Community of Composers

I am a Facebook junkie, pure and simple. I hath partaken of the Kool-Aid and, in turn, converted several good friends over the years. No, I do not waste time with games. Yes, I am probably connected to it a bit more than I should. Yes, I am sure-ish that I haven’t posted anything that will come back to haunt me. No, I don’t care if it’s being run by a huge corporation. What I do passionately care about is connecting with others, and as many of us know there are few tools out there that allow for such a finely tuned mode of interaction as Zuckerberg’s brainchild.

The big, blue FB has been on my mind lately because of my trip last week to Baltimore, which provided me a multitude of examples of how effective that tool has become. Within a four-day period, I was able to meet up with ten composers at various stages in their careers, many of whom I’d been getting to know for a long time without actually ever meeting them. After months or even years of getting to know these people through both passive and active interactions online, it’s always a bit of awkward relief when I get to “fill in the blanks” that inevitably occur when one only knows an individual through the lens of Facebook, e-mail correspondence, or, for that matter, knowing someone only through their scores and recordings. What struck me in Baltimore was the intense camaraderie that was evident between all these different composers; it’s one thing to hear about composers supporting each other in the abstract, but it’s something else entirely when you get to see it up close. These composers are not only attending each others concerts, but actively helping each other out as best they can either by connecting each other to performers and conductors or by programming each other’s works in ensembles or concert series with which they are affiliated.

I’ve been asking composers a series of questions about the different communities that they belong to and to what extent their interactions within these communities have affected their careers and their work. One of those is the community of composers. After asking about their relationships with other composers, I’ve noticed several trends that might at first seem contradictory but consistent. First, composers are constantly fighting the dichotomy between being social creatures and being intensely competitive, and how each one deals with that dichotomy can affect who that person is both personally and professionally—the relationships between the Baltimore composers was a great example of this dichotomy in action. Second, there is a strong dislike for the “style” conflicts of bygone days; most composers today are omnivorous in their tastes and the idea of shutting some colleagues out due to their artistic concepts is disappearing (as can be evidenced by the discussions swirling around Justin Davidson’s article about the new New York composers). Finally, the realization has been made that our community of composers is a small one by many standards, and it is only through supporting one another that our art form will continue to thrive and grow.

I’d love to hear about other composer communities—the comment box awaits!

4 thoughts on “Community of Composers

  1. RustyBanks

    Point 1: Facebook.

    Facebook is just the kind of thing I would love to hate, but let’s be real. In my personal life, I’ve never stayed in touch with distant friends as well as I do now, and professionally…well, social networking has TREMENDOUSLY expanded my audience, my commissions, and made tracking performance royalties much easier. But also, it’s kinda made being a composer more fun. It’s like a global salon for us.

    Point 2: Yeah, style snobbery died way back. Most composers my age or younger wouldn’t understand choosing between Reich and Carter. We’re an “and” generation not an “or” generation.

    Reply
  2. paulhmuller

    ImprovFriday (http://www.improvfriday.ning.com) is a community of composers that exists almost exclusively on-line. Each week 20 or 30 composers post one or more original works during our 3-day event. Often the pieces are mixed and mashed together on the spot to create uniquely collaborative works. We typically produce about 50 new pieces each week. In addition we have held a number of on-line streaming concerts, a video film festival and produced several CD collections for our on-line record label Amaranth Sound.

    ImprovFriday meets two important needs: it is a place to have your music heard and it is a place to receive support, input and influence. New music is famously hard to have performed – I doubt there are 5 people in my zip code who know who Steve Reich, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Terry Riley are. They may know Philip Glass, but they know they don’t like his music. So the audience for new and experimental music is very thin on the ground. Facebook and other social media give composers the ability to form on-line communities wherever they may be. ImprovFriday members participate from Sweden, Finland, Hungary, UK, France, Italy, all over the US, Australia and New Zealand. And who knows – given the stresses we are seeing now in even the largest performing institutions, and the fact that most people consume their music from the Internet – maybe on-line communities of composers is the way of the future.

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  3. Elena

    I completely agree. As a teenager, it’s hard to find outlets for my interests in modern music, whether it’s writing, creating, performing, or simply reading about it, like I do here. The internet is one of the only places I can get my fix, other than concerts going on in my area (and these are sparse themselves). Facebook, Blogger, email–they are all places where I can connect with others that share my interests and educate myself on things that would be impossible to learn about on my own.

    Without the communities of blogs and websites that I visit daily, I would know close to nothing compared to the growing amount of knowledge I am acquiring every day. There is a community of musicians in my area (a great group that I am a part of is Church of Beethoven) where I can listen to a variety of different composers and where I can create relationships with musicians, but online is where I am able to learn about everything else.

    -Elena

    Reply

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