Maybe they have always been there and I just wasn’t noticing them, but there seem to be more large advertisements on the streets and subway trains of New York City these days about new television programs, both network and cable. Even though I’ve paid a monthly cable fee to Time Warner for years (since that fee also includes payment for how I access the internet at home), I don’t think I’ve turned on the TV once in 2010 and have yet to do so in 2011 other than to use the TV set as a video monitor for watching DVDs that I’ve collected. We also have a Netflix subscription and there’s a film that’s been sitting unopened in the Netflix mailer on a shelf since July. Don’t ask.
There’s never enough time to process input I have personally chosen (books, recordings, films, art works, etc.), so it’s hard to imagine having time to spare to pay attention to things that are not personally chosen, e.g. watching television programs that seem to have very little take away value (at least based on the ads that have caught my eye while running from one place to another). Yet, according to a survey I recently saw on the Captivate Network (a video monitor that broadcasts in office elevators which I do sometimes pay attention to, whether I want to or not), the number one pastime of Americans is still watching television. I find this completely baffling, which probably means I’m still totally out of touch with the mainstream. I thought there wasn’t such a thing as a mainstream in the age of the internet!
Anyway, the reason I bring this all up is because of the struggles I have had composing music over the past couple of years. A light at the end of the tunnel emerged six hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve when I completed a movement of a brass quintet which is a mere 90 seconds of music but which I have been working on since 2008 and which I had originally conceptualized in 2006. Now, at only the beginning of the second week of the New Year, I already have significantly fleshed out ideas for two additional movements for that same work, since those 90 seconds proved to be a cipher for much, much more. One of those movements is looking like it will last approximately 20 minutes; I’m not sure yet about the other one, but it’s bound to be significantly longer than 90 seconds as well.
But I still feel the need to keep up with all the music that’s out there (even though I know I ultimately can’t) and books and art and cinema; yet all those things take a tremendous amount of time, time that perhaps should be spent composing instead—the new piece is occupying my thoughts more and more each day. However, I doubt I could ever cut down all that much on these other activities; after all, they are fuel for creative projects as well. But at least I know that I’ll never have to worry about being tempted to go home and turn on the TV for the rest of the evening, an activity that seems to eat up even more hours out of one’s life with almost no payback. Yet I’ve had conversations with some composers who are somehow able to work on pieces while watching their favorite sitcom. I can’t help thinking how much more creative people in this country might be if everyone stopped watching this stuff all the time.