Monday, September 22, 2008

Survival strategies for the average composer (1)

Average, a.

1. Estimated by average; i.e. by equally distributing the aggregate
inequalities of a series among all the individuals of which the series is

2. Equal to what would be the result of taking an average; medium, ordinary; of the usual or prevalent standard.

Most composers, if we are honest (and few of us are) are average. This isn't necessarily a qualitative judgement - although that comes into it. What I mean is that most of us are neither in the shining stratosphere of success, from which a few names look down beatifically while the rest of us stare sullenly back with a barely concealed jealous rage, nor in that sad category of people who persist in pursuing the muse despite ample evidence that they have no talent whatsoever for it, on whom the rest of us look down with a mixture of disdain, smugness and relief. Most of us bumble along, turning out pieces as and when we can squeeze them between the demands of a day job and the need to get the groceries in, occasionally getting a performance and filling with optimism that this time, our big break is coming, before sinking back into our routines as the recognition fails to erupt, and we carry on with the next piece, slightly crestfallen, but soon once more hopeful that what we write holds some significance beyond ourselves, and will be recognised eventually, and preferably before we fulfil the essential condition of being a composer and die.

Of course, as Morton Feldman pointed out, being a composer is inherently abnormal, as the normal thing for a composer to do is give up, probably soon after he or she leaves university or college and realises the full extent of the world's indifference to SCCM*. But given that you've failed to fall at that hurdle, and are bobbing by, neither sinking nor swimming, what you need to do is take on board certain facts. Hence this, the first in a series of posts designed to enlighten and educate, and make the average composer's life if not better then at least slightly more tolerable. And following from the sage words of Mr Feldman, let's proceed:

1: Admit it, you're weird

You are though, aren't you? If you had any sense you'd have quit this composing lark years ago. Unfortunately, you somehow managed to leave the education system without having the idea that anyone might be interested in anything you have to say knocked out of you, and if you're still scribbling now, it's probably too late for you. Admitting to yourself that what you do is weird is the first, and possibly most important step to take if you're going to cope with being a composer in the 21st century. You can expect the world to tolerate what you do, but by and large, you can't expect it to show any interest in it. Occasionally someone will appear to express something greater than apathy, but it'll very rarely lead anywhere, so don't get your hopes up.

*SCCM: So-called classical music


bobbins said...

Heh, bang on, although I'm not sure you can even expect tolerance :-)

I once owned up to my mates in the pub that I'd written a bit of four-part harmony (for an OU course), I've been labelled "Renaissance Man" ever since. Tch, Philistines. I dunno, but it seems to me if you do anything other than watch telly in your spare time people think there's something wrong with you.

petemaskreplica said...

Obviously these are relative terms I'm using here. "Tolerance" for instance in this context roughly equates to "being subjected merely to ridicule, rather than abuse or physical assault".