Saturday, March 21, 2009

Survival strategies for the average composer (6)

6: Play music

This actually happened the other day. The words are a paraphrase, but the gist of the conversation is exact:

Girl 1: My partner is a composer, he writes music.

Girl 2: What does he play?

Girl 1: Oh, he doesn't play anything.

And there you have in a nutshell one of the biggest things that's gone wrong with so-called classical music in the past century or so.

We're very clever, us composers*, with our writing-things-down behaviour. You can do lots of impressive, complex things written down, sometimes so complicated that no-one can actually play them. There's a difference between pushing a player's technique and stamping all over it, and the only way you'll learn the difference is if you play music yourself.

As I typed that last sentence I horrified myself. Does it really need to be said that you should play? Well apparently it does. Theory's all well and good - hell, I'm full of theories - but practice is what really matters. Notations and systems and scores can blind you to the most important thing: Music isn't an object. It's an activity. There may be something more perverse you can do than write music while not performing it, but I can't think what it might be.

*"Composers" here refers specifically to people writing down stuff in the tradition of Western European "Art" music. I'm not sure other musical traditions make this sort of distinction.

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