don’t have the time or inclination to dig any deeper than what pop culture bombards them with. Not everybody mind you,but more and more all the time.Having almost no music in schools certainly doesn’t help.But listening habits sure have changed in the last 100+ years more than any other time. And that pretty much coincides with the birth of the gramophone. It’s hard enough to get people in the seats for established opera or symphonic works,let alone new ones. They would rather spend $ on an Ipad or Guitar Hero. Sad,really sad.

  3. Brian Rosen says:

    Yay! Crushing dreams! EXACTLY what I set out to do when I started a blog.

    Todd…I’m not quite as bearish on the effects of recording technology on musical expression. There’s music being made out of those channels that is remarkably sophisticated. They don’t use the same harmonic language of a Mozart or Brahms, but I adore the soundscapes of the Books or Radiohead, or the insane glitch rhythms of the Venetian Snares or Aphex Twin.

    Or to paraphrase a line from one of our favorite shows:

    “Rubbish! Artistic snobbory! Idioteque is a perfectly magical tune. Anyone should be proud to have written it!”

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