Since I first started self-publishing compositions and arrangements four very loud voices battle for supremacy in my ear: “Will this sell?”, “Can this be taught?”, “Does this have substantial music theory worth the performer’s time”, and “Is the compositional concept interesting?” If one of those voices grows too loud, the piece is doomed to remain incomplete.
Under normal circumstances I write music at a snail’s pace. On average, I publish new material now, maybe one short work every six months. Since quarantine, I have finished three new movements of a larger work. I firmly believe this isolation has removed the concept of “selling something” and the Venn Diagram of the remaining three voices guiding my muse have more room to ebb and flow providing a more copious output.
Maybe it is my current deficit of being a participant in live music (performer or audience member), but when bringing my most recent work to fruition yesterday, tears of joy came to my eyes. It’s harmonic language challenges the deeply ingrained habits set forth by the CollegeBoard curriculum. (Which I have spent years preaching. If you are a former student reading this, I raise the third in your direction!) The polyrhythm takes the listener where I want them to go and not where they expect the phrase to end. Maybe it’s due to my age and timeline of my career, but I feel indifferent now to what others think of what I write and am fully content in what is found in those glorious MIDI sounds….regardless if it sells. It may be months before that happens. Maybe years. Maybe never.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize my privilege in being able to not worry about money in terms of compositional output. My heart breaks for my friends who depend on the live performance as their vocation as it’s not just a livelihood, but their heart. I hope and pray that scientists and innovators find a way soon for live music to return so that our growing, voracious appetite as humans (not just musicians) can be satiated. In the meantime, I continue to enjoy how all of my more articulate and artistic colleagues are finding new and improved ways to express themselves.
Did we just cross the threshold into a new era for live music? Did the Covid-19 virus change live music the same way Napster changed recorded music? We are living history. Thrilling and frightening at the same time. I hope this Renaissance is one that brings on new technology and ideas and not the removal of the performing arts.
There are only so many virtual ensembles the ear can hear in the course of one’s lifetime. I do feel I am right in saying that, aren’t I? Court composer?