The first week of school—actually half a week; I started on Wednesday—is over. It just about knocked my lights out. My colleagues here at NewMusicBox have offered a broad buffet of excellent advice to incoming students; me, I’m going to stammer from behind my improvised barricade about how hectic my life has very recently become. More stuff is happening than I can shake a stick at, and I can shake a stick at a lot of stuff. I’m teaching 20th-century (actually pre-1950) music theory and ear-training, taking part in a seminar on Adorno’s notoriously opaque Aesthetic Theory, playing bass in an Afro-Brazilian band, preparing for the alarmingly incipient Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts, and trying, in my rapidly vanishing spare moments, to write some music.
Actually, I do have a piece of advice for young students of composition: Manage your time well. If you don’t know how to handle basic life operations as a freshperson in college—and you may not; I certainly didn’t—this is the time to learn. Prioritize, keep a calendar, and understand your short-, middle-, and long-term responsibilities. It may seem pedestrian and un-artist-like, but I’m convinced that prerequisite no. 1 for success as a creative producer is punctuality and organization. (Sure, I sent this post to editor Molly Sheridan a day late, but I felt bad about it! Remorse is the next best thing to promptness.)
I can’t speak from experience about what surviving as a freelance composer requires, but I can tell you for certain that life as a graduate student in composition is made vastly easier if you keep assiduous track of these mundane details. Unlike the real world, I imagine, you can probably get by without doing so in school—and indeed some do—but you’ll be so much happier and more productive if you stay on top of it. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to allow deadlines and objectives to slide.
If your nascent school year is as crazy as mine, best of luck to you. And if this is your first such year in higher education, give some thought to your time management strategies: They may just save your hide.