A Composer Productivity Survey
- Expanded Text of New Music Box Article.
- About the Survey
- The Survey Text
- Allegory by Boudewijn Buckinx
- Quotations to Think About
- Survey Participants
- Survey Statistics
- Raw Survey Responses
Composers & Productivity:
The Embodiment of Discomfort
"The first prerogative of an artist is not to produce. All else is up to the artist."
- Peter Zummo.
With that quote, composer and trombonist Peter Zummo takes himself and his art out of the capitalist stream, and summarizes a sentiment frequently expressed by composers of his generation.
Though Zummo's feeling is not universal, it does color composers' opinions about the concept of productivity - considered a kind of American norm, but at best suspect and at worst despised by nonpop composers of all ages and experience.
What had concerned me, and my reason for creating the We Are All Mozart project to compose one piece each day on commission, was that nonpop - contemporary classical/art music - has become effete. Composers are writing less and less, being fussy, appearing to be artistic cowards. Are they? For sure, film composers are fast and prolific, competent, the Mozarts of at least one of today's genres. What are the probems? Money, visibility? Is there another field in which low productivity is the norm? And with our low productivity, haven't we created an environment where Mozart is cheap and Birtwistle is expensive?
Addressed historically, it's clear that fewer and fewer pieces were being composed as Western music moved away from the Classical era, except for perhaps a very few Milhauds and Hindemiths. So I wanted to ask composers directly.
From a survey of 85 composers completed in early June, it appears most do not - or do not care to - think about their productivity, notably when cast as a typical and arbitrary numbers game. Even so, most believe that in different circumstances (more money, more time, reduced external pressures and obligations) they could compose more.
This apparent contradiction is at the heart of the nonpop composer's crisis of visibility in contemporary culture.
Within the survey's ten questions were concepts that touched composers deeply, even to the point of despair and anger. The questions were indeed chosen to probe not only the easy options ('Productive, me? I'm an artist, not a machine!') but the hard ones as well ('I guess I'm a good composer.')
The survey brought mixed but heartfelt results.
Some composers were unwilling to engage the survey on its terms (the 'wrong question' response), but most did their best to address questions that are rarely asked and not part of an artist's day-to-day vocabulary or comfort level.
In the arts, asking about productivity may be tasteless, but it reveals the difference between our times and the past. Indeed, the productivity level was even lower than anticipated, with five in eight composers completing less than an hour's worth of music in twelve months, and half finishing fewer than three compositions in the last year. This is skimpy even in the shadow of Webern's notoriously small output of 181 compositions (inside and outside the official 31 numbered works) and entirely dwarfed by composers in pre-modern times.
Yet the majority of composers identify themselves as dedicated - in the survey's terms of coming "before everything else in your life (except perhaps family)." About a fifth are equivocal, and another fifth do not feel they are that dedicated, most faulting the circumstances of the composing life. James Grant has no patience with the question itself, writing from Canada, "When I compose, I'm a dedicated composer. When I bake, I'm a dedicated baker. When I teach, I'm a dedicated teacher. As the husband that I am, I'm a dedicated spouse. Composition integrates, but it does not dominate. Composition is not everything. I don't take my identity from it."
But here's the thing. Productivity matters to most composers, who feel they could compose more, from twice to ten times or more than they currently write, under other circumstances. Some cite respect or performances, many are pressured by work and insufficient time, and most agree that money would increase their compositional output. One in ten thought no change was likely or desirable, and a few thought it was a bad idea - that they and perhaps composers generally shouldn't attempt to write more, for productivity wasn't the goal of art.
But composers do think about productivity enough to evaluate their own output, and the changes they have observed in the results of their efforts; answers reflected a fairly diverse self-evaluation. In some cases, increasing maturity carried with it greater craft; in others, the same maturity demanded more care in their work. Age has slowed some composers, but only two - Steve Layton and Mary Elizabeth - attributed any part of increase in productivity to technology.
Reena Esmail, a composer in her twenties, says, "I am on my way to being happy with my productivity." On the other hand, Paul Steenhuisen, a half-generation older than Esmail, writes, "I'm both slower and faster. Certain aspects of composing take longer now, others are more efficient." Erik Mälzner is older still and says, "I become older, thus slower and more deliberated. I omit the unimportant." Michael Byron is from the quantity-rejectionist camp, saying, "If I were manufacturing a product, I probably would be decidedly unhappy and dissatisfied with both speed and quantity. But fortunately, I'm not manufacturing a product." And Bryan Ferneyhough offers the insightful response of the well experienced composer: "After so many years, it's pointless, I guess, to wish myself different."
When the topic turns to the daily schedule, though, composers feel the pressure. A fair minority do maintain composition routines, but half have none - and all cite pressures from family and friends, academic teaching and the music business, other day jobs, and personal health. Speaking from the pro-schedule camp, Alex Shapiro says, "I think self-discipline is a very natural trait for any artist because we presumably love what we do and are compelled to do it repeatedly."
If the question is turned around - what would make more composition possible? - the answer is clear: money. But money appears to be the only clear answer from more than a third of the composers. Following were public demand; ideas and inspiration; time; recognition, prestige and respect; deadlines; commissions and performances; practical help (assistance, technical, legal); and personal meaningfulness, more craft, fear of failure, less distraction, and courage. Some felt they were doing what they could do, and three said the composition of more music was not needed.
Writes Andrew Violette, vacillating between the jaded and the philosophical, "I don't depend on inspiration. When I finish a piece or a big section of a piece or whatever project I'm working on, I go to the museums and the galleries and look at art. I love the new art and get a lot of ideas from visual artists. I have no deadlines except the ones I make myself. Nobody plays my music and I get no commissions, so by all accounts I'm a failure, which is just as well, since success isn't worth getting. Most musicians who play new music want an easy piece to premiere that's about twenty minutes."
Michael Byron turns the question on its head, saying, "One problem central to composition today is that composers are too prolific. Technology is a special irritant here. As with most other things, its greatest asset is also its greatest liability. Cheating ourselves of deep feeling is a terrible price to pay for abundance."
Despite a heavy denial of the practical, composers are finely tuned professionals, and more than half actually find deadlines helpful to their work. Nearly all have written to deadlines, and nearly every one delivers the music on time.
Composers' self-evaluation provided expected responses. Despite being uncomfortable with the question, most composers consider themselves average to excellent (always painfully qualifying their terms). Some are unsure, but only two think they aren't really good, and one is sure he isn't up to par - at least by international standards. The best-known composers are the most likely to hand off the judgment of their work's quality to circumstances - the 'I'm still doing it, so I must be good enough' approach.
Naturally that question unfolds into the next - what would make a composer better? Steve Layton writes, "Lots of money, period. Not to make an artistically better composer, but to just be able to do more with what I have." And Layton's comment reflects a wide response to this question, but not the leading response, which is the opportunity for performance. Time and study follow closely, and interestingly, money slips to fourth place. Apparently, you can't buy improvement easily. Composing itself is believed to be the path to improvement, followed by feedback; recognition, demand, and audiences; help and resources; support of the culture; more understanding; talent, expanding the 'kill ratio' (keeping only the best work), more concentration, living life, political climate, serenity, attention to detail, and (according to Brian Ferneyhough) 'a new brain.' Some don't offer an answer or believe themselves to be already as good as they can be. Bill Thompson suggests, "More self honesty, more collaborations with others that are fearless, more exposure to artists who are undaunted by institutional, historical, social, or commercial pressures, and a less conservative environment."
It all falls apart on question nine, which asked if composers agreed with the project's premise? that "our ability to 'be Mozart' today is inhibited only by lack of demand and associated productivity. In other words, the more we could do, the better we would get at it and the more new ideas we would have."
Some agree, some agree with qualifications, some are equivocal or polite, and a good minority think it is a terrible idea, abandoning all claim to quality and risking the ultimate in mediocrity.
"The trouble with writing many, many pieces," explains Mary Jane Leach, "is that it ends up that nothing is special. Even composers such as Mozart I have a hard time with, because there are so many pieces, all good but hard to choose favorites (except Don Giovanni), since so many are equal in quality. It's not that I insist in heirarchies, it's that there aren't any that stand out for me."
And Karen Amrhein agrees, writing, "Writing 365 pieces in a year seems like a terrible idea - likely only to result in 365 poor-quality works." And David Gunn took on the title itself, saying, "I agree that some of us are Mozart, but not all. I think the world is full of musical schnooks who will never get better, no matter how much opportunity they have to write."
Carson Cooman - a prolific composer with nearly 700 compositions before the age of thirty - is on the other side of the argument. "We should spend our lives trying to become better composers. I strongly believe the best way to become better at something is by doing it," he says. "The novelist Stephen King wrote that 'to be a good writer, one needs to read for four hours per day and write for four hours per day.' I strongly believe that. I think many contemporary composers don't spend nearly enough time actually listening to music - particularly of our colleagues."
