Originally uploaded by madabandon.
Since I am allowing myself time this summer to contemplate my composing life freely without the obligations that normally prevent my kind of free-associative ramblings and counter-productive (negative?) excursions, I have spent a lot of time thinking about being a composer, about what--if any--relevance there is in doing this kind of work, and about "career issues" (which in my more cynical moments could be subtitled "fame or the lack thereof").
I was just reading the blog of a young twenty-something composer who is all the rage (such as the rage is) these days. Nico Muhly writes charming music, and by all accounts is a highly intelligent, charming, funny guy. I have now heard several of his pieces and heard interviews with him also. He has been endorsed by some big names, worked for Phillip Glass, and has seemed to have had a good career thus far. Funny that this morning I read his post on a composer of my vintage, Michael Torke. Much of what I write of Muhly could have been written about Torke twenty years ago. And where is Michael Torke now? Firmly established as a post-minimalist, getting commissions no doubt, and being attended to by no one I know.
So fame, interviews, articles, etc., can be wildly exciting when you are a composer in your twenties and it seems that people really do care about what you are doing and the world is PAYING ATTENTION! But then, as the years move along, suddenly you might find yourself thinking back nostalgically to those days of heady thoughts and wondering why it seems that no one cares anymore. But no one really did. It's just that it all seems new and glamorous, and seeing your name in the TIMES and getting interviewed for NPR is magical.
I myself was never a "sensation" that these two individuals are/were. But I had my success and got some acclaim in august circles. My reserved personality and lack of hustling skills prevented me from running with the little fame I did enjoy. And I did not move in the proper circles early enough, having not gone to Juilliard or Yale, the two schools that seem to spawn sensations more reliably than any others. Had I known more early on I might have made my choices with fame in mind, but I was blissfully naive.
Nico Muhly will write his charming music, he will get older; hopefully his music will continue to charm, but in the meantime attention, such as it is, will refocus itself on some other young thing, and he will hope that he has some nice teaching gig to pay the bills and put food in his mouth. Some young composers whom he is excited by now will hang it up, get married, have kids, quit music altogether.
Do I sound cynical? Of course. But I am not bitter. And remember that cynicism is the child of idealism, and my idealism runs too strong for me to possibly outrun it.