Monday, December 01, 2014

"Having written"

Before I started writing music, I had a talk with a composition student about writing music. He told me that he enjoyed having written music, but did not particularly enjoy writing it. Once I started writing music myself, I found the process itself far more interesting than the satisfaction of "having written." There are some pieces that I am happy to have written, many, in fact, but the real creativity and the real satisfaction comes in the putting of one note after and against another.

I suppose that we are all wired differently.

The big problem comes when you have written a lot of music, as I have, and have little motivation to engage in the process of self promotion, which has been elevated to the status of an art in itself. A person gifted in the art of promotion can make anything seem appealing, no matter how useful, beautiful, or worthwhile it actually is. But a person without the drive or the means to promote his or her music this way can feel the act of "having written" as something negligible.

In the years before the internet, composers had music festering in drawers and files. Now it can fester in plain sight on publisher's computer hard drives or in online libraries, amid hundreds of thousands of perfectly good pieces that other composers have written.

Mild success can give a person hope, but success always seems relative. Seymour Barab always felt let down when his efforts to promote his excellent work (and it remains excellent work) proved unsuccessful. The fact that his Little Red Riding Hood was performed constantly didn't mean much to him, but the fact that his more recent theater work could not get a run in an off-Broadway theater did. Fortunately during the very last year of his long life he got some of the acclaim he deserved. When we talked about this his reply was, "I wish it hadn't taken so long."

Seymour was always most interested in what he was working on at the moment. At the end of his life he was working on a set of songs that he wasn't able to finish. It was a set of songs about New York, and the last time I saw him he described the texts as being racy jokes. I remember when he ran out of the specially-sized music paper that he liked to use for songs, and how I found some PDF score paper that could be photocopied into a size that would work for him. He was very happy to be able to get back to work.

Now that Seymour Barab is no longer writing, we have the music that he has written. And there's a lot of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I wish it hadn't taken so long."

Be less concerned, I say. Time has its way with us and plays with a bigger arch and grander bow than our lives can span. Did not Bach have to be revisited and rehabilitated after being left aside as old-fashioned and too dry and formal? The Rococo knew its time had come to trump the late Baroque. And yet today you cite Bach and the very modern Pérotin of the 13th century, masters whose works linger on in the modern world, in your blog posts and into tomorrow as yet unvisited. Barab and Fine will be meeting there too.

The long perspective is a happy one. Thanks for the post.