Robert Voisey, known for his "60x60" project that brings packaged electroacoustic concerts to venues worldwide, also agrees with the premise. "We are all the new Mozarts of this time," he says, "and it is about time we drop the old clinging to dead music and embrace the new. Close the gap between audiences and new music and start blazing new trails together. My belief is that there is a hungry audience out there waiting to be inspired and touched by the music and ideas that today's composer has to offer. We are all Mozart, we are also the motivators to make it happen and the time to do it and make this change is now."
Drawing a conclusion from this diverse response is impossible. The survey is anecdotal and flawed, yet it gives a flavor of artists' considerations of the topic, across the range of those who believe less is more and quantity hurts quality through those who believe more music is valid and productivity encourages quality. What is abundantly clear is that artists deeply reflect on their position with respect to economic and time pressures, respond well and flexibly, are candid with others and themselves, and work with astonishing dedication.
My sincere thanks to all the composers who participated in this survey. The responses were humbling.
About This Study
Not until my "We Are All Mozart" project was well underway did I realize it would be controversial. Friendly media writers and critics inexplicably forgot my name. Performers became wary, as if cheapness were contagious. Composers took a 'good for you, not for me' hands-off approach.
Did this offend, this promise to fulfill one commission each day in 2007? This "We Are All Mozart," a cheeky slam at the Austrian's hagiography, was it a bad thing?
Having co-hosted Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar with David Gunn for 537 shows, I was no stranger to quirkiness and offense. We were online in the prehistory of audio. We'd done extravagant events such as the transAtlantic broadcast/cybercast Amsterdramm in 1998, the 40-concert Ought-One Festival of NonPop, and the 2005 Komposer Kombat Survivor-style competition that drew 41 new pieces composed to specification in three hours. We issued yearly awards for ignominy in new music, and even curried 'nonpop' as a metagenre to include all new-classical-art-concert-avantgarde musics.
But K&D was over - we'd reached a ceiling of interest - so why not a new kind of extravagance, another gimmick for nonpop visibility?
I'd always wanted to push the limits of composition. I had felt, under the surface, that composers had become unproductive to their own detriment, their image slowly freezing into one of élitism and their place into one of meaninglessness. A piece-a-day project seemed destined for enthusiastic discussion about possibilities and challenges.
But being enthusiastic and being met with enthusiasm are separated by a chasm.
Where could I go with this idea? It was already clear that composers haven't been productive in the sense of Mozart or Vivaldi or Telemann since, well, Mozart or Vivaldi or Telemann and their stylistically and geographically coherent times.
But still, it seemed, we couldn't be meager composers, could we? Where were the composers who always had something bubbling?
NewMusicBox editor Frank J. Oteri suggested I simply pose the questions. I invented ten fair questions, and sent a survey announcement to about 500 individual composers and dozens of discussion lists.
(Even that wasn't easy. One composer accused me of using the survey to sell my compositions.)
The survey was open, self-participating and unscientific. Following the announcement, about 250 composers requested the survey. 85 provided responses, 76 from North America and 20 from women, from unknown to well-known. Ages ranged from 23 to 77, compositions from a yearly average of one to more than 100, from three minutes of music completed yearly to more than six hours.
It was clear the survey had touched on some troubling issues, particularly discomfort with the idea of productivity and pressure from the lack of time to accomplish compositional goals.
The Survey Text
The premise of my "We Are All Mozart" project is this: Our ability to "be Mozart" today is inhibited only by lack of demand and associated productivity. In other words, the more we could do, the better we would get at it and the more new ideas we would have.
To test this premise, I have challenged myself to compose 365 pieces next year, all on someone else's specification. Mozart is my example not because he composed the most, but because he owns the popular iconic status for genius and speed in musical composition - and because 2006 is his celebratory year. What better to follow in 2007 than a flood of modern Mozarts?
The article will be published in a major online music magazine this summer, and be followed by an expanded version on my website. Please respond by June 7, 2006.
To begin, just a few definitions. I use "composer" to mean one who creates original music, and "composition" to mean a particular creation. If your art does not fit these definitions, please rephrase the questions so they fit your work, while still trying to address the premise. If you compose indeterminate works or interactive works, please count only the base or source material.
- How many compositions do you finish in an average year? Last year?
- What is the total playing time of this yearly average? Last year?
- How often do you compose to someone else's specifications?
- What is your age and country of permanent residence?
In the next section, please speak frankly, no-holds-barred, from any perspective. You can use a live question-and-answer approach, give a single consolidated response, or use another way or organizing that you are comfortable with (you can also send images, audio, video, etc. - whatever is most effective in making your point). Answer only whatever strikes you as interesting or important. I am looking for what you truly believe. I will summarize what is in common, and will use the most insightful comments for the article. If there are any comments you wish to keep confidential, please say so.
- Are you a dedicated composer? That is, does composing come before everything else in your life (except perhaps family)?
- Could you compose more than you do? How much more could you compose? What is the limit?
- Are you satisfied with your productivity (speed and quantity of composition)? Have you changed your pace? What caused that change?
- Do you have a work routine? Is composition time determined by other factors (family, inspiration, day job)?
- What would make more composition possible? Please consider 'soft' (inspiration, prestige, burnout...) and 'hard' (demand, deadlines, money...) influences.
- Are deadlines helpful to you? Have you composed on deadlines? Do you meet them?
- Are you a good composer? Please be honest. You do know the answer to that!
- What would make you a better composer? For example: more time to write, more preparation, more performer feedback, more audience feedback, more money, more fame?
- Do you agree with my project's premise?
- Please add anything else appropriate to the topic.
by Boudewijn Buckinx
Boudewijn Buckinx, a composer of enormous good humor, provided the following discussion as a general response to the survey.
Rabbit 1 : I have a lot to do because there will be many people at my full-moon-party tonight.
Rabbit 2 : Ah! Full moon! Gives me bright feelings and thoughts whirling through my head. A good moment for full productivity.
Rabbit 1 : Getting dizzly like a lunatic or wriggling through the masses or being prolific, what's the use of it? My uncle always had been hard working; now he has to move to another burrow, and he has to pay more than 150 eurocarrots pro cubic metre. Now he is figuring out how much cubic metre of opera he has written.
Rabbit 2 : Activity is synonymous with life itself. Any tree has to be proud of the number of leaves growing out of its branches, even when autumn makes it a sad job to let them fall. Do not forget, my dear, that we, rabbits, have been surviving against much stronger enemies because of our lust and productivity.
Rabbit 1 : Never heard of trash and junk? And what about other's respect for our individuality? Always been spoken of as "rabbits" creates a problem of identity. We are feed for psychologists, when you see how scared we are for the slightest storm or thunder. Watch and see tonight : if there happens to be just one lightning, all my comrades will be scattering and I will sit there at my own, sadly alone.
Rabbit 2 : Proof how you enjoy company.
Rabbit 1 : Nevertheless, I want to be recognized as an individual. I am not you and you are not me, as our arguing shows clearly. Being called rabbits is disrespectfull.
Rabbit 2 : Right. We are not one, we are many. A crowd is not annoying because there are many people, but because they are becoming just one crowd. Young people gathering are enjoyable as long as they remain many young people and not melt together to one gang. Unity is dangerous, disrespectfull, destructive, indecent. Plurality is life, joy, abundance, creation.
Rabbit 1 : I prefer one single juicy carrot to a billion dries-out ones.
Rabbit 2 : Oh! That old fallacy. I prefer a billion juicy carrots to one single juicy one. When they are dried-out, I prefer none at all.
Quotations to Think About
I have written some very good pieces. The majority of the pieces I write are passable. I actually compare myself to Mozart in the sense of his 'kill' ratio is very low (of the 41 symphonies, how many do you actually want to listen to - A much lower kill ratio than a Beethoven, a Mahler, or a Shostakovich). I used to joke in graduate school (I was known for being prolific) "If you write a lot of music, some of it is bound to be good."
Given the great availability of recorded music these days (from all periods of history and all areas of the world), I do not feel it is necessary to 'fill up' the world with more music. In an ideal world, I would like to only compose music that fills a real void that exists. I would much rather be remembered as an Edgard Varese or a Carl Ruggles who wrote very little music, but nearly all of it is spectacular than as a Alan Hovhaness who composed one very good piece of music over and over and over for his whole career. Even though that one piece is very good, after the fourth of fifth time, I'm apt to say enough already. I'd rather be a Stravinsky than a Hindemith.
Prestige is nothing. Inspiration is a flicker, and burnout comes when one works incorrectly. Demand for money slows my writing - waking up in a cold sweat isn't idea-inducing.
I believe the thing that makes us slower is the lack of an accepted international language. We work at a time when we can embrace almost any musical language we choose, but then our pieces have to follow our personal aesthetics, which evolve as we grow, and our pieces have to be written to decipher themselves for the audience.
