Sunday, September 25, 2011

Time Study Ramble

I suppose that musicians use time differently from the way that "lay people" use time. After all, what we do involves time as its currency: how many beats, how many measures, and at what tempo. When I'm working at music (whether practicing or composing) time in the normal clock-based sense really doesn't matter. What matters involves the way I'm measuring the amount of time it takes to get from one note to the next. A combination of the task at hand and the state of my concentration tells me when it's time to stop.

I imagine that some of the people contacted for this US government time study must have been musicians (or otherwise creative people), but the categories they were given to catalog their use of time are not specific enough to discern anything useful. I suppose I would have to categorize practice, rehearsal, reviewing, and composition time as "work," but it is all creative time.

This chart tells us that Americans spend most of their non-sleeping time working, eating, and watching television.

It also tells us that "education" time is sequestered to school hours, and that we don't socialize or spend time on correspondence (which I suppose would mean e-mail). What it really tells us is that Americans spend most of their evenings at home watching television.

I was surprised to see that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics had to say about what musicians do. I imagine that most people who are not musicians have no idea about how hard "classical" musicians work in order to, as Trey Anastasio puts it, spend "countless hours of work just to be invisible." Anastasio, who enjoys a high-profile career as a successful rock musician, understands the difference between what he does and what orchestral musicians have to do in order to get a small fraction of the recognition he gets.

There are "classical" musicians who are trying to break through the cloak of invisibility that covers us most of the time. They wear wild clothes and make up, play rock music, and/or go for sex-appeal in order to have respect of the people who they believe (or their managers and advisers believe) need some kind of extra-musical stimulation in order to pay attention to music.

I happen to like invisibility. My goal when performing is to have the musical experience (i.e. the experience of the music) be the most important thing. In my case it mostly involves trying to make sure everything is in tune, is in rhythm, and sounds good. It also involves trying to make it possible for the line of the music to lead directly into the heads of the people listening to it, without anything bumpy getting in the way. I would liken it to driving a car through wonderful countryside. The music I'm playing is like a vehicle that has serious protection from the bumps in the road so that I can play at a steady pace. I want my passengers feel both exhilarated and safe while they take in the scenery and enjoy the twists and turns and ups and downs of the road. That's stuff of the mind's eye, and it's individual for every listener. I figure that I am (figuratively) driving, so I'm in control of (at least my part--in the case of chamber music) of the experience, but the experience of the music is one that everyone shares.

As a composer I experience invisibility regularly. Most of the time I am totally invisible, because I'm usually not there when music I have written is being played or being rehearsed. My job as a composer is to try and make the contours, harmonies, and happenings in the music (with all its notes, phrases, articulations, and dynamics) as clear as possible so that other people (people I don't know and may never meet) can "drive the car" safely and comfortably through different landscapes, and to allow their interpretations to weave into and around he heads of the people who are listening.

1 comment:

Susan Scheid said...

"trying to make it possible for the line of the music to lead directly into the heads of the people listening to it, without anything bumpy getting in the way." Such a lovely way to put it. Beautiful, thoughtful piece. Thanks.