Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Context for Composition

I've been working on a piece of music, and I am frustrated by the same doubts that usually creep in while I'm writing. It's almost like I am two people, one composing and one critiquing over my own shoulder. The composer side is making judgments about the expression of the piece, the nuts and bolts of pitch and duration and intensity, the precision of the notation. I can be fully engrossed in the sound I want from the performers and how best to communicate that with markings on a page.

And yet, the critic side still finds a few brain cells to tap into. And his argument is almost always the same, although he disguises it from time to time for variety. It boils down to: This music isn't intellectual enough. Which, of course, reduces to: You're not a good composer. Actually it's "I'm not a good composer," but putting my critic in the third person seems more natural. In actuality it provides an illusion that an objective outside party is drawing the conclusion.

The argument doesn't even make sense, but it seems to when it comes from my own mind. I blame graduate school. There we listened to famous works of art music that I had never heard performed live, and we dissected the construction of these pieces and how effective and brilliant they were. But they almost never get performed except at music schools, because however brilliant their construction, they aren't appealing pieces of music to most people's ears. I truly enjoy listening to some of these pieces, and I have most of my favorites on CD. But I have to admit that most people I know wouldn't choose to sit down and listen to this "brilliant" music.

In combating the critic, my response to myself is to create context. I do not compose so that a bunch of music students might be able to dissect my work in fifty years. I do not compose to show anyone how smart I am. I do not compose because my job demands that I produce something, regardless of its quality, in order to get tenure. I compose because I have something to communicate, and music provides a graceful and engaging vessel for that communication. Recognizing why I do what I do takes the critic's bite away. He doesn't ever really shut up, he just sounds much less convincing.

No comments:

Post a Comment