Some composers should be paid not to write anything.... I don't think quantity is the most important thing.
A professional (in my opinion, of course) is someone who can produce music on a regular basis, to order, on deadline, and make those who commission that music happy with the results.
Craft is a given; a professional has no time to agonize over minutia, but needs to do a creative and artistic job the first time around--or to put it differently, must be able to envision the overall shape of a project before letting the music loose to go where it wants to go.
that the amount of time needed to finish a project can easily expand to fill the amount of time available--or can be compressed into the amount of time that is available
In the marketplace, when the demand becomes unmanageable it's time to raise the fees.
I've never gotten a commission in my life. I don't go to concerts so I never meet new music groups or performers. It's just as well since I spend most of my time working as a musician in a church playing the organ. I find the vast majority of new music groups ridiculously parochial, that includes all the famous ones, actually, especially the famous ones. They only play the composers they know from a certain select group who network like crazy and sometimes actually write.
I don't depend on inspiration. When I finish a piece or a big section of a piece or whatever project I'm working on I go to the museums and the galleries and look at art. I love the new art and get a lot of ideas from visual artists. I have no deadlines except the ones I make myself.
It's my belief that there is no way that we can know the value of our own or other's work in our time. We're just too close. We have too many preconceptions of what "good" music is. We're also too swayed by "the composer of the month" which is mostly hype from money from private foundations. It used to be that a large, educated middle class of amateur musicians could make educated guesses about the value of contemporary music, but that passed with Brahms. Now, popular music reigns, serious contemporary music is completely marginalized, except in universities which are so politically correct and inbred that almost nothing original comes from the academic establishment any more. So no, there's no way of knowing if anyone, including myself, is any good. By the way, there's also know way of judging a piece's worth---so all those prizes, commissions and grants are so much tax free guesses and crumbs from Exon and the largesse of educated but clueless rich-people. It's really pathetic to read some bio from these composers who think if they get such a such they're good composers, "I won such and such from persons x,y and z..." It's so pathetic. It's like, "Wow, I got money from a foundation who likes me! I must be good." As Babbit said, "All crumbs!" By the way, teaching is useless too, since there's no good way of judging musical criteria, how can you possibly teach it? As a matter of fact, a teacher may do more harm than good. I studied with Sessions and Carter. I didn't learn anything from them except from Session's manner of living (not his music or his teaching). From Carter, absolutely nothing. I did get something from a semester with Otto Luening. We studied species counterpoint. I did thousands of counterpoint exercises. That was good.
I am not completely happy with my output [...] when it comes to technical, musical and aesthetic standards, but I have no interest in business or the political side of the music business, which probably limits me. I am motivated by the love of art more so than the desire to "be somebody".
My chief concern is the originality, depth and craft of my composition and the quality of my recordings.
I think continuing to study the works of composers I admire most (Mahler, Nielsen, Stravinsky, Beethoven, and many others) helps in some very indirect way.
My sense is not all people are created equal in terms of how much brain power, imagination, intelligence and talent we possess. All we can do is try and reach our own unique potential. Mozart was in a class of his own in terms of what he was given by the universe, his genetics, his family psychology (many musicians). There are composers who are extremely prolific, but not exceptional writers, probably most of those who work commercially in Hollywood. Is there a relationship between how much one produces and the quality of one's work? In general I think yes, but there are numerous factors besides quantity. What if your standards are low? What if your entire career is spent writing a lot of music for TV commercials? See what I mean? In this case productivity and output may not at all be an indicator of quality, depth and originality. But in general, the more you write, the better your work stands the chance of becoming.
Composing is as important to me as any limb of my body, and not being able to dedicate the amount of time to my craft that I do would be as incapacitating as losing such a limb.
I do this thing with a friend of mine called the $20 commission. We set a date and each tell each other what we are planning to write by that date. We agree that we will play the pieces through on that date, and there are various other guidelines as what constitutes as "finished". Then, if the piece isn't done, you have to pay the other person $20. So if you both don't finish or if you both finish, there's no financial obligation. But if one finishes and one doesn't, then someone has to pay! It's a lot of fun and a great incentive to write.
I feel that creative artists are very close to their core, and understand the essence of what they want in the most intimate way, and therefore have the understanding to seek out the correct tools to better themselves, and that regardless of daily circumstance, (and maybe, ironically at times, even due to the perceived setbacks caused by that mundane circumstance) those who are true creative artists will find those tools and use them in a way that moves them forward.
I do believe that composing has something in common with athletics in that you need to reach a high level of conditioning before you can perform at your best. That does not mean quantity of music per se, but rather, available time and opportunities for composing and performances, respectively.
We must use any and all means, including deception, fraud, theft, extortion and yes, even murder to survive as artists. This is a war for survival that we must wage low quality popular culture, conservatism and just plain indifference. Political theatre, demonstrations, embarrassing acts of public indecency are all fair game.
Inspiration is not a consideration--I feel that my imagination and level of creativity are constant.
It will be interesting for you to look back after a year and see how it all sorted out.
When I completed a 10-minute mini-opera for Raw Impressions Music-Theatre in four days (this was before I completed the two Komposer Kombat compositions in two hours), I wrote about the experience to the C-Opera listserv, and was surprised by the strong reaction against doing so.
So I know from personal experience that there are at least two ways to compose - painstaking, one measure a day, note-by-note word-by-word composition, and what I call "flow" composition, where a lot pours out, and then, maybe, you might decide to edit it a little or a lot later. I do not know if that qualifies as a strong opinion - my strong opinion is that anyone who insists that only one or the other is acceptable, or, like Michael, that the process is always irrelevant, is close-minded.
If I were manufacturing a product, I probably would be decidedly unhappy and dissatisfied with both speed and quantity. But fortunately, I'm not manufacturing a product. About 30 years ago, I had this discussion with the late Jerry Hunt. I was asking him a similar question. He told me that the only way he was able to compose was through either "Inspiration or fear, or both."
One problem central to composition today, is that composers are too prolific. Technology is a special irritant here. As with most other things, its greatest asset is also its greatest liability. Cheating ourselves of deep feeling is a terrible price to pay for abundance.
There's more to being a composer than just writing. If I didn't have to deal with the other aspects of composing so much, such as getting the word out, making good copies, etc., in other words, if I had an assistant and agent, I'd have lots more time to write.
The trouble with writing many, many pieces, is that it ends up that nothing is "special." Even composers such as Mozart I have a hard time with, because there are so many pieces, all "good" but hard to choose favorites (except Don Giovanni), since so many are equal in quality. It's not that I insist in heirarchies, it's that there aren't any that stand out for me.
-Mary Jane Leach
the inhibition of lack of demand is not easy to overcome while one keeps artistic integrity. Mozart was writing in an era when all his audiences, by-and-large, shared a taste for the music of their own time; very few, besides composers themselves, were interested in the music of previous eras and their knowledge of other national styles was fairly limited. Nowadays, many of us (contrary to what I believe is your taste) listen to music from many earlier centuries (my own interests include Binchois, Byrd, Gibbons, G.Gabrieli, Corelli, J.S.Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Suk, Janacek, Debussy, Ravel, Martinu, Bartok, Berg, Elizabeth Maconchy, Shostakovich, Tippett, Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Berio, Boulez, Elliott Carter, both R R Bennetts, Gershwin, Kern, Jimmy McHugh, Youmans, Cole Porter). Nowadays, we have a vast range of styles and genres, some (e.g. pop charts) with large followings, some with very select ones; most people never listen to a majority of these styles and would dislike most of them if they did. These are vastly different circumstances and Mozart's best relationship with his public (which didn't actually last very long) would be very difficult to repeat.
I don't agree that we can all be Mozart but I think that we can all be Einstein or Picasso or John Stuart Mill or Charles Dickens or Robert Frost or Shakespeare or Rodin or Frank Lloyd Wright. We all have genius in us, but we all run into several factors which make it hard for us to realize that potential - time/work constraints are important in this regard, but more important I feel is that only those who become recognized as "geniuses" have the great good fortune to discover which area they have genius in. I'm afraid for many of us we never get that "switch" turned on that would enable us to discover our area of genius.
I will be very interested to see how you feel at the 1/4 mark, halfway-point, 3/4 mark and again when it's all over with. [...] It will be interesting, one year from when your project begins, to see if you feel if your output is consistently of high quality.
-David H. Bailey
If I did not have to manage my career, I would be happy to do nothing else but sit at my desk and write, and play.
I need pressure to work.
Occasionally, in an effort to meet the deadline, the quality of the piece will suffer. That is a weakness in my writing. Sometimes there are technical glitches in my pieces. As a composer, I am not bad. I would consider myself in the top half of new music composers working in Canada, but closer to the middle. There are only a few composers who I know that there is absolutely no question that their music is better than mine, but mostly, I feel that my music stands up to the other pieces, and I usually like my music better than the other pieces, in spite of any flaws that might exist. Sometimes a composer might have better craft, but is very conservative, and personally, I feel that this is a weakness on their part.
