Monday, October 09, 2017

Early Autumn Ramble

I suppose that autumn is a collecting time. And this autumn, while I'm waiting for a magnificent event (the upcoming birth of our first grandchild), I have been busy collecting my thoughts.

Mine is a rather consistent musical life, so I find it stimulating when I find myself among young (and not-so-young) ambitious and optimistic musicians who hope to make a mark on the world. I suppose that at age 58 I should be one of the people who has already made her mark, but as a person who started her string-playing life rather late (in my early 30s), I sometimes still feel like I am finding my way around the fingerboard. I sometimes bite off just a little more than I can technically chew, but I feel fortunate never to feel like I am "stuck" at a high technical level, as I was with the flute, with no way to grow musically and nowhere to go.

At this point in my life I am happy to be included in the dance, and I am happy to be able to play with young people who don't seem to have any trouble getting around their instruments at lightning speed. I can play in tune, make the kind of sound I want to make, and more often than not I like what I hear when I put notes together in phrases.

I am relieved that I have not become that kind of an older colleague who exudes a sense of authority and superiority. When I am physically too old to play, I would like my legacy to be that of a good section player and a welcoming colleague who does not judge younger colleagues, except to compliment them when a compliment is in order.

I also never want to project an air of superiority over musicians who play the music I write. As youngsters we are taught to think of the composer of a given work as an authority figure, and we dutifully follow the "rules" that are set out for us. Too often we think of "the composer" as a judge. I would rather be thought of like a tailor who offers attractive practical clothes that fit well, wear well, and are comfortable in all kinds of weather.

The more music I write, the more music of other composers that I arrange, and the more music I play, the more I understand that composers and players are collaborators, even if the composer is not in the room, or is no longer alive.

Dynamics are the essence of musical relativity. My friend Seymour Barab once said that he wished he could just write piano and forte and be done with it. Composers often indicate tempo markings that are too fast (I know I do). Nobody performs with a metronome, so we find our own tempos and allow the composer's indications to act as guidelines. Sometimes slurs, like rules, need to be broken. We all break them from time to time, and for all kinds of reasons.

The idea of success in musical life seems to go hand in hand with ambition and recognition. In order for music to be played, people have to know about it. There are composers who devote vast amounts of time towards promoting their work themselves, and there are composers who devote serious financial resources towards having other people promote their work. Making a living purely from composing commissioned music and having various residencies at festivals and with orchestras seems to be a goal for some composers. It seems to be a measure of success not to have to have a "day job," even if that "day job" is one connected with music. And then there's the pie-in-the-sky idea of being a household name.

(I have to put in a joke from Seymour Barab. He told me, jokingly, that he once thought of changing his name, and he had the perfect one picked out: Leonard Bernstein.)

I used to feel ashamed about not having the skills or the drive to promote my work so that I too can "compete" in the "marketplace," but I no longer feel ashamed about it. Even in my relative obscurity I have come to understand that it is mostly a waste of my time and energy. Thanks to this blog and my Thematic Catalog blog (see I can do a bit of informational self promotion), I make my work available to people who are interested. I also share work for string quartet and string orchestra that is not published and cannot be put in the IMSLP (i.e. arrangements of pieces that are not in the public domain) with people who want to play it (just send me an email message). That's enough for me.

Given the past 500 or so years of published music, there is a lot of music to play. There is also a lot of new music to play, and there are many more composers writing now than there were before computer technology made the physical nuts and bolts of the composition process easier. I think that it is a good thing, because I think that the act of writing music does a lot to help people grow as musicians. It helps musicians to understand what to value in music by great composers from the past like Joaquin, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, and sometimes contemporary composers get lucky and write something of real value.

There is a lot of music that we may play but do not necessarily perform. Consider the Bach Cello Suites and the Sonatas and Partitas. String players devote much of their lives to them, but only a relative handful of string players perform them. We still get a great deal of pleasure out of working on them. The idea of people getting together to play chamber music, and getting pleasure from interacting with one another musically while playing something that I have written is truly the best response I could ever hope for from my (still growing) body of work.


Jean Petree said...

Wow - I could really "get" this post. Very insightful.

Lisa Hirsch said...

First grandchild! How wonderful for the entire Fine-Leddy family!

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Jean, and thank you, Lisa!