Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Even Great Composers Can Write Flops

In an earlier blog that touched on the issue of fear of failure, I wrote that "all great composers have had bad reviews, been harshly received by members of the public and/or their family, and many have been told been told their music is unplayable.  In spite of this, they went on to greatness."

For today's blog, I decided to research the topic of compositional "flops," a term I define below.


Stephen Sondheim is, by any measure, one of the all-time great composers and lyricists of musical theatre, and yet Anyone Can Whistle (1964) closed after only 9 performances, and Merrily We Roll Along (1981), had only 16-performances.

Have you heard of Galt MacDermott? He is Canadian (b. 1928), and the composer of the wildly-successful, period-defining musical, Hair (1967). Another successful Broadway production of his was Two Gentlemen  of Verona (1971), which won the Tony award for best musical that year. He also did the music for Via Galactica (1973), which closed after seven performances.

The history of musical theatre includes many flops by otherwise successful composers. Rodgers and Hammerstein — creators of many of the most successful Broadway musicals, such as Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music, The King and I, and South Pacific — created Pipe Dream (1955), described as "a flop and a financial disaster" by Wikipedia, and others. It closed after 246 performances — which may seem like a pretty good run, except it was "the shortest run of any Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and their only show to lose money and not go on tour." Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966), by Bob Merrill and Edward Albee (both extremely successful), closed after only four previews, despite having a cast that included Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Chamberlain, and Sally Kellerman. The Rocky Horror Show (1975) closed after only 45 performances on Broadway (although it did well in London and other venues). The film adaptation (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) did poorly when it opened, but went on to become a cult classic.

A reversal of this last example is Disney's Newsies, a 1992 film described by the L. A. Times as "one of the year's biggest flops." The music was by Alan Menken, composer of some fairly successful (!) film musicals, such as Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin,  The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and many, many others. Menken won an Academy Award for Aladdin the same year (1992) as he won a Razzie for "worst song of the year" for Newsies. Ouch! When the movie was reworked into a Broadway musical twenty years later, with songs from the original movie as well as new numbers, all by Menken, it became a smash hit.

Beethoven is possibly the best-known classical composer that ever lived; surely he must not have written any flops! And yet, he worked on his Violin Concerto in C when he was a young man, and either never finished it, or did finish it, but it was never performed.
This brings up an important point: What exactly is a flop? If a composer fails to finish a work, does that make it a flop?  
I think of a flop as a completed work that was received badly by the public and/or critics, and, as a consequence, did not fare well, at least initially.
Let us set aside the Violin Concerto in C, and consider Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, which he did finish. Unfortunately, it got off to a bad start; according to Wikipedia, "the premiere was not a success, and the concerto was little performed in the following decades." Beethoven died thinking his Violin Concerto had been unsuccessful. It was revived seventeen years after his death in a performance by a 12-year old violinist, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn, and went on to become a staple of the classical music repertoire.

Fidelio (1805), Beethoven's only opera, was also the largest work he had composed at the time. It suffered several delays during composition, one of which arose from objections raised by the Austrian censor, and finally premiered in November 1805 to houses that were nearly empty because of the French occupation of the city. Wikipedia tells us that, "in addition to being a financial failure, this version of Fidelio was also a critical failure, and Beethoven began revising it." The next revision (1806) was also unsuccessful, but the last one, in 1814, was finally well received.

The Paris version of Wagner's Tannhäuser (1861; original Dresden version completed in 1845) was an expensive flop, closing after three performances, this after 164 rehearsals. The performances were belligerently disrupted by members of a claque called The Jockey Club, which had unsuccessfully tried to extort Wagner into paying them off to prevent these disruptions. They were also displeased that it had a ballet in the first act, because they held the strong conviction that ballets in operas should only be in the second act, which allowed them to arrive late for shows and still catch the ballet, for them the highlight of any opera.

