Lectures, panels, interviews, introducing pieces, answering audience questions: these sorts of speaking engagements come with the territory of being a composer. Personally, this is probably my least favorite aspect of the trade, but I never refuse when people ask me to share my wisdom in public—I think it would be rude to refuse. My problem is, I get nervous and never really know what to say. But when I see a check from Meet The Composer dangling at the end of the tunnel, there’s no turning back and I manage to get the job done.
I only have one fond memory of introducing a piece during a concert. At the 2004 Santa Fe International Festival of New Music, I actually had people laughing—at appropriate moments, I might add—and my easygoing delivery even encouraged audience members to ask questions. This must have been an anomaly because it never happened before or since. Some composers are naturals when it comes to public speaking—Joan Tower and Jennifer Higdon immediately come to mind. Maybe I should tell presenters and performers beforehand about my lack of skills in this area.
Or here’s a thought: How about not having composers talk during a concert at all—certainly not just because they happen to be in attendance. As a concertgoer, this would surely make me happy. I can’t stand it when there’s an impromptu lecture in the middle of a concert. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to suffer through ten or twenty minutes of loopy pontificating only to end up feeling uncomfortable, both for myself physically and vicariously for the deer-in-headlights composer. Limiting all the speeches to pre-concert talks or separate events would spare those of us in the audience who came to hear the music.