I'm satisfied with my productivity because I'm satisfied with the quality. I will sacrifice productivity for quality. I've been known to erase hard disks and start again because i decided it was not good enough. for me, it is all about the quality, not the quantity.
[What would make you a better composer?] More attention to detail.
"Inspiration." If I had to wait for that I'd never write.
-Steven L. Rosenhaus
It's a constant struggle with myself to make myself feel like writing music is a worthwhile thing to do. Is it? Growing up in canada, with a great school music education system, I thought that classical music (and "new" music, as an outgrowth of that) was available to everyone. when I lived in the U.S., and went to lots of concerts in New York, it seemed to me that classical music was only for people with a lot of money. (And sometimes of the people with money wanted to look hipper, they threw a few crumbs to composers.) I didn't like that. Now there's a constant debate in my head: is this music for everyone, or is it music for people with fur coats? I don't want to write music for people with fur coats! I want to be engaged with the world at large!
I like deadlines, performers who want pieces from me, and money! They all help! I like good working relationships with performers. What would make composition more possible for me to compose would be if I consistently felt like it were an important thing to do. Not important in terms of personal prestige (though I guess a bit of that is nice!), but in terms of being a meaningful thing to do in the world. (Good interactions with performers and audiences can help a bit with that.)
[I am] dedicated because composing doesn't come before everything else.. it's with everything else. I write sketches incessantly either in my head or on the 18101890 notebooks all over my house and automobile - and I multitask therefore. I don't have the normal issue of time to think - I write sketches at traffic lights, while I watch TV, in bars, at the dentist, while in the tub ... wherever.
My biggest issue: I really, really wish Comp. Academia would put more emphasis on production -- to tell people to write something all the time. To be blunt, like I do. If it's a chord progression, a note, something. I see too many people getting PhDs and Masters and no one seems to have a problem that they write two minutes of music a year. This really continues to concern me.
-P. Kellach Waddle
I'm already at some stage of continuous musical thinking when I'm conscious-even in dreams. For example Perotin has advised me in dreams several times over the years...beginning in 1971.
I have got slower and my perception is that is is mostly to do with my job, though illness last year was clearly a factor. Age and related energy levels have something to answer for - frankly, the idea of a nice meal and a glass or three of wine after a day at the university is, these days, rather more appealing than the prospect of rolling up my sleeves for what is effectively another day's work when I get home!
The main thing I need more of is time, in large enough blocks really to get going, and without interruptions about trivial matters.
I have been worried in recent years that I may have said most of what I have to say in my music (is this 'inspiration'?)... but my recent surge in activity suggests that this isn't true. I suspect that this feeling is simply what results from not composing! And my experience certainly is that the more I compose, the more ideas about composing I have.
I could only compose more if I weren't trying to make a career out of being a composer. I always say that being a composer and having a career as one are two very different things.
The reality of our work is that we're usually needing to do all these things at once: writing a new piece, adapting or editing an existing piece, copying parts for an upcoming premiere, re-doing parts for an instrumentalist who wants a different layout, printing out scores and parts for publishing, creating custom demo CDs for future clients/ensembles, and of course cleaning the grout between the tiles of the kitchen counter when all of this just becomes too overwhelming.
I like to use computers as a good analogy: as zippy as they are, they simply appear to be multitasking to the nth degree, accomplishing numerous daunting tasks at once with our repeated, insistent clicks. But the truth is, computers are only doing one thing at a time: they just give the illusion that they are multitasking because of how fast they can process each separate request. Well, composers should be the same way. We're faced with a long sticky-note list of many things that seemingly need to be accomplished all at the same time, and it can become maddening. Throw in our collective low self esteem into the mix, and it's a train wreck waiting to happen.
But if we take a moment to breathe in and then breathe out, and really take a close look at all those important things that need to be done, we will usually find that we can triage them and begin to put that long list first in categories: music stuff, home maintenance stuff, family stuff, etc. and then rank each item in each category according to when it really needs to be delivered/done, not to mention how much we are being paid to do so.
Fear is the ultimate motivator, and deadlines are essential to getting things done.
I think I'm a very gifted composer, because I write highly emotional, authentic music that touches people. It isn't dumbed down, nor does it cow-tow to some perceived authoritarian standard.
[What would make you a better composer?] In general, more and more experience... the joy of a long life. I think we all get better and better as we age. Saggier and uglier, too, but hey, all in the name of art..
At some point the composer will hopefully find her/his "voice" - what this means to me is that the "practice" has taken one into the nirvana of composing you can probably rely solely on your instinct because all the appropriate skills, tricks, deceptions, u-turns and such are so ingrained in your mind that one does not deal with them on a conscious level - and the only way I know how to get to that space is through practice - every day - and you do not need to be in front of score paper, 'puter' whatever - this can be solely in your head.
I find the idea of productivity not interesting enough as a goal as such. If I had an idea that would involve writing a lot of work, I probably would - and I'm not adverse to such an idea because a lot of work is something that will help you keep away boredom for a long time, and it can also be profitable if it all gets performed or even commissioned. But productivity as such is not strong enough an idea for me.
My most dramatic pace change was when I stopped writing the kind of over-detailed and over-organized work I sometimes did as a student, and when I started writing much more from the perspective of form, balance, clear ideas, and imagination. Before, I was trying to realize complex formal ideas in complex forms. Now, I try to realize complex formal ideas in simple forms.
I alternate between pieces that are "masterpieces" (by which I don't mean good pieces but pieces with some kind of big presence) and things that you could think of as experiments or bagatelles, which feel less "finished" but are essential for me because they always give me something interesting to think about later. Also, I like the quality of 'unfinishedness' and strive to work with it, which sometimes results in slightly idiosyncratic scores which make some people sometimes think I don't know what I'm doing, which is never the case. But anyway I tend to get good, serious reactions to my work (of course I don't so easily get to hear about disappointments)
May I typecast you as the quintessential American here, interested in industry, production, and working hard? I'll be very European and be more interested in doing fuckall! So I would say I really like your fine crazy project but I know why it's not my project.
I actually try to compose as little as possible, even though I enjoy composing more than anything. I want to restrict my output so that my catalog is manageable, superior, and varied.
I don't want to leave a huge catalog, like a Haydn or a Hindemith - or a Mozart. I believe that composers only have a limited number of original works in them and they will repeat themselves if they write too much.
Most composers I'm familiar with write repetitive, largely uninteresting and uninspired music. They should be writing less, not more, music.
In my experience, and in my observations of the commissioned compositions of other composers, the commissioning machine is detrimental to music. The artificially-imposed deadlines of the commissioning process require music to be written regardless of whether or not the composer is inspired. More often than not, the composer does not seem to have been inspired, and the result of the commission is a dull, unnecessary work that would better have been left unwritten. Writing 365 pieces in a year seems like a terrible idea - likely only to result in 365 poor-quality works.
Ideally, any composer could probably find ways of composing more. Carl Czerny had over 1,000 opus numbers, while Alban Berg had only seven. In our free musical world, all sorts of activities are considered music, and one could become addicted to, say, card games and call each game a "composition." As far as the duration of a composition is concerned, LaMonte Young's Dream House comes to mind, which is supposed to be played for an eternity. I concur that eternity is "the limit" for a composition's duration. Other than this, there are no limits to creativity or music.
Aging and the loss of innocence have taken a huge bite out of my productivity. That I've now lived longer than most of the dead composers that I used to draw inspiration from (such as Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann, although lately I've been listening to a lot more Elliott Carter) certainly gives me pause.
If I were anything but a good composer, I would stop composing and burn all my scores.
I disagree that we need more Mozarts (one of these was plenty for the human race), but using his prolificacy or even his legend makes for a wonderful conundrum to lock yourself into (have you perhaps been influenced by magician David Blaine?). If your plan goes horribly awry, maybe you can use the year 2008 to write "We Are All Salieri" to destroy all these new Mozart homunculi.
I would definitely compose more if there were a demand/appreciation of new music, but there isn't. It's a struggle just to get performed, and at least a third of my music has never been performed. Usually just one or two performances of a piece and it goes onto the pile. I think social demand is crucial to living a life primarily as a composer. Mozart had it, so did Beethoven and Bach and the other pre-20th century composers. They also wrote in more or less common practice style, though of course they extended what was common practice in their times in a radical way. But music could evolve radically only so far, hence the fundamental failure of 20th century avant garde. I don't know what the 21st century will bring. More minimalism? Hope not. That's a dead end. In the twentieth century the most successful composers in terms of audience appreciation seem to have been Russians. America seems quaintly unaware of new music, certainly unappreciative. I detest the climate culturally. But I don't believe in fighting against the current.
