I have always thought of what I do (and have done) in music as being something useful. But I notice, as the world around me changes, many of the ways I thought I was being useful are, frankly, not of much use to as many people as they used to be. People used to ask me to write music for them all the time. It still happens, but now it happens only rarely.
I find it very difficult to write something when I know that it will never actually be played. That's why I stopped writing operas. I certainly have operatic ideas, but it is too daunting a task to put the time and effort required to write an opera if there is no chance that it will ever get produced. From experience (and from a lot of time, effort, photocopying, and postage trying to get performances), I know that I am right. I would love to be pleasantly surprised (who wouldn't), but I'm tired of trying to keep my hopes up. What I have done in that medium may just as well not have been done. It's of no use to anyone.
Nothing kills inspiration like apathy.
I try to be useful in my community. I try to give my students as much as I can give them (though the numbers are seriously down these days), and I try my best to contribute something to the ever-dwindling musical life in this town with an ever-dwindling number of people who care about what I do. It used to be much easier.
So, since I have to work, I have been busying myself with what I consider the musical equivalent of knitting. I usually spend the spring making new arrangements (of music written by other people) for our Summer Strings orchestra, but this year, for want of other projects, I started last month. I have been going great guns making arrangements that I hope will amuse the people who will be playing them next summer (most of them are not my students). My hope is that they will help those people find a sense of usefulness and purpose as growing musicians.
I know that on the other side of this window (that I am typing in right now) there is a larger world where there are people who use my arrangements to amuse and inspire their students (a few people send me videos, which I enjoy a great deal). I hope that some of those people can find some use for the original music I have written over the years. Occasionally bits of it pop up when I put my iPod on shuffle, and I realize that there is some music of quality in the body of work I have written. It is very easy for me to forget what I have done and what I am capable of doing, when the kind of support that I need (and that all creative people need) is lacking.
My Thematic Catalog blog is kind of stuffed with arrangements right now. People regularly go to it looking for what I think is a pretty good arrangement for string orchestra of the Pachelbel Canon, but I do have a little bit of hope that somebody might look for some of the original music I have written. Perhaps there might be something there that somebody can use.
Related Post for people who work with string players and need music.