What are the pros & woes of being a self-taught composer? Kay Gardner



Photo by Catherine Bird

I created my first composition for piano at age four, and by eighteen I’d composed a full-length musical, but I never thought of myself as a composer, so I didn’t study composition when I went to music school.

In 1974, after graduating with a M.M. in flute performance at age 33, I began composing again. I was researching the ancient history of women musicians, and this study reintroduced me to the Greek modes and East Indian gramas. Here is where I found my musical language. Had I been trained in the academy, which at the time was stilled mired in serialism, my semi-minimalist style based on the primacy of melody would have been denigrated by my teachers. I’m sure I would have had to work much longer to find my individual compositional voice.

The only disadvantage to being self-taught was that I didn’t have a mentor or a network of colleagues to help me establish the contacts I may have needed to progress in the field. As it was, I had to become a businesswoman, building my audience through recordings on my own label rather than through small and infrequent live performances.