Tuesday, July 03, 2018

My Musical Half Lives

My life motto has always been that half of life is learning, and half of life is sharing, but the empty spaces in my cup that runneth over can feel particularly empty if I am not actively engaged in learning or actively engaged in sharing. My family and the friends that are close to me graciously accept my gifts to them, and that helps to defer emphasis away from those empty spaces. With the impersonal and fleeting communication-based relationships that the internet makes possible, my circle of acquaintances has both broadened and become more remote.

Sometimes I think that my contact with the outside world would feel more "conditional" if I were to engage in commerce, but I have a deep aversion to commerce when it comes to my work as a composer and as an arranger. I prefer not to sell my work. I would rather share it. The problem that I face is that in our culture when something is offered for free, it is valued less than something that is assigned monetary value.

I think differently. There are things that I feel are priceless. I can't put a price on love, for example, and I can't put a price on nice weather. I can't honestly give monetary value to a piece of music.

I suppose you can put a price on time: I charge students for lessons because that is time that I spend dedicated to making them into better musicians. If I didn't charge, they probably wouldn't value what I teach them, and they probably wouldn't practice. I am happy to be paid for the time I spend traveling to orchestra rehearsals, and I am happy to be paid for the time I spend rehearsing. I am happy to be paid for playing music for weddings and parties for people I do not know. I also don't mind accepting money when somebody I don't know asks me to write something. I think of it as the price of my time to meet the needs of another person.

But once the music is written the last thing I want to do these days is to hand it over to a publisher. I say this because I have a lot of music that is published. I have no idea where, when, or if my published music gets played. Royalty statements, which reflect sales, come very rarely because the publishers have to wait until there is enough in the way of royalties to justify writing a check. Publishers are also in the unique position, once they "own" your work, to do what they want with it. If that means ignoring it and burying it in their catalog without doing any kind of promotion for it, then I can be sure that the music will not be played. And in the event that someone seeks out a piece and buys it through the publisher or through a distributor, the composer makes 10% of the price of the piece of music. If a piece of music sells for $20.00, the composer makes $2.00 in royalties.

It is worth that $2.00 to me to have a piece of music that I write have the possibility of being played and being readily available for free to someone who seeks it out.

I suppose you could say that I am an outlier. I grew up in a family of brilliant musicians, and though their instruction in the practical aspects of navigating the world might have been lacking, their example of what is important in music was a gift of such magnitude that I feel that it would take another lifetime to "pay it forward." I have never "wanted" for excellent instruments, and though my education at Juilliard was sorely lacking, I always had older friends who, for whatever reason, would teach me for free. Aside from my Juilliard tuition, the money that my parents gave me for violin lessons and flute lessons when I was growing up, the four or five baroque flute lessons I took in Boston, and a year or so of violin lessons that I had in Illinois as an adult, I have not paid a cent for my musical education (tuition was free when I studied recorder at the Vienna Hochschule, and I had an assistantship for graduate school).

I had the opportunity to remake myself into a string player in my 30s, and to devote an enormous amount of time to composing in my 40s and 50s. I live in a comfortable house in a small-yet-musical town where my husband and I raised two children who have become great adults and live respectable lives in their respective major cities (one on either coast).

Life is good. Life is great.

I have books to read, and a great husband to read them with (we have a two-person reading club). I have Bach (and other great composers) to study. I have ample time to practice. I have great students that teach me how to teach. I have time to practice and people to play with. I have this blog to vent both my heart and my spleen, and another one that serves as a nifty way to catalog the music I write. I hear, from time to time, that people play the music that I make available in the IMSLP, and that makes me happy.

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