Friday, May 29, 2009

A Strange Devaluing

Perhaps it's left over from the drive of academia. Or maybe its origins are further back in my childhood. Wherever it comes from, I often have a tendency to discredit earlier accomplishments in pursuit of my next goal or endeavor. I've noticed it particularly in the way I think of my compositions. For some reason, I sometimes behave as though a piece I wrote several years ago is worthless just because it wasn't finished yesterday.

Part of this perception is fueled by the overwhelming number of art music competitions which demand that entries be unpublished, unperformed works. I understand that organizations want the opportunity to premiere works for the sheer sensationalism and marketability of performing a piece for the first time. Each premiere can be treated like an ensemble is doing something that has never been done before. But what is the message about the music itself? Once a piece has been premiered, is it no longer noteworthy? What if that were the prevailing view about art music from previous generations?

So, with a somewhat habitual disdain for my compositions that have received performances, I have often neglected to send them to musicians or take advantage of further opportunities for these pieces to be appreciated. But when I recently had the chance to hear a performance of a piece I wrote several years ago, I realized just how ridiculous it is to discredit a work of art because it isn't brand new. As I listened, I thought: This is a damn fine piece of music. I feel proud to have created it. I'm really pleased with how all of its elements fit together, and I can acknowledge that it is a compelling piece of music even though it has long passed its first performance.

And that leads me to looking at other pieces I ignore and neglect. I have done some truly satisfying work, and it is not any less worthy of attention because it has already been heard. If anything, it is a mark of distinction for a piece to be actually performed more than once in today's climate. I am beginning to understand the value of taking stock of one's accomplishments, not merely to revel in the past or to stagnate, but to maintain a connection to one's achievements while still progressing onward. The works that instill in me a sense satisfaction are still worth my effort and attention, even as I continue to create.

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