There are many more examples of compositions that did not fare well, at least initially, by highly-regarded composers, but there are also countless examples of people working in other fields who experienced failure in their lives, and yet managed to overcome it.
  • Vincent Van Gogh created 860 paintings, but only one was sold during his lifetime.
  • Emily Dickinson published fewer than a dozen of her 1,800 poems during her lifetime.
  • Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was refused by "at least 20" publishers.
And then there are people who used failure to spur them onto success in other fields:
  • Vera Wang competed at the 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but failed to make the US Olympic team; she then switched careers and entered the fashion industry.
  • Steve Jobs was the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. He was dismissed by Apple in 1985 following an unsuccessful power struggle with its board of directors; you can probably imagine how gutted he felt by this experience. He then went on to found a new computer company, NeXT, which made better computers than those being produced by Apple. NeXT was moderately successful, but caught the attention of Apple, and in 1996 Apple bought the NeXTSTEP platform and used it as the basis of its highly-successful OS X. This led to Jobs coming back to Apple as an advisor, and in 1998 he was once again given control of the company, bringing Apple back from near-bankruptcy to become the world's most valuable publicly-traded company in 2011.
  • And that is not all; after being fired by Apple, Jobs acquired Pixar for $10 million in 1986 and became its CEO. Pixar went on to produce some of the most commercially and critically successful animated films of all time, such as Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, and Wall-E. In 2006 Jobs sold Pixar to Disney for $7.6 billion.


The point of all these stories is that almost everyone experiences failure on some level at various points in their lives, including highly-successful people. Setbacks are a normal part of life, and especially of the creative process; try to learn from them, and push past them, but never let them define you.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the Value of Living Composers

Sound and Music, an English organization "committed to supporting new music and developing the audience for it," published results of its Composer Commissioning Survey, conducted during June-July of 2014. Three quarters of the respondents were based in the UK. Here is a summary of their findings, in (mostly) their own words:

Commissions are not a significant income source for a lot of composers.
  • 66% of composers stated that they do not find commissions to be a significant proportion of their income. Given that the respondents had an average of 2.65 commissions in 2013 with an average fee per commission of £1,392 it is easy to see why. 
There is a lot of a variance within the pay scale for commissions.
  • Annual income for 2013 from commissions ranged from £1 to over £100,000 including the single highest paying commission at £60,000. 
  • The best-paid 1% of composers received over 25% of all commission income; once we excluded them from our sample, average commission income fell from £3,689 to £2,717.
  • Over 40% of composers stated that they had earned no income at all from commissions for 2013.
The conditions for commissions are worse than before.
  • 49% of composers feel that there is less rehearsal/preparation time for new works. 
Although there appear to be more commissions available, they appear to be paying less well.
  • 74% of composers received an equal or higher number of commissions in 2013 than they did in 2012, but only 15% earned more income.


What does this mean?

The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper, did a story on this survey, and this was their headline, followed by a couple of excerpts from the article:

The future of new music is at risk if we continue to undervalue composers
Professional composers are being asked to create new pieces for ‘shockingly low’ fees, Sound and Music report finds
"If we believe that music is a living artform then it stands to reason that the creation of new music is vital to its current and future health. However, professional composers are being asked to create new music for very little money in conditions that are too often inadequate. As a sector we have some hard questions to ask ourselves about our priorities. Being commissioned to create a new work (and getting paid for it) is a vital part of life as a professional composer. At Sound and Music, the national agency for new music, we continue to receive anecdotal evidence about the worsening environment for the creation of new music."
"What the evidence implies is that the work of composers (and composing as a profession) is valued far less by the sector than that of performers, conductors and administrators. How can that be right when it is the music itself that communicates with audiences? With a new generation seeking out beautiful and unusual new sounds and experiences, audiences for new music have never been more enthusiastic."


What are your thoughts on any of these points? More specifically,
  1. The above excerpts suggest that living composers, as a rule (although there are very famous exceptions), are undervalued. Do you agree?
  2. Is the future of new classical music "at risk?"
  3. Is the creation of new music vital to the "current and future health" of classical music?
  4. Why are 99% of composers paid so poorly? 
  5. Within the 1% of top-earning composers surveyed (the 1% that garnered 25% of the total commissioning fund pool), how many of them do you think are able to support themselves entirely from composing?
  6. Why are most professional music administrators, orchestra musicians, and conductors paid so much more than almost all composers?
  7. Does any of this matter? Should composers just "suck it up" and be grateful for any remunerative crumbs that come their way? 
  8. Should composers take a pragmatic, "it is what it is" attitude, accepting that they are unlikely to earn a sustainable living from composing alone, and therefore find other means of employment?
  9. Should composers engage in advocacy to create better working conditions? Are there any organizations that advocate for composers?
  10. If composers are undervalued, what are the reasons for this? Do composers bear any responsibility for finding themselves in this predicament?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Daring to Dream Big – Pros and Cons