-Richard St. Clair
When young, I composed in this speed. After professional studies, I composed just a bit more as Webern. 1976 about I was tired of this sitaution. Writing novels and poetry went so well and fluently, why not music?
I could happily drop my pencil and never write again. In fact, I sometimes go through long droughts of months or a year where I don't have anything interesting to compose.
If I was writing TV music, say like Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, staffed with assistants and music editors and copyists and engineers and with set themes and sound palettes and no pressure to be original all the time, I see no reason why I couldn't match their output (6 to 10 shows a week, up to 4 hours of music total) though I wouldn't be happy.
The single biggest thing that would make me compose more is more people wanting to hear what I compose. [...] This sounds like I would be willing to pander to a listening audience, and I have before, but this is not what makes me happy. I still want to be heard, and being a musical yes-man is not ME being heard; it is me pretending to be someone I'm not. I feel like removing my name from pieces that I have written that I don't agree with.
Some might argue that being a better composer would cause the other two to fall in line ("If you build it, they will come" Field of Dreams) but we all know that isn't always the case.
Sometimes I feel more like a salesman than an artist, but if the butts aren't in the seats, you can be the best composer ever to have lived and it won't do anyone (least of all you) a whit of good.
I might ask about teachers - how past teachers influence current practice. I had a hard time finding my own voice because I had a very strict teacher - and the facility with imitation meant I could write pieces that he really liked, but didn't satisfy me at all. It's still sometimes difficult to silence that voice when I write a long tone piece (he detested minimalism in every form).
I'm the kind of composer whose music wakes people out of a stupor at composers' festivals and makes them say "wow". So I guess I'm starting to hit my stride.
Commissions & obligations give me a focus. The more and bigger projects, the better I respond. If I didn't need to work as a teacher or write grants to support myself and my work, maybe I'd write more. But I think that stuff feeds into the process anyway.
I think that just refining my focus on what I do, day by day, piece by piece is what makes me a better composer. Sure, it would be great to be more famous, have more reviews, have enough money to pay other people to do what I don't want to do. But the work is about working every day. Someone's always more famous or makes more money, and it's a bottomless pit to worry about that stuff.
Procrastination comes first. Then insecurity. Any time left over is devoted exclusively to composing. Oh, and fretting, too.
I agree that "some of us" are Mozart, but not all. I think the world is full of musical schnooks who will never get better, no matter how much opportunity they have to write.
The fight is between performing and writing one takes time away from the other so at times it's very difficult but I do manage to focus and get work done. I often do what I do at the expense of my family, Which isn't cool but is the way it is.
I am a dedicated composer, composing my life.
I am unsatisfied, because I have much more ideas. But I am lazy. And I want to do much other things: read, paint, write, photograph and so on.
I become older, thus slower and more deliberated. I omit the unimportant.
This thesis is absolutely wrong! Quantity does not cause quality. A high productivity creates only routine. Your project rests on shaky foundations.
Commercialzation is very suspicious. Popularity is not a sign of quality. 1981 I have produced a performance with the topic "can talking about art be art?" similar to it the question: "can writing about music be music?" So don`t waste your time. Carpe annum! Don`t write, make music!
There's no limit, depending on the kind of pieces; but there's no way to say how much more. Sped up over the last ten years - affordable technology (synths, recorders, computer)
Lots of money, period. Not to make an artistically better composer, but to just be able to do more with what I have.
I'm a multifunction machine - composer, writer, teacher...(and I value my marriage!) - but I do think 'making stuff', whether that's composing, writing, digital work or whatever, comes near the top of the list [...] When I am actually working on something, whether it's a composition or writing, that process, at that moment, certainly becomes the entire focus of my world - the creative process is, I believe by necessity, a very self-ish (and self-revealing) one.
Less is more, and life is composing (and v.v.) - I don't mean I'm trying for some Cageian integration of life/creative work, rather that I've realized that I have to live by making stuff, or I'll - to use a brit expression - probably go bonkers. Rather than 'churn out' compositions, because I can, I have begun to question why I compose (or write) in a certain way/about a certain subject/from a certain inspiration. But, given the choice (and the funds) I know that I would sit at home and make stuff all day, and be happily reclusive.
If I had all the time in the world I'd compose non-stop, or compose and write non-stop. Maybe.
I moved to a new country fairly recently, and have been very disappointed by the quality of 'new music' in my new situation (not just opportunites for myself, but the general quality of concerts and performers).
I can't compose if a job is due.
I don't think inspiration is an issue at all, and I feel strongly about this: 'waiting for inspiration' is not the way to become a good, or better, composer. At one level composition is a craft that, like playing the piano, for instance, requires work, persistence, and ongoing 'practice'. Inspiration comes (forth) as a result - though there's a whole other paper on what or whether inspiration might be.
I enjoy meeting [deadlines]. I enjoy planning a project/schedule, and need this kind of discipline. [...] I find them helpful, otherwise I suspect that I would go on working away at one piece for ever - because no piece is ever 'finished to perfection', is it? [...] I find that rather an aggravating 'immature' kind of tendency, that reveals a lack of involvement in the whole three-stage process of composition-performance-reception. I always meet deadlines, I'm that kinda girl.
I personally don't feel that Andrew Lloyd Weber has improved any over the years. On a more serious note, I don't think Bach got 'better', there's good and not so good, and of course there's sublime - and spread across a hugely prolific career.
It depends on what you actually mean by 'the better we would get at it'. Andrew L.W. has probably got 'better' at understanding the specifications of his chosen market - ie what will get bums on seats, for long runs. So, in the sense of 'better at understanding how to succeed - in financial terms (ie repeat work) - in a given market - well, probably that would happen, yes. But, for me, becoming better at being a composer (or a creative human being) is certainly connected, but is not directly related, to opportunity to produce.
Just interested to ask - you say you are going to 'test this premise' by composing a piece each day for a year (firstly, good luck!) - how, and by what criteria, are you going to judge whether you become a 'better' composer? Are you, or others (public recognition, performances eg?) going to be deciding? Is self-assessment the only way?
The priority would be more time. Also, I enjoy performer feedback, and will not accept a commission without it. Almost turned one down, with a fairly well-known performer, until they realized that I was not falling for the line that he was "too busy" to work with me. Because I'm at the point now where (1) he's not busier than I am anyway, and (2) I don't care.
I think a factor in Mozart's success (quality and quantity of output) was that he composed within an established tradition. Too many composers today think that each composer should stride far beyond established models, and that each piece should be a stylistic breakthrough. We may all be potential Mozarts, but we cannot and must not all be Beethoven wannabes.
I think that the premise of demand and productivity is correct; we might all be capable of developing a portfolio of works equaling Mozart's in size and scope, but if the premise is also that we could all achieve the fame, recognition, and glory of Mozart during our lifetimes, and afterwards, this is impossible.
Music and art means a lot to me and my life. In fact, I don't know hot to separate between art and life. It is the center of my life right now.
I don't like the comparison with mozart, since I am not too sure about the quality of most of his work. You see, I am from Vienna, too, and I've already heard way to much Mozart, especially this year's hype is getting ridiculous.
I prefer enough lead time so I can "mull"...but sometimes I tend to "mull" too much and then when it comes to the deadline I'm pretty much, "Write something, you fool! Stop contemplating and get the notes down on paper fercryinoutloud!"
I need to clear my head between projects. Besides, I don't want to be Mozart. He wrote the most boring viola parts known to mankind. It has been my goal in life to make sure all parts - especially the inner voices - are interesting
I write music every day. I also work on my career (concerts, contacts, competitions). My music occupies most of my day. If I am not writing, preparing parts or doing business I am thinking about what I am currently writing or what I will be writing next. I am also organizing (in my head) performances and what needs to be done for these performances.
I love deadlines, it makes me work more. So when someone asks me for a piece (and especially if they are paying) I usually start writing for them immediately and inspiration always strikes and helps me do it real fast. In fact as soon as I get off the phone with some one who just asked me for a piece I already have a germ of what I will write for them and after that it all comes rather easy.
I love my own music. I listen to my own music more than anyone else's.
I think composing should certainly be an everyday routine, inspired or not. You should sit down and work.
I believe consistency and a healthy regimen is important. In the end it's not how much you write but how good the music that you are writing is. But if you get rid of laziness, capriciousness and if you lack discipline your output will suffer. So discipline and exercise your brain like any other muscle and you should be able to have a steady output of music. Think about it before you write and make sure you can answer an important question. Why am I writing this music? the answer of 'because I hear it or feel it in my head' is not good enough, neither is the answer 'because i have to write a piece a day' good enough. You need to create something that is outstanding each time, something you would want to hear over and over again, something you feel adds to the musical culture of the word.
