Last week’s column and also the jointly sponsored survey from the American Composers Forum and the American Music Center seems to have re-triggered the perennial discussion about how to be a composer in the USA—and survive. The situation in Japan doesn’t seem to be all that different from the one in the States. Many composers resort to teaching in order to keep their economic balls in the air. Very few composers live just from their concert music, and even Toru Takemitsu wrote film music long after he became internationally recognized. OK, bad example, as he did so more for his love of the medium than out of necessity. Still, many composers high up in the second tier, such as Toshi Ichiyanagi, Joji Yuasa, the late Maki Ishii, and others have written regularly for film and television, both NHK (the PBS of Japan), as well as commercial. When composers reach a certain level of recognition and authority, other jobs open up as well, such as curatorial posts for festivals and concert series, book deals, etc. and so on.
What’s interestingly different here in Japan is the role that business plays in arts sponsorship. The cachet that the arts provide corporations is appreciated by at least some of them, and reflected in the numerous concert halls, museums, galleries, and events that companies fund and host in their corporate spaces. Some companies have de facto staff composers, who are called on to make music for their public spaces, commercials, etc. A composer with a distinctive style becomes part of the “brand.” It would be nice if more of that could go on Stateside.