This morning, my friend, Biggie Smalls, sent me a fancy post on a fancy website called Quora (which made me think of Quorn, which is a totally different thing, apparently). The post was an answer to the question, “What kind of stress to full-time composers experience?” (Answer only if you’re a composer). For your reading pleasure, the original link is here. Later today, it got picked up by Slate.com, so I guess it must be a thing. I’ll let you browse those posts – and the comments section, which is classic internet reading – at your leisure.
The kid who wrote it was at NEC when we were in Boston, so it’s entirely possible I could have bumped into him and not realized it. His answer is tough to read, but totally familiar – It was everything I said when I was his age, without the added benefit (?) of graduate school. Basically, it’s him against the world, but good for him for giving it a go. Here’s the reality (for me):
1) There is no “one path” to becoming a composer and every field is competitive.
2) Art ain’t easy. Unless you are very fortunate, you will take shit jobs, as well as good ones, to make ends meet because what music school does not teach you is Rule #1, which is: you will have to feed yourself. I’ve been a teacher, a music director an administrator; I’ve taught a million lessons; I’ve written grants and courted donors and stood backstage when I wanted to be on it; for over a decade, I missed Christmases with loved ones because I was gigging; I’ve taught solfege to a swarm of six year olds and sat through innumerable board meetings (both of which present a similar layer of chaos); I’ve played in more pit bands than I can remember, with an orchestra, in a funk/fusion band, toured all over the US and Europe with choirs and will be on stage singing in a Wagner opera in five days. I also sold women’s clothes. This isn’t a sob story, it’s Rule #1. You still find time to write.
3) Your work is not your job; your job is not your life.
4) The only opportunities are the ones you create for yourself. And, most importantly…
5) The profession, or creative endeavor, to which you have committed yourself – if you have done such a thing – is independent from financial renumeration. This is not the “Do what you love, and good things will come to you” Pollyanna ruse. You make the commitment to work everyday, because that is what you have dedicated your life to do. Once I knew this, the ‘stress’ came up when something got in my way of doing my work for the day, and that something is always me.
And the rest is crap – Total quatsch! – and that goes for audiences, social attitudes of new art, programming decision makers not breaking your way, wether to call it “Contemporary Classical” or some other self-conscious moniker, or generally comparing yourself to anyone or anything, living or dead.