[What makes more composition possible?] Inspiration, respect, commissions, demand, deadlines, money, a better memory, the ingestion of lots of sugar which is disallowed by Weight Watchers.
[What would make you a better composer?] More time at home alone to write (my husband writes at home all day), more magnificent performers requesting commissions and doing performances, more audience adoration.
[More we do, better we get, more ideas] This would be true to a certain point but we all suffer from periods when the music does not flow. Aaron Copland did not compose in his last years not only because of Alzheimers but because the music did not flow literary authors call this "writer's block".
[What would make you a better composer?] Feedback and of course fame and frequent performances. Removing some of the annoying prissy things about writing for orchestra.
[Do you agree with WAAM premise?] Not entirely. Mozart never created 300-plus works in a year alone - he is bound to have had some help somewhere running a shop like Reubens did. Reubens sketched out the painting to be; then maybe painted a few strokes turned it over to his employees who filled in the details and when they were finished - he did the final finishing and signed his name.
[Are deadlines helpful?] I think not, but everyone else thinks yes. Seldom meet them exactly, overshooting by a week, up to a month.
[Do you agree with WAAM premise?] No (or, if I did, I would be depressed.)
Not everything Mozart wrote was brilliant.
If I had more commissions I would write more.
[Are you a good composer?] At first I answered "yes", but now I'm afraid I'll have to get Clintonian and ask for a definition of "good". If it means professionally competent, the answer is yes. If it means inspired to write music that is transcendent, like Mozart or Beethoven, the answer is, yes, but not always.
[Do you agree with WAAM premise?] That we are all Mozarts within? No. That we all have seeds of individual inspiration which could be developed more? Yes. However, there is always, even in an ideal world, a difference in degree of inspiration which merely opportunity will not erase.
I compose when inspiration strikes me...for instance, I have come across a children't book that I would like to make into an opera for children.
[Do you agree with WAAM premise?] Somewhat. I think you over-simplify the problem. I think more people would compose if the Major Symphony Orchestra Conductors in the US would get off of their duffs and start looking at people who aren't in the dead composers' society. (Not that I think we should stop playing the standards, but please....there is life after the Romantic period....) If demand increased, the supply and the competition would increase.
Am I not a composer? No longer can I pretend that is the case. I improvise on my instrument every day, and these improvisations have direction and are memorable. I incorporate improvisation into my teaching. My compositions are created in my head and pound their way down the street in my mind as I walk to meetings and food shopping. I cry with frustration when they beat at me and I am not able to get them written in a given day. Then I sing them to my child. My child and I sing and make up songs throughout the day. My brain can be deafening with song as I work in the garden. So in this way, yes, I am a dedicated composer as much as I am a dedicated mother and wife and performer and citizen.
[Do you agree with WAAM premise?] Yes. What I don't understand very well is how one finds oneself to be Mozart, to be the supported musician, other than simple coincidence. I'm not certain you'll be able to create that for yourself. I am a musician who has been handed many good things because of my abilities and my placement at the time. It is still was not really enough, and when it is, for many it is hectic. The very few performers or composers who are not hectic or frantic are not only excellent and appealing but were coincidentally on the right target at the right time and have the ability to be self-limiting and respecting. It is rare.
Good question. First would be more demand for what I do and/or a commission. Second, and this is much bigger than myself (and long-winded), would be a profession as a serious concert composer that is an actual and possible career. Composition of the kind I/we do is an obsolete profession, like a slide projectionist ;). I mean the world just does not need more chamber works, symphonies, operas et al. The fact is, there is too much music. Furthermre, the media at large pays no attention to what we do. We still hover in small, often politicized circles, academia mostly. Yet we compete for what little is left. Funding is scarce, broadcast time (at least here in Canada) is almost non-existant, CD releases are treated as they are in the pop field. That is, shelf life is 6 months to one year. (If we're trying to create long-term durable, significant music, such a shelf life is incompatable, especially given the work it takes to see a composition through from creation to performance.) Ironically, we have great means via computers to produce perfect looking scores and parts, yet the demand for what we do is shrinking. Some argue that there's lots of music to write. Yes, but it's frankly schlock or Gebrauchsmusik of a work-a-day type like hymns for your church choir, fanfares for your town hall opening, high school band music, or educational/pedagogical music. Sorry, but for me this is not why I became a composer. I had hoped to write (and get performed) large scale symphonic works, ballets, operas, etc. - the very stuff I mentioned above that no ones wants or needs anymore. In short I am disillusioned, disheartened, disappointed and feel mis-lead with composition as a profession.
[What would make you a better composer?] Criticism, particularly print criticism of one's work is terrible in this field. Audience "feedback" is only a few people that may have the courage to say something, usually polite, to you after your performance. There is nowhere in the media or press to "be heard". It's so dominated by all the pop areas. [...]. The conventional "classical" labels are pretty much gone and indy is the new buzz word. So perhaps one can eek out some sales on the internet. But how can you get the mass exposure in a non-pop field with a diminishing audience?
There are other important points. First is the fallacy of the "composer-in-residence". Friends of the composer get played or at least to the top of the list. Others do not. We don't submit "blind" works, so the composer-in-residence can't really evaluate properly. It's basically a gig to relieve conductor celebs from plowing through works they'd rather not play anyway. It solves their "new music" quota, if there is one, or at least pretends to.
Second is the "young composer competitions". why in the world do we continue to offer these? They are nothing but false promises to young people that "Hey there's a real career for you waiting out there". It's a false seduction into a profession that's no longer viable, especially financially, let alone historically. So the successful competition winner gets a nice cash prize, maybe a performance, recording or broadcast. It all sounds really nice. But is it? Do we really think that if we keep giving out more and more such awards that we will create a larger community that will actually flourish and produce stunning new numbers of dedicated audiences? We should be telling our composition students, as I know one well-known Canadian composer has, words to the effect that "are you sure you really want to do this?"
Third is that each successive generation has to be taught the "classics". Whether they "will be" is yet a fourth point. So the young people will again learn about the three B's et al, but will they, or will there be time and room, to teach and introduce them to the likes of Harris, Petterrson, Weinzweig, Ginastera, Pfitzner, Pierne, Bentzon, Chavez, and - you get the idea.
Finally, thanks for giving me the opportunity to "vent" candidly and honestly, yet this is my final point. We really have nowhere to vent and no one beyond our ranks is going to read, much less care, about this. So, please prove to me that this whole notion of the contemporary concert music composer is anything but a dead end. So much more could be said, but who is really going to listen?
Deadlines make for a great discipline It makes the piece you're writing that much more important when there's an "official" deadline to meet because the piece your writing is being performed. It make me want to finish it even more.
I tend to think we composers have a set of tools in a toolbox, and the more tools we have, the better and easier it is to work. great teachers provide you with these new (to you) techniques. More performer feedback and performances are also invaluable -- what works? What doesn't? How can I tweak this?
I left folk-rock because of MS to complete a degree in music and discovered the world of electroacoustics. Soundscape composition allows me to transcend dis ability and continue to explore field of sound and music. Having MS and Ewheels which go 6mph has definitely altered my pace tho it has not slowed me down. I am happier than i've ever been because of electroacoustics.
I compose based on inspiration and am only hindered by physics.
I have found limits such as total time and due dates of compositions give structure to the composing process.
Having more time, being more than one person and having a team to assist me in field sound recording and editing would allow me to compose more. Fame and fortune have never been incentives for me.
I would compose music more quickly if I weren't so blasted interested in doing something new each time. If I were, for instance, to make more use out of recycled materials (something I'm busy with at the moment, actually), or to create several pieces with the same format, I could probably churn them out more quickly.
Whether or not I think that my stuff is absolutely delicious, considering each completed work as a noun, I can definitely say that "to compose," as a verb, is something I hope to do for the rest of my life, and that I feel very fortunate to have determined to make this verb part of my life up to this point.
More composition might be possible if there were fewer of the traditional hassles: financial worries, general noise level. However, I have been in situations where these kinds of hassles were reduced to near zero for months on end and production didn't necessarily improve that much.
I think about and listen to music constantly, I sometimes feel I'm here this lifetime just collecting data, or fine-tuning my ear, for a future incarnation. Having said that, I obviously satisfy some of my compositional yearnings with my radio show (which is a kind of mega-structure), with my interest in loops and mediated, amputated, distorted samples, and also in working with Dragon Dance Theater playing soprano saxophone and flute: coming up with "instant" compositions to fit the moment, or through rehearsal, developing motifs for specific characters or scenes. Thus is the extant, or definition of my compositional activities.
The more we do it, the better we get. To paraphrase Bucky Fuller, we seem to be a verb.
-Kevin Mcneil Brown
I don't believe most composers can really change their pace successfully. I call it "musical metabolism", and I think we get ourselves into a working routine and it's very hard to change our base process.
