Absence

I came down with a real zinger of a flu last week, which somewhat impressively led to two other infections that are just now clearing up. Not only was I much too ill even to compose the minute of music per day I had hoped to, but I also had to skip out from the week’s events at Seattle Opera—for one thing, I couldn’t get the cast sick! Opera companies are textbook breeding grounds for illness, with one or more individuals arriving from previous companies with a bug the others in the new close-knit group haven’ yet become acquainted with. Usually one or two minor colds are standard, but a really devastating disease can nearly bring down a show. So I’m glad this week’s post didn’t begin, “EXTRA EXTRA: NEWMUSICBOX BLOGGER RUINS GREAT NEW AMERICAN OPERA FOR EVERYONE.”

Come to think of it, that’s a great idea for an opera!

In any case, all this down time (and the neat pills I’m on, perhaps) have been making me think about the idea of absence. Recently, someone at the Opera asked me if I always attend my performances. I replied that while I’d like to, this is no longer even physically possible—so different from beginning student days, where every musical interaction, performance, and rehearsal took place under the auspices of the same mother institution. On this coming June 10, by contrast, I have an aforementioned premiere of a cello sonata in Seattle. As a premiere it’s already an important event to me as a composer, and in this case I’m actually being flown out and boarded as part of the commissioning agreement—my attendance is part of my commission. Meanwhile that same day, a string quartet of mine will be performed twice in nearby Walla Walla, Washington. Musically speaking I might have a great many reasons to want to skip over to the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival and see what’s up—for one thing, the venue is a bar, but moreover the program is being presented in an unconventional overlapping collage format where different ensembles share multiple stages in a seamless listening experience. But since the Seattle Town Hall is buttering my bread you’ll find me there instead—not that I’m not interested to be there too, but in this case I wasn’t in a position to choose otherwise.

I’m rarely required to attend performances other than premieres in the work I’ve taken, so the decision to attend subsequent performances of a work is more or less up to my own discretion. Since travel isn’t provided for in this case, I naturally have to pick wisely, knowing that I can’t justify too many non-essential business trips with my modest but sufficient salary. This coming week (or earlier this week, by the time this article is posted) I’ll be making one such trip to a performance of my Ramshackle Songs for string quartet at Alice Tully Hall. I’d already been to the premiere at Adelphi University months earlier, but as I’ve made revisions and considering the venue it definitely seemed like it was worth the trip to be able to speak there and support my work.

While I’ve come to accept a general rubric for figuring out which performances I can attend, I still haven’t come to terms with the necessity of it. For composers every performance is an appreciated and special moment, and it feels somehow wrong to have to skip out on any of them. If nothing else, it’s made me understand how important clear and elegant music notation can be to a composer’s career—I’ve never even met some of the people who have performed my music face to face, so literally everything they know about the piece is the score. That’s another reality that our admirably collaborative music programs do precious little to prepare us for.

2 thoughts on “Absence

  1. JohnMackey

    Erbism
    This reminds me of something Donald Erb said once in a lesson: “You’re a ‘real composer’ the first time somebody plays your music and you don’t have to be there to make it happen.”

    Reply
  2. danvisconti

    Erb
    Thanks John, that’s one I missed picking up from him, unfortunately. (By the time I got to him, Erbisms were mainly to the tune of “throw the stem of the harmon mute right into the toilet–into the toilet with the other poop!”)

    Reply

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