Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Times are Tough, But Music is Tougher

Be grateful that I spared you the spoils of the "spell" I have been in over the past couple of days. Now that I have come to the other side, I have come to accept that, professionally speaking, things are not going to get better for me where I live. I can't imagine any act of fate that would suddenly compel enough community college students to sign up for music appreciation classes in sufficient numbers to make it necessary to add another class (or two) for me to teach, so I have decided not to let it bother all that much. Perhaps other professional opportunities in the world of music (but outside my geographical area) will come my way.

I think about the really tough times in history that the composers I admire lived through. I think about the oppression, the bigotry, the unfairness, the poverty, the wars, the famine, and the sexism that would have made it difficult for me to live and work during any time before the second half of the 20th century. Anyway, the reward for a composer is in the work itself: doing it, which brings daily pleasure (and challenge) and then hearing it played (which brings a different kind of collaborative pleasure), and not in recognition, which is illusive anyway.

It is clearly a lousy time to be a wedding musician, and a lean time to be an orchestral musician, but that's the way it is now, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it. Playing better (the only thing we really can control is the quality of our playing) does not mean that there will be more work, or that we will be fairly compensated for our time. And there is no such thing as going back. It just doesn't work, because time moves forward. Sometimes I think about what it might be like return to the time when the musical establishment frowned upon women participating in musical life in any way aside from singing, the occasional functional keyboard playing, as patronnesses of the arts, and as muses. When I do this, I get extremely uncomfortable.

When times get tough, I think of Beethoven working on his "Harp" Quartet (Opus 74) while Napoleon was bombing Vienna. Napoleon kicked the Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven's friend and student, out of his palace, and was living there. Napoleon had lousy musical taste too. He didn't think much of Beethoven's music. What do we musicians and music lovers have from this time of difficulty? A lot of great music that people wrote to brighten up a dismal, unstable, and often dangerous world.

Perhaps that is what we need to keep reminding ourselves. Music is something that brightens the world, or at least it brightens the lives of people who care about it. It always has, and I just have to keep remembering that it always will.

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