Monday, July 23, 2012

"Being" an Anything, Particularly a Composer

Sometimes I wonder what "being" a composer is. I only really feel like one when I am writing, and when I am writing something that seems like the "same old, same old," I feel like either a lousy composer or not a composer at all. Stuff I have written (and there's a lot of it since I pretty much chain-wrote my way through my 40s) is written, and, like most music that hasn't been somehow "branded," it sits around dormant and silent. Once in a while I hear from somebody who has enjoyed playing something I wrote, and it feels pretty nice, but it is difficult to feel current about something that I did to the best of my ability a while ago, particularly when I spend a lot of my music writing time trying like hell not to inadvertently repeat myself.

Visual artists have it easy, perhaps. Take Cezanne, for example. He could paint fruit bowl after fruit bowl, and each one could be an original and meaningful piece of art that says essentially one thing: I am an example of the way Cezanne saw a bowl of fruit. We can enjoy any one of these Cezanne bowls of fruit at any time of year, and these bowl of never-decaying fruit can be found in multiple locations around the world. We can even enjoy them as reproductions, and (as evidenced above) in "collections" on the internet. We can enjoy them for their colors, for their composition, for their quality, for their Cezanne-ness, for their value in the art market, and for their influence on other artists and on art in general. And each one is a masterpiece.

Music, being not a "thing" exists mainly in time, but it does paint figurative pictures and does take up figurative space. Really great music written by really great composers (Haydn and Bach come immediately to mind, but there are scads and scads of others) is like the fresh new air of morning, piece after piece. I wonder if either Haydn or Bach felt like Cezanne did (hundreds of years later) while painting fresh pictures of fruit. I also wonder if either Bach or Haydn ever felt a little like the way I feel right now, which is in a state of creative defeat, or as (the character) Molly Dodd demonstrated when she (in the context of an episode of "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd") hosted the David Letterman show declared "our fields are fallow."


Sean said...

If only non-musicians understood how much belief music requires of us. Not religious belief, just regular ol' belief, but lots of it. As you alluded to, music isn't really a 'thing' in the same way that paintings and sculptures are 'things'. Resistant to definition, music is 'music' so long as we believe it is. We plunge into years of diligent study, with the belief it's all worthwhile. Then as composers, we need to believe that what we've written is worth being heard or played even though it's mostly others who get to make that decision or come to that conclusion.

Then there are those moments when it all comes together—someone is implausibly 'touched' by one of our attempts to wrangle this non-thing to which we've dedicated our lives.

Unbelievable, isn't it?

Kimmy Ely said...

Being a composer can be frustrating at times, especially when you can’t seem to write anything remarkable. But I do believe that every great composer goes through this phase. You just need to find your inner music. I mean something that really comes from the heart. Be inspired by the good times, even bad memories can be a source of inspiration as well. I’m sure you’ll come up with something great soon. Don’t give up! =)