Sunday, August 22, 2010

Women, Ego, Music, and Me

Gosh, it's sure difficult to find anything of substance on line that addresses ego issues of women. A search for "men and ego" in Google had 645,000 entries, many of them life-skill building posts, and a search for "women and ego" had 413,000, but a good quarter of them were for some store called "EGO vanity shoes."

I have spent a great deal of my life subscribing to the fallacy that ego is bad, that ego is something that gets in the way of creativity. The word "ego" seems first to have been used in 1789, and is primarily defined (at least in Merriam-Webster) as "the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world."

I often wonder why is it so easy for women, like me, to support the ego of another person (another self, contrasted with another self in the world), or other people, and why it is so difficult for me to proclaim the uniqueness of my own "self contrasted with another self in the world," I do know that invisibility and disposablility in the larger world, and not being properly acknowledged for what we do and what we have done, can cause all sorts of personal grief. True, we often have to make our own rewards, but so often the echo of our accomplishments doesn't escape to the world outside of our family (and often it doesn't even make as far as the "family of origin" parts of it).

There's something personally distasteful to me about broadcasting my accomplishments as a composer, but I'm going to do it anyway. Watch me.

I take my ipod shuffle on my daily walks. Navigating through the thing to play music "unshuffled" is a terrible pain, so I am now resigned to using the "shuffle." My ipod now holds most of the concert performances of pieces I have written during the past ten years. Those pieces shuffle around with Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Grieg, Schumann, Haydn, and a host of other composers of proven merit. When my pieces come up, I always enjoy listening to them. They do not sound "second rate" at all, even when they follow the "proven" composers I love. I feel that as a composer I have accomplished something worthwhile, but actual reactions from the "outside" world don't seem to present themselves regularly enough for me to believe that anyone (outside of my family, students, and my immediate friends) cares about what I have written, or who I am (and, believe me, in my case they are the same thing). The idea of doing what I do in a vacuum makes it very difficult for me to write anything at all, which is a shame.

Perhaps performing musicians are used to playing music by composers who are either dead or too "important" to contact. Maybe they believe that new music needs to be unintelligible or highly intellectual in order for people listening to their concerts to take them seriously as performers. From where I sit, I can only guess. The veil of the internet, and the format of the blog allows for a series of one-way contacts between people who would otherwise not communicate. I vent. You read. Perhaps you listen. Perhaps you play something. I'll never know unless you tell me.

There is a profound disconnect, especially when it comes to talking about and listening to something as potentially connecting as music. The "comment" window on the blog is a partial relief valve, but a comment is public, and people often feel self-conscious about making any kind of public statement, even under the cloak of anonymity. Perhaps commenting ruins the privacy of an imagined two-way communication. There's always e-mail.

I do feel better now. My public rant is over.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. The vacuum effect you describe is all too real for me as an undergrad vocal major. Real enough that I stayed up a little later than I was supposed to to start writing the blog I've been putting off writing for too long. Not that anyone will read it, but it sure helps to articulate how I feel about that vacuum feeling and get my brain moving about how to alter it. I enjoy your blog and was especially inspired today. Thanks for giving me a jumping off point.

Elaine Fine said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Brooke! I'm glad that my post helped move things around in your brain. If you had a comment window on your blog I would have wished you a great semester, and a steady stream of inspiration while you prepare for your recital.