Today, Ashlee Busch* posted on her blog (http://ashleebusch.com/blog/) a short Thought that she’d had recently. I was so moved by it that I’ve reproduced it below.
Ashlee’s a composer and adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University, which is a complicated way of saying, “Read this. It’s insightful.”
For the first time in what feels like years, I’m writing a piece that I want to hear. I am a professional musician. I am a professional composer. Why do I spend such time writing music I don’t want to hear…?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing something all musicians should do more – listening to the work of my colleagues. Most notably in recent weeks, Common Tones in Simple Time (1979) by John Luther Adams. This piece is genius. The subtlety of the changing timbrel language, the constant and sustained reining in of the orchestra’s full dynamic range, the constant pull of a rhythmic motor that never tires the ear as it’s embedded so artfully…it blew my mind. And I thought – THAT is the kind of music I want to write! So why am I spending time on this other stuff…?
I don’t know at what point a young composer (or maybe they don’t and it’s only a few of us) becomes ensconced in the world of what we “should” write versus what we want to write. Take, for example, this picture above. Is it a good picture by a photographer’s standards? No. But I like to look at it. I like the colors. I like the broadness of the sky. I like the framing of the cars at the bottom of the picture as if to signify how small humans are to the enormity of the Heavens. And that picture is mine.
Countless musical mentors warn young composers not to let the crafting ruin the craft. Yes, gather the tools you need. Yes, a comprehensive education is an efficient path to honing those skills. Yes, make yourself marketable.
…we must never lose sight of why we are, why we simply must be, composers in the first place.
You know, it’s true. Often it’s been the case that I’ve written a song, and I love the hell out of it, but then I get nervous. “What if it’s not ‘classical’ enough?” I wonder. “What if people think it’s too easy to play? What if they don’t take it seriously because it’s not ‘right’?”
Frankly, that’s an incorrect and counterproductive way of thinking. Remember, the purpose of music is to be listened to and to be enjoyed. If it fulfills those, then maybe, just maybe, it is good enough.
*Amusing sidenote: for a short while, Ashlee was both a fellow student in a composition seminar of mine and simultaneously the teacher for one of my theory classes. There were pros and cons to this: a pro is that we respect each other’s opinions, but a con was that if I didn’t turn my homework in, she was legally entitled to kick my ass.