Monday, May 03, 2010

Emerging Composers

The phrase "emerging composers" is tossed around quite a bit these days. Each time I see it in print, the image of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon comes to mind. The phrase tries to give the impression that composers "emerge" and then are released out into the world, spreading their music to all, beautifying the world like the butterfly in the sky.

We all know what happens to butterflies though. Most of their life is spent in their cocoons, and their short adult life is really about mating and making more butterflies. People collect them, pin them on boards, study them, and admire them (much like they do composers, I guess), but that is where the "emerging" similarity stops.

The concept of the "emerging" composer suggests that once a composer is fully formed, he or she can "emerge" into the world, perhaps to be considered successful. Believe me, any "emergence" is a total illusion, as is the idea of being fully-formed as a composer. Life for a composer (and really for anybody) is a work in progress. Most composers have to work (and I mean in a self-promotional, public-relational, making-connectional way) very hard at becoming known to the world outside their intimate circle of family and friends.

With the right business-minded approach to the idea of selling music and getting commissions (and either the devoted man- or woman-power of a significant other to save you the problem of appearing self-promotional, or the money to pay someone outside of the family fold to do that work for you), you can have a certain degree of success. If you form your own publishing company and/or recording company, you can have a certain degree of monetary success as well. Often commercial success only has a little to do with the music a composer writes: it has a lot to do with what people say (in print or on line) about it. My personal list of well-promoted composers that impress me is far shorter than my list of well-promoted composers that don't impress me.

It seems that most of the composers I admire (both living and dead) put their energies into writing music and not into the idea of promoting themselves. Many composers hate having to put time into self-promotional activities. Some just don't. Telling people (either yourself or through promotional material) that what you do is "great" serves as a real deterrent to daily work. If an honest composer writes something less than great, then he or she has essentially lied. I believe that most decent composers understand what great is, and most know (in their heart of hearts) that they can never write music halfway as good as the music they admire. Imitation is terribly obvious in music, so it is never an viable option.

Schubert never "emerged." He died before anyone outside of his circle knew how great he was. Bach never "emerged." He didn't have to hustle for recognition after getting a good job, plus, he was too busy. Even Mozart never "emerged." His father started promoting him when he was barely out of the womb. Beethoven and Haydn had monarchs to champion their work. Chopin had Sand, and Brahms had Schumann (who, incidentally, wrote Papillons).

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

In lit, "emerging writers" seems to be a euphemism for "young writers promoted (for the time being) by gatekeepers."