Friday, March 4, 2011

You might be a composer if …

How many of the following statements apply to you?
  1. You are curious as to how compositions work, and when you make personal discoveries in this direction you are more likely to think, "cool! I'd like to give that a try!" than "cool! I'd like to publish a paper about this one day!" (Not that there's anything wrong with this second impulse, and some composers do both successfully.)

  2. You hear or read that "X is a dead-end," where "X" can be minimalism, serialism, or any musical movement or technique, and, even though you may never have written a piece using this technique, you give it a try to see if there are aspects yet to be explored.

  3. If music theory books say you "can't" do something (e.g., write parallel fifths, follow a dominant chord with a subdominant, leave chord sevenths unresolved, etc.), you feel you must do it.

  4. You are told there is no future in composing, and think, "That's probably true. But it doesn't apply to me."

  5. You hear music by great composers, and think, "Nice. But I wonder what would it sound like if [some particular musical idea] had gone in a different direction?"

  6. You hear unrealized potential in otherwise unremarkable compositions.

  7. You catalog (mentally, or in a notebook) cool ideas for possible use in future compositions.

  8. You think, "I wonder if anyone has ever tried this (some musical idea) before, and go ahead and try it even if you discover that others thought of the idea long before you did.

  9. You are able to make snap decisions regarding the value of your musical ideas.

  10. Your snap decisions regarding the value of musical ideas prove to be good, at least some of the time.

  11. You are not deterred when you realize that some (or even a lot) of your musical decisions were bad. You try to identify the problems, and begin the work of fixing them. Or you trash the piece and start over.

  12. You are deterred when you realize that the composition on which you have worked for a month or more is crap, but it doesn't stop you from either trying to fix the problems or starting over.

  13. You see potential in musical ideas that others might dismiss.

  14. Your head is in the clouds.

  15. Your feet are planted squarely on the ground.

  16. You have rocks in your head.

  17. You are an iconoclast.

  18. You have a healthy respect for tradition, but don't feel confined by it.

  19. You have trouble with authority figures.

  20. You feel the need to express yourself, and music is the best way you know how to do that.

  21. You don't mind working for long periods on your own. You probably prefer working this way.

  22. You have the courage of your convictions, but are open to honest criticism from others.

  23. You don't mind trying something and failing, because it means you learned something along the way.

  24. You are not afraid to try new things.

  25. You are not deterred by the fact that, in the early stages, your composition might be embarrassingly bad, because you know that you will figure out a way to improve it. You understand that even great art can be pretty terrible in the initial stepts of the creative process.

  26. Your musical ideas startle you sometimes, and you wonder where they came from.

  27. You are honest about the flaws in your creations.

  28. You are delusional.

  29. You hear something amazing, and think, "I could do that."

  30. You believe in the value of having a plan before beginning a composition.

  31. You believe plans are for suckers, and prefer instead to make it up as you go.

  32. You don't buy into the "genius" paradigm, preferring to believe that "masterpieces" are the result of (a) an extraordinary amount of hard work, (b) a long period of learning one's craft, (c) a certain amount of cleverness, and possibly even (d) a good (or just relentless) marketing campaign.

  33. You are prepared to put as much work as it takes to become the best composer you can be.

  34. You aspire to greatness, but would settle for goodness, or even competence, at least in the short-term.

  35. You are moved by music in ways that words cannot fully express, and aspire to write music that can touch others in this way.
This is just a silly exercise in trying to identify some of the characteristics of composers. A couple of disclaimers: (i) This list is not exhaustive; I'm sure there are other qualities that could be added (and I welcome any suggestions you may have!); (ii) You may have many of these attributes but not be interested in composing, or, theoretically, you may feel that none of these statements apply to you, in spite of the fact that you are a composer. I'd especially like to hear from anyone who feels this way... I am of the general belief that most composers share at least a few attributes (beyond universal ones that all humans share, such as needing to eat, sleep, and drink, and a desire to avoid being kicked by a donkey any more than is absolutely necessary, etc.), but I could be wrong about this.