Why Do We Do This?
Now that I’ve at least begun to explain what this interview book project is and how I’m going about it, I am now forced to go back to the completed interviews and start to discuss the questions I’ve been asking. This is something that I’ve put off for a very long time because each interview was so intense. Just keeping up with each subject was mentally exhausting, and by going back to the interviews I’m forced to consider the massive amount of work ahead of me when I get to the point of transcribing and editing them.
My first question in each interview has always been the same: “Why do you compose?” The initial reactions have been pretty consistent; after their eyes shrink back to normal size, the subject, whether or not they were anticipating this question, is now faced with baring their very reason for doing what they do to me and whomever else reads the book in the future. The fact that this simple question inspires such a ubiquitous pregnant pause with so many who are successful is a testament, I feel, to what makes composing music so mysterious and alluring—those who do it rarely have a simple, pat answer to such a query.
As one might expect, everyone has their own variation, but most responses could be categorized in one of three ways. The first is most personal: “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Even if they had the opportunity to pursue a career in another field, these composers are so drawn to the act of writing music that they can’t help themselves. While the sample of composers is still too small to make any categorical assumptions, a through-line with many of these composers is that they started composing at a very early age and had made up their minds earlier than most that this was what they were going to do with their lives.
The second response that I’ve encountered a lot is centered on the concept of expressing something from within to the world around them. This tended to be related to the first type because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but it was more specific in regards to their relationship with the audience; it wasn’t enough just to create something, but the creation had to be directed towards someone else, and it was in this relationship that each composer tended to break off into their own individual subsets.
While composers who started early in life might be hard-pressed to imagine doing anything else, the composers who started later on showed a proclivity to deadlines and commissions as the driving forces in their output. This was especially interesting to me once the pattern began to emerge because I found what they said extremely similar to my own experience (I didn’t begin to focus on writing concert music seriously until I was in my late 20s, and I tend to write much more consistently when I’ve got a steady stream of deadlines looming). These composers still enjoyed writing music, of course, but without the additional nudging of the performance or deadline in front of them, they’d get too distracted by the many other things going on in their lives and careers (another similarity to my own situation).
So I’m curious—why do you compose?