I’ve been mulling over whether or not to write about Jan Swafford’s piece in Slate magazine about contemporary concert music, “A Grand Tour of Contemporary Music: All the new noise explained.” Many of the positives and negatives of the article have been hashed over, but one concept still seems to be left hanging—the actual point of his piece.
While many of the questions I’ve asked the composers I’ve been interviewing have focused on topics directly or indirectly related to the artistic side of their careers, I have also been inquiring about their experiences with the business of having a career as a composer. After the many stories I’ve heard already, it is hard to imagine too many career paths outside of composing that would allow for such a myriad of options.
Last week I helped my colleagues sift through 140(!) submissions for NYSSMA’s Young Composer’s Concert that will occur at the Winter Conference in Rochester this December. These submissions were sent in from all over the state of New York by composers who ranged in age from a girl in 2nd grade to several 11th graders; instrumentation ranged from solo piano to full orchestra and styles were all over the map.
A large portion of the composers with whom I’ve had the luck to sit down with so far have had relatively little experience working with collaborators (choreographers, poets, filmmakers, theatrical directors, etc.) and a couple were just recently dipping their toes into the collaboration pool (if you can call writing operas for major companies around the country “dipping a toe”).
One of the more philosophical questions I’ve been asking each composer throughout my interviews is: “Does your music reflect the world around you or project a new world from within?” I added this at first to make sure I didn’t have too many “techie” questions, but as I proceeded to ask artists what their thoughts were, it has become a valuable insight into the mindset of each composer as they turned their gaze on themselves.
Spring cleaning is one of those tasks that many of us have been thrust into over the past few weeks. Taking the time to organize, collate, investigate, analyze, and purge is healthy and needed, but these exercises will sometimes force composers and other creative artists to face items from their past that they may not be willing to look at or even admit to their existence: their early works.
With the mystery that is attributed to the creative arts by others and encouraged by many practitioners, it is easy to forget how much control we have over our art and careers. Over the past year the 35 composers I’ve interviewed so far have been, to a person, extremely deliberate in what they do and how they do it.
In order for us as an artistic community to take up Daniel’s call for a greater presence at the musical and cultural table in our country, we need to be aware of who and what our community is—not just in Brooklyn or on the North Side of Chicago or in New Haven, but throughout the country—and include as many as possible into this greatly needed cultural conversation.