Performing as Self-Advocacy

Last week in this space, I began discussing my recent forays into performing, in terms of my ambivalent emotional response to these opportunities and their influence on my current compositional voice. As I’ve pursued this path, I’ve found that it’s also been a fruitful avenue for self-advocacy, in obvious and surprising ways.

One of my reasons for beginning to perform publicly was in order to be able to present my own works. The ability to travel solo has opened up doors that otherwise might have been closed due to funding or time constraints. I can be available for venues that want to present my music but don’t have access to the money needed to hire ensembles that can perform my works or to dedicated musicians who already know pieces from my repertoire. I can interact directly with interested listeners, feeling viscerally those moments in my compositions that allow attention to wander or demand full concentration. As I expected, I can use these public performances to generate interest in my music.

Although I’ve enjoyed those obvious advantages of performing, the more unexpected benefits have been more interesting to me. First and foremost, I have appreciated the growth in the development of my own compositional voice—described last week in this space—engendered by these concerts. If that were the sole profit generated by this path, it would be enough reason to pursue it.

Additionally, I’ve found that my concertizing experience has helped me to communicate my ideas in three different ways: building trust with the musicians who are learning my notated compositions, demonstrating the techniques I use in these pieces, and giving performers a sense of my musical aesthetic.

I’ve found that many musicians with whom I’ve worked since I’ve begun performing have taken the time to listen to my solo performances before beginning to learn my music. Those who have done so have shown a greater understanding for the sounds I’ve sought in my music, and have been able to work more quickly towards my desired sound. They come to these rehearsals knowing when sounds should be so delicate that they break up, and can intuit the difference between those times when the indicated microtones are essential parts of exactly-tuned harmonies and when they are more gestural effects. Rehearsals can go more smoothly when these musicians arrive with some knowledge of the unnotatable performance practice associated with my compositions.

The hands-on experience of performance has also allowed me to physically represent those aspects of my music that defy notation. Instead of talking through how I’d like gestures to sound, I am more likely to pick up an instrument to demonstrate. When I incorporate unusual techniques that might be difficult to replicate, I can make videos of how they can be executed as part of the piece. Instead of asking others to guess exactly what I mean in my attempts at describing musical sounds through graphics and words, I can save time and energy by showing them.

Finally, all of these shifts have led to a greater level of trust with those people who are looking at new pieces for the first time. They know that I’ve stepped onto the stage myself in order to perform the types of seemingly silly gestures that they now see in their parts, and they take comfort in this fact. The knowledge that we are comrades in presenting my compositions makes them feel less exposed by the odd demands of this music. The musicians with whom I am working seem to feel more like collaborators in these unusual concert experiences than in the years before I wore the performing hat in addition to the composing one.

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One thought on “Performing as Self-Advocacy

  1. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    David, I commend you for taking on the performance of your music. This is something more composers should do, and not just in the university (on the Composition department’s new works series, etc). To perform publicly and really understand the feeling, excitement, pressure, and responsibility to the score make up a part of our knowledge that we can only cultivate alone.
    Now, to get performers to compose….


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