A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
It is time to clean up last year's We Are All Mozart project. For those who were not keeping score, the project resulted in one hundred commissions, all of which were completed before the new year.
It was a gratifying project, even if it only resulted in an income of $13,179. Where is the rest, you ask? Of course, it was not a very expensive commissioning project with the fee of one dollar per measure-part. (The students at Hartt suggested I should have used a more compelling 99 cents or $1.88 or $1.99 per measure-part; that's why I'm not in marketing.) But yes, there is missing money. Sixteen commission have not been paid, for a total of $4,388 that's not taking care of my bills right now.
And, conversely, there are still a few pieces to be written. I promised a replacement for two pieces the commissioners were not happy with (one for organ & trumpet and one for percussion); a thirteenth "blue moon" movement that I wanted to compose for the Lunar Cascade in Serial Time set of tenor guitar pieces; an additional organ prelude because I had forgotten the commissioner's request for two each from Northern and Southern Harmony (I wrote three and one respectively); and a balancing third movement that a jointly commissioned viola sonata just seemed to cry out for.
Early in the project, before any pieces were composed, I was given a warning. Don't charge so little, they said, or people will not value what you do. This has been a long-standing vice or virtue of mine, depending on your point of view. I have always believed in accessible art -- and by that I do not mean its content, but its availability. As far back as my Trans/Media days, the concerts and festivals that I was in charge of organizing, presenting and directing were largely free. These festivals and concerts were paid for by our organization's members or later by groups of friends and by businesses whose enthusiasm could be engaged in the projects. Rather than apply for grants, where the paperwork would grab as much time as private fundraising or even, for that matter, working a few extra hours to provide the cash out-of-pocket, we always dug in and made it possible within a kind of low-level marketplace. (Daniel Wolf would press that it's a gift economy, a term he introduced me to, and although I agree with him, I don't feel it occupies a separate marketplace but rather engages in a variant of classical supply and demand.)
When Trans/Media was disbanded in 1978, I did not simultaneously disband my philosophy upon moving to Vermont. Concerts by Il Gruppo Nuke Jitters (the renamed Dashuki Music Theatre) presented mostly free concerts and a few low-cost ones (the "Closing the Book on the Avant-Garde" series as well as the "2 Cabarets 2" had modest admission fees). All the Vermont Composers Festivals were free and the huge Ought-One Festival of NonPop had low-cost tickets as did last summer's "The Long Roll" percussion concert.
With that three-plus-decade sensibility, then, an inexpensive WAAM seemed the right thing to do, particularly because it represented a turnaround for performers -- who are usually inundated with "free" music shaken at them by composers everywhere. Play me! Play me! So I was asking them to take the unusual step of paying for a new piece from their own wallets. Besides, thought I, if all 365 days were filled, the income would be abundant for my impecunious existence. I had not counted on a hostile music media, however, which gave the project not a line of attention in the U.S. -- including my local arts reporter who, though a longtime supporter of my music, was furious with the nature of the project itself and its taking in vain of Mozart's name. The hostility hasn't worn off: Even for the premiere of Fanfare:Heat several weeks ago, a WAAM piece for large orchestra written and orchestrated in three days, he specifically and quite obviously avoided mentioning the actual circumstances of its composition.
These failures may all be related to my unquenchable optimism -- that good ideas will by themselves become widespread ideas, changing the cultural reception of and enthusiasm for new nonnpop. Occasionally it happens, as with the Ought-One Festival and Kalvos & Damian itself. More than occasionally it does not, as with not only WAAM but also by and large with my own compositional life.
Perhaps it is a bit personal to talk about here ... still, reaching my age without having had an apparently meaningful compositional life is difficult. I have been better known and appreciated (and better compensated, to be sure) for work that mattered so much less: as an author in technology and in my work in the past seven years with the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores. My work as a graphic designer was seen by more people than have listened to my music, and I hear from more people about tech articles written a quarter-century ago than I do about my compositions. Sure, I know all the justifications, especially being an independent composer who chose to avoid the academic life and compounded that isolation by leaving the New York orbit for Vermont right at the point where I was composing and performing with colleagues who went on to become known across the world. Now, of course, being older in a young culture, I have lost all the opportunities to make an artistic difference -- I am supposed to be a mature composer refining my style (whatever that is) and leave what matters and what will matter to the young composers who populate the cities. (Or, of course, I might just be a mediocrity about which possibility my colleagues have been mercifully quiet.)
My friend Noah thought I might have been distressed at not being recognized for my work (although I admit that not being credited for a few groundbreaking moments is discouraging). Really though, that is not what bothers me. Rather, it is what I can no longer do because, as an older person, most of my creative life is behind me (unless I live and work actively past age 100 as Nicholas Slonimsky did) and my present work is considered historical rather than new. I am not ready for that! In a café one day I recall being stunned when Eric Lyon called me a "professional composer". Ouch! Last week I even considered creating a young online persona under a pseudonym. (Never know. Might happen.)
On the other hand, the people who have actually had what can best be described as faith in my work have humbled those grand imaginings above. After a long time performing my own music with my own ensemble, I have gradually experienced my compositions being played by others. And gradually that music has been taken seriously, given breadth and depth that it does not have when flattened on a sheet of paper. Each of the one hundred WAAM commissions was an honor to write and a thrill to hear.
What am I saying? I don't know. I just thought it was time to clean up the project.
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FedEx followup: All the account info was finally approved. The packages already having been held an extra few days, it was time.... for... "Residential Ground pickups are not available in this ZIP/postal code. Please enter a different address or drop off your package at a FedEx location." You gotta love a company who comes by almost every day to drop off a package or two, but can't pick them up.
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