Composers get complacent and they fall into a cycle of self-pity and complaining. Instead of creating projects for themselves, they sit around complaining about how nobody wants their music, and how classical music is dying, and how they aren't nearly as famous as they deserve to be, and how they don't have as many commissions or the kind of commissions they want, and how much they despite the few composers who are super successful and don't deserve it, etc.
Many composers these days spend FAR too much time "talking about writing music", posting on blogs on broad subjects of "the future of classical music", or just complaining about their careers. They spend not nearly enough time at the desk actually writing music or working on making their careers happen themselves, in a productive way.
We should spend our lives trying to become better composers. I strongly believe the best way to become better at something is by doing it.
The novelist Stephen King wrote that "to be a good writer, one needs to read for four hours per day and write for four hours per day." I strongly believe that. I think many contemporary composers don't spend nearly enough time actually listening to music - particularly of our colleagues.
When I compose, I'm a dedicated composer. When I bake, I'm a dedicated baker. When I teach, I'm a dedicated teacher. As the husband that I am, I'm a dedicated spouse. Composition integrates, but it does not dominate.
Composition is not everything. I don't take my identity from it. That said, when I compose, I am fully absorbed. Similarly, when a piece is in rehearsal, I am fully absorbed. And, finally, when it is in performance, I am grateful that it is being performed - but I am looking forward to the next day.
I don't think so much about becoming a "better" composer. By going about the business of living, and by composing the next piece, becoming a "better" composer takes care of itself. Read Rilke, you become a better composer. Make a great marinade, you become a better composer.
I'm not certain what the project_s premise is, other than to prove that one can write music every day - but we all could do that. As for when you say: '...the more we could do, the better we would get at it and the more new ideas we would have...' - I do not believe that increased quantity and output combined with new ideas, necessarily, evolves into well-designed, "successful" music (whatever "successful" music means these days). In the end, quantity suggests bulk, but not art. Being prolific does not equate to being meaningful (whatever meaningful means these days).
I am a dedicated composer. Composing comes before lots of things, but it is not necessarily more valuable than working in the garden, cooking a nice meal, talking with someone intelligent, etc. But it matters to me almost more than anything.
Sometimes I think it would be better to compose less - there seems to be lots of music in the world. To do less with more thought behind it, maybe...
I think "good" and "bad" are overused words. I am trying to be more and more myself, whatever that may mean. It's like being a good person - it's a job never done.
I agree that the more one does, the more there is potential to improve. But simply doing more isn't enough - one could compose more with less thought, or with less concern for detail and maybe write worse music. Or just repeat oneself. So it's a matter of doing more while asking good questions of oneself along the way - becoming more rigorous in some way, or more risk-taking, or simply more brave. Sometimes more is more, and sometimes less is more and sometimes more is less.
-Linda Catlin Smith
My 'take' on music is that it is best written from the heart and soul. Anyone can churn out technically brilliant music, but who can drawn breath from the listener or a tear, or a moment of inspiration? Let him cast the first note...
Music is the most important thing to me, though that involves playing, listening, reading about music in addition to composing. "Being a composer" is an important part of my self-image, though I'm not sure it's reflected in the amount of time I spend actually composing.
I don't feel like I reach the end of my inspiration and burn out, though of course I do spend some time staring at blank pages wondering what will go on them. What does inhibit me is that given the limited amount of work I can do, I don't like the feeling of putting anything out that's just "good enough." I want everything to be the best I can produce, though I'm sure I don't actually meet that standard. If I were spending all my time writing, I might not mind writing in "workaday" mode and letting the inspired moments find themselves, instead of focusing on always trying to force them to happen (and writing nothing if they don't).
I think just doing it more is the main thing. Practice makes perfect with everything else, why should composition be any different? More time in school might make me think of things differently, but wouldn't make me a better composer except that I'd have to spend more time writing.
Maybe you could come up with a series of surveys on different topics--it'd be like composer therapy!
Does art come before everything else in your life? Yes, to a fault. Including family, health and other practical considerations.
I am limited mostly by time and money. I could make art all the time I guess, if I was rich. Though, if I was a multi-millionaire, I would probably buy a radio station, a record label and sponsor a performance series. I'm very interested in sociological work. Who is to say that sociological manipulation is not composition? John Zorn has done it for 30 years.
After years of struggling in NYC, I finally realized that at least half of the people that were successful in the arts had wealthy relatives or trust funds or some other form of support so they had time and money to do their art. I am from a very poor family and left home when I was 18. All things considered, I (and the other half of the artists) have done great.
I love Mozart. I would like a date with Mozart when he was 21, and with Nam June Paik when he was 25 (but not at the same time). And I of course will always be 30. I'm sure we would have fun. And then they would dump me because I have such a strong personality and ego. But they would remember me fondly from time to time.
[What would make you a better composer?] More serenity and hope for all our future(peace).I am extremely concerned about the world situation. Performers and audiences have been very kind to me. Also-lately the money has also been coming in.
-Nancy Bloomer Deussen
Deadlines can be helpful if they are set by myself, but they mean too much pressure if set by someone else (the real deadlines!): those I rarely meet (they freak me out and that slows down the whole process tremendously). More often than not I'm even dramatically late (writing the last notes before the musician's desk - this has happened quite some times).
I would need more time. However, for me, music (and composition in particular) is not a job or a hobby, it's a passion. It's what I do to express the words of my soul. Inspiration, for me, is not automatic, nor is it like a faucet that can be turned on and off at will. It dictates when it will strike me and only then can I produce anything of real value. During dry spells, I have tried forcing myself to create, but everything that comes out is mostly garbage. I doubt I've kept any of it.
Were there demand for my music, or were I a bit better known, I would be a bit more motivated, but my general guideline is that I write for myself first and others second.
I also was writing more for competitions and contests, in the hopes that it would get me a bit of notice as a composer. These always imposed hard deadlines, and I did meet them, always. Often, this involved me spending hours proofreading the music at the last possible minute and spending days thinking of nothing other than the current composition.
I feel that it turns composition into a mechanical and forced process. It detracts from what I feel is the fundamental premise of composition: expression of your soul. I know, for myself, I don't feel inspired every day of the week, and if I try to compose when I am not inspired, the end result either sounds forced and low-quality, or it is utter garbage. For myself, forced composition never leads anywhere. It's not an outpouring of the deepest thoughts of my soul; it's not special; it's nothing.
However, I do agree that a higher demand for our work as composers (and mine in particular) would lead us to discover great new ideas and create greater new works than ever before.
It really depends on the composer. You could be Milhaud, Mahler or Mozart. The problem with writing fast all the time is that it can lead to facile solutions, going for the easy answer to a problem, and routing around interesting but really difficult musical problems. Sometimes it's a good thing to get stymied by a really frustrating problem, and rather than forcing the issue, just brood for a week until a really great solution hits you out of nowhere. At the same time, there's something to be said for writing really fast, musical automatic writing that short-circuits critical facilities that could be holding you back. On balance the pieces I spent a lot of time writing are better than pieces that I wrote really quickly, but not always. Still the project of writing a piece a day for a year is quite creative and worth pursuing on its own merits. A followup evaluation could be interesting. For example will you discover a musical biorhythm whereby certain regions of time produced better than average music and other regions less so? Is it seasonally related? Or do you just get better and better over the year so that the last pieces are the best?
Deadlines for me are great, but they have to be real - I have never been able to use fake deadlines. Honestly, lately I feel that there's not too many people/ensembles/orchestras out there that really want or care about commissioning or performing new music, and many of the groups that are out there are all about how many premiers they can do in a year, and subsequently don't put the time and effort into the pieces they do get, resulting in mediocre performances. If I felt that a group was really excited and dedicated to my music, and really wanted something, that would make all the difference to me. It's hard when you feel that your music is not wanted, or that no one cares.
[What would make you a better composer?] I think just more direct involvment with musicians, and more opportunities to write for them. I also think that being able to work with more musicians as a performer would also open up a whole new perspective to composers.
When other people give me specifications they're rather vague (duration, approximate instrumentation, text). Over the past two years all of my pieces have been "commissions" (only about half of these actually paid) other than my opera. None had particularly stringent specifications attached, although as a general rule I enjoy working out compositional "problems", and am happy to have someone else provide some or most of the parameters.
I could just compose rather than spend time teaching, performing, and most frustrating, commuting and killing time doing sudoko at coffee shops between gigs.
I am. I write really fast. I always have, I'm just better at it now then I was when I was younger. The only substantial change is in habits, rather than productivity. When I was younger I worked a lot at night. I now work almost exclusively in the morning, and sometimes in the late afternoon, before dinner. The first cause of this change was living with particularly loud roommates in a run-down apartment on 155th with balsa-wood doors. I simply couldn't concentrate except when they were asleep (early in the morning). These habits have become more firmly ingrained, as my wife works 9-5, and we would never see each other if I wrote at night.
