Because I play so much new music, I am often asked if I also compose. It would seem a natural question, and, of course, there are many “new music pianists” who are also composers (Marc-Andre Hamelin, David Burge, and Leonard Bernstein come to mind). Surely, if I’m interested in playing all this crazy stuff, then I must be writing it as well?
Sadly, no, I must admit that I am not writing music. But I do have a secret desire to be a composer, and it is only time (and trepidation) that keeps me from exploring that part of my musical self. As it is, I barely have enough hours in the day to practice all that new music—how will I find more time to explore? I imagine that when I am old and gray and no longer able to get around the keyboard with ease, I will make time to write some of the music that rattles around in my head. In the meantime, I think this side of me only asserts itself when I am asking composers to make changes to their existing score. (Are you sure you really need so many arpeggios in the left hand? Why not try it this way?) Perhaps I am just more comfortable in the editor’s role? I am only too happy to suggest a change that might benefit me.
So I wonder if there are many performers like myself who are exploring the new music sound world because we are also interested in composing, but simply don’t have the time, or we are nervous, or if it’s even a given that one always leads to another. And why is it that no one ever asked me this question when I was playing the more traditional repertoire of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin? Shouldn’t we all be composing anyway? What better way to get to know music than to learn how to write it? Sometimes I think performers are simply like factory workers, diligently cranking out the notes for the next performance. Conductors are the “bosses,” and composers are the “owners.” Shouldn’t we all want to have a piece of that stock? I’m not suggesting anarchy, but what would happen if more performers tried their hand at composing? I confess to pondering this question in my own life all the time.
Or maybe I should just be content with being the vehicle for all this expression? While I know that there are great composers who were also great performers, it may not necessarily follow that playing so much new music will translate into having something to say. Still, I like the idea that being a total musician involves an organic process of musical discovery: Learning to play and write music should be part of everyone’s musical education. What would we all learn if we could do both?
And now I’ve let my secret out of the bag, anyone available for some composition lessons?