Where Is Our Place?
When I was compiling the list of questions I wanted to ask composers during this interview project, I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the artist would have an answer for most of them; process, titles, business, self-doubt—these are topics to which any composer is going to have some type of response. The one question I really wasn’t sure about was what kind of relationship, if any, the composer had with their community. I got plenty of answers to similar questions about the community of composers or the community of performers, but when I asked about their own community, be it local, regional, state, or national, very few had anything to say about it.
The lack of response on this slightly out-of-the-box question should not be, I feel, laid at the feet of the composers. Between the very nature of their creative process and the amount of time they need to spend being composers, they generally do not have the easiest time of it when it comes to community involvement. While there are a few politically active composers out there (see: Little, David), most—from what I’ve found so far—are not intensely political creatures. The argument could be made that any of us, regardless of career path, could be more active in our community in some form or fashion, and for good reason: there are too many things going on in the world today that are being shaped by too few, the overall impact of which is skewed towards those who are loudest, most belligerent, and—most of all—present.
Where I do see the most room for change, however, is the community itself. Even if a composer wanted to become involved in their community, not just as a citizen but as a composer, there are very few opportunities with which to involve themselves. Thriving arts councils are few and far between, and even those tend to lack a place at the table for a composer, since most focus on the presenting side of the arts—concerts, art exhibits, festivals—and not on the creation or generation of art. Beyond that, there is very little room in the structure of our government and communities for artists of any genre to be included in the discourse of our society as artists unless they are deemed popular enough to enact change through their own fame (Bono, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney).
Why is this important? The answers to that question could easily fill a book, but here’s a stab at it. First, the further we remain passive in our relationship with our society and communities, the less relevant to them we become. Second, the more interaction we have with the world, the more our art will become connected to it. Third, the more involvement we as composers and creative artists have with our communities, the stronger we become as citizens (and the more clout we have to enact change ourselves). Finally, we can use our positions as artists and creators to help others, much in the same way our more famous brethren would organize concerts in the early 19th century to benefit those affected by war. To some, these ideas may seem far afield to the minutiae of our artistic careers, but as we’re already experiencing the effects of a lack of balanced discourse in our country, it’s in our own best interests to find a higher place in our world for us.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!