Money and demand are the two things that I find incredibly helpful in stimulating increased output.
[What would make more composition possible?] Getting ideas that are worth investing time in.
Maybe if there were more demand for my work. But I am not a Mozart type composer, in that I don't seem to be able to write quickly. I have to sketch, write, revise, re-write, live with it for a while, more revisions, etc... I'm always looking for a better idea. I don't usually finish a piece if I'm bored with it.
A 'famous' composer once told me that he thought his was the last generation of great composers (he is in his 70s). I think we may be in a 'Harrison Bergeron' era.
[Why has pace slowed?] I am involved with too many other projects: a fulltime job plus freelance gigs (albeit all music-related) which earns more money than my compositions ever have.
[What would make you a better composer?] More time to write and more performances of what I have written. Recordings and a publishing contract would be nice too since I hate having to promote my own work since when I do it feels like an awful conflict of interest given my role as an advocate for all living American composers.
[Are you a good composer?] The reason I got into music and gave up careers in other areas that promised money and a much easier life was that I wasn't good at it...I couldn't achieve something (as I could in other areas) in a short amount of time and it took all my attention and fascination, for years. I gave my self permanent tendinitis from practicing 8 to 12 hours a day, but also, had to struggle to give up practice time to compose, which I also loved. But with the performance, I never really fit in, never really played things right, never, never really learned a piece (after years of music school, and two degrees)...why? Eventually I found myself in the composition department to escape another semester of classical guitar....and realized, hey..I'm good at this..i 'get' composition...and all those years when I was struggling to sound like the 'ideal' or learn someone else's piece and not, it was because I was the one who was supposed to be writing the pieces (I can memorize 30 minute works of my own without any trouble). I think in some, well many ways, people listening to some of my works could consider what I do as bullshit. I'm speaking of other composers here. I am capable of doing what is often called (at least in the jazz world) 'legit' music...but I'm more interested in exploring the fringes of and boundaries between established areas...the premise is as important as the content to me...so yes, I think I've got a talent for doing what I do, defintiely a voice, but it might depend on how you define composer in determining if I'm 'good'.
[What would make you a better composer?] More self honesty, more collaborations with others that are fearless, more exposure to artists who are undaunted by institutional, historical, social, or commercial pressures, and a less conservative environment.
I have never had a problem with finding inspiration or facing burn-out. I have been inspired by poems, other music, lectures, chance remarks, birds, ideas, ensembles, and water - to name what comes immediately to mind.
Money is the chief-and maybe the only?- impediment. I would like to have my work performed, but part of what being a composer means to me is that I "have fears that I may cease to be before my pen can glean my teeming brain" - I'm not looking for other people's ideas/ concepts to write to, and am not sure how I could come to terms with an idea that I didn't originate, quite frankly: doing commissions on a regular basis strikes me as a very odd way to "do art," albeit obviously more lucrative than the way I do it. Even the collaborations I've been involved in - which I've enjoyed and wouldn't mind doing more of - have each stemmed from an idea that was initially mine.
I did something similar - but with some significant differences - about ten years ago, when I began writing music again after a nearly 20 year hiatus. I composed every day, and most days I finished (in pencil) at least one piece. Possibly important differences are: 1) I consulted no one and told no one - it was a private project; 2) Nobody paid me - the time was begged/ borrowed/stolen from my earn-a-living work; 3) I composed exactly what I wanted to compose (within my ability to meet my own goals); 4) I rejected one, and only one piece in that time - because the poem I had chosen was one I decided I was not enough in sympathy with to a) want to spend the time on; b) do justice to - but I had the control to be able to do that [n.b., I have not rejected a piece since.] 5) I write pieces till they're done - for me composing is improvisational, not Platonic. I can't imagine writing to a number of measures, and quite frankly, it doesn't make sense to me outside of film scores, theatre cues, and things of that sort that need to fit the time of some other interlocking art. 6) Inspiration usually takes me back and forth between a set of pieces at any given time, and I move from one to the other as the mood strikes me - having to be "inspired" to compose for a particular ensemble/length/genre/etc. on June 7 and an entirely different one on June 8, etc., is not currently in my repertoire of how to "do" music. What would I do when I was in the frame of mind and filled with ideas to write a clarinet quintet connected in some way with the demise of Mistah Kurtz (he dead), and my commission for the day was a setting of "I Never Saw a Purple Cow" for a chorus of 5th graders accompanied by Orff instruments? Or vice versa. I don't know the answer to this. 6) Part of the gig for me is having things I want to do and accomplish: I could/would not undertake work that in any way is contrary to who I am/what I do - (note: this stance - which is not limited to music, is one big reason why I don't have sufficient resources to compose more.)
A composer should create, write, and listen. i don't think composers do enough of either due to economic and social constraints. I am positive that the lack of this productivity hurts the individual composer as well as our society.
My official position these days is "no more necrophilia." I am tired of listening to 100-year-old music. But any creative idea for a composer to make music is all right by me... A new wave of composition would be a welcome and much needed change.
The We Are All Mozart would be a fantastic endeavor for me, both because i enjoy writing with both constraints and objectives as well as being able to output a work a day. I think that there would be no limit...
[What would make you a better composer?] more time to write... more time to write.... more time to write.... but besides that .... it would be great to have more performances and performer feedback. i am also always interested in how the audience relates to a composition.
We are all the new Mozarts of this time... and it is about time we drop the old clinging to dead music and embrace the new. close the gap between audiences and new music and start blazing new trails together. My belief is that there is a hungry audience out there waiting to be inspired and touched by the music and ideas that today's composer has to offer. Now we just need the vehicles to make it happen... the 60x60 project is one the We Are All Mozart project is another. there are others and there will be more. just like the fact that we are all Mozart, we are also the motivators to make it happen and the time to do it and make this change is now.
I could compose all day long, probably every day- but have never been able to test this theory. One always has more ideas than can be realized. And then, pitiably they vanish in time without cultivation. I always have several pieces going that will never leave the inside of my brain. [One needs] the courage to give up all related professional activities.
-Thomas L. Read
Composition time is determined to a great degree by the work factor. With Social Security being so uncertain, and having no retirement pension, I feel I must work a lot in order to be able to afford that luxury someday - and perhaps then I will also have more composition time!
Survey participants were volunteers. A general call was sent to about a thousand composers in all nonpop genres, from electroacoustic through orchestral. More than 250 of these composers requested surveys, and 85 surveys were ultimately returned. The survey was open from May 21 to June 7, 2006.
David H. Bailey
Kevin Macneil Brown
Nancy Bloomer Deussen
Mary Jane Leach
Frank J. Oteri
Thomas L. Read
Steven L. Rosenhaus
Linda Catlin Smith
Richard St. Clair
P. Kellach Waddle
|Number of compositions per year|
|Number of minutes of music per year|
|Number answering:|| 74|
|1. Are you a dedicated composer?|
|Number answering:|| 79|
|2. Could compose more?|
|Number answering:|| 80|
|Shouldn't or wouldn't||4|
|How much more?|
|Number answering:|| 16|
|Many, a lot||3|
|Limit to amount?|
|Number answering:|| 30|
|Sky's the limit/no limit||8|
|3. Satisfaction with Productivity|
|Are you satisfied?|
|Number answering:|| 74|
|Have you changed pace?|
|Number answering:|| 47|
|Faster:||More efficient, more care, better able, out of academia, more opportunities/demand (2), more experience, more craft|
|Slower:||Money presssure, age & energy (3), illness, care about quality|
|4. Follow routines?|
|Number answering:|| 75|
|5. More composition possible if...|
|More ideas, inspiration||13|
|More recognition, prestige, respect||10|
|More commissions, performances||9|
|More practical help||6|
|One each:||Fear of failure, less distraction, courage|
|Nothing, all is okay||6|
|No more music needed please!||3|
|Number answering:|| 70|
|Write on deadline?|
|Number answering:|| 68|
|Number answering:|| 65|
|7. Are you a good composer?|
|Number answering:|| 80|
|8. What would make you better?|
|Number anwering:|| 71|
|Experience, opportunities, performances||24|
|Study, skill, self-improvement||18|
|Recognition, demand, audiences||5|
|Help, resources|| 5|
|Support of the culture||3|
|Good as can be||6|
|One each:||Talent, Kill ratio, Concentration, Living, Political climate, Serenity, Attention to detail, 'A new brain'|
|9. Do you agree with WAAM project premise?|
|Number answering:|| 76|
|Yes, with qualifications||16|
|No, with qualifications||5|
|Disagree with question||3|
Raw Survey Responses
The raw survey responses were collected into a Microsoft Word document, with the responses pasted into place as they were received. Except for anonymous respondents where name and other identifying information were removed, the texts were left unedited.
At the request of one respondent, the raw survey responses were removed entirely. Please write to me with any questions.