Today's post was inspired by a family trip to Walt Disney World last summer, a place where the word "dreams" is a kind of idée fixe. Here are some examples associated with Disney:

  • The Disney Dreamers Academy ("We help unlock the potential in young people and enable them to imagine their futures anew through inspirational leaders who show how to set goals, make plans and dream big"),  
  • A Dreams Come True parade, which in a previous iteration was called…
  • Walt Disney's Parade of Dreamswhose eight floats included Getaway to Dreams, Dream of Enchantment, Dream of Laughter, Dream of Another World, Dream of Imagination, Dream of Adventure, and Dreams Come True,
  • The Dream Along With Mickey show, 
  • One Man's Dream (a pavilion celebrating the life of Walt Disney), 
  • Many promotions, such as the Year of a Million Dreams, which included Disney Dreams Giveaways (my boys and I were randomly given Mickey skullcaps with plastic ears one day), 
  • Many commercials that use the word "dream," and
  • The Disney Dream (cruise ship).

Disney marketers and imagineers clearly believe that many of us are attracted by the idea of following our dreams, but what are the risks and rewards of doing so, and, in particular, of daring to dream "big" dreams?



There is much encouragement to fearlessly follow our dreams in songs, movies, biographies, interviews, etc. — wildly successful people are often said to have done so — but what about people whose life experiences have been more like those of Wile E. Coyote (see below; a lifetime of frustration, aided largely by his unshakable-but-consistently-misplaced faith in faulty products from the Acme Co. catalog, followed by the cancellation of his show) or Charlie Brown (who, according to Wikipedia's rather harsh description, "fails in almost everything he does"), than those of Walt Disney or Bill Gates? Don't big dreams lead to big disappointments?

An ill-conceived plan; this will not end well. 
For Wile E. Coyote, they never do.


For Charlie Brown, life can sometimes feel like an endless series of disappointments.

Well, for me the answer is obvious: Big dreams can lead to big disappointments, but that doesn't mean we should not have them.

To be clear, by “dreams,” I mean aspirations or goals, as opposed to the reveries we all have during REM state while sleeping, most of which we are unlikely to remember. And by "big" dreams, I mean lofty aspirations, such as wanting to become ridiculously rich, wanting to be the King of Iceland (bad news: Iceland's monarchy ended in 1944, but who knows, maybe they'll bring it back for you!), or wanting to become a ridiculously-rich great composer AND the King of Iceland, and be recognized as such by your subjects, the good people of Iceland.



Walt Disney supposedly said, all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them, and if you can dream it, you can do it.

(These quotes are frequently attributed to Disney on the Internet and are found in How to Be Like Walt; Capturing the Magic Every Day of Your Life (2004) by Pat Williams. However, I have yet to find when, where, and in what context these statements were made, making me wonder if he actually said them, or if an awful lot of Disneyphiles wish he had said them.)

As mentioned above, daring to follow your dreams is promoted as a core belief at Disney theme parks and in many Disney movies. This advice is summed up nicely in the following song, by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, from Walt Disney's 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio.
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Of course, it's not just the Walt Disney Corporation that promotes this belief/marketing strategy; many others have expressed similar sentiments:
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Eleanor Roosevelt
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
Harriet Tubman 
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Henry David Thoreau


But before we all quit our day-jobs and head off to Hollywood (or Iceland), it may be prudent to ask ourselves whether it is wise to dream big. Here are some quotes that may give you pause:
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
Oscar Wilde 
A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.
John Barrymore
He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.
Douglas Adams
Dreams will get you nowhere, a good kick in the pants will take you a long way.
Baltasar Gracian
Take everything easy and quit dreaming and brooding and you will be well guarded from a thousand evils.
Amy Lowell
When younger writers and poets, musicians and painters are weakened by a stemming of funds, they come to me saddened, not as full of dreams and excitement and ideas. I am then weakened and diminished, and made less rich.
Maya Angelou
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
J. K. Rowling
The last four quotes above (highlighted) are particularly sobering; they articulate the dilemma with which we all must wrestle:
While it is probably true that many or even most great things could not have been achieved without big dreams, it is also true that most dreams do not come to fruition, and indeed, the loftier the dream, the lower the likelihood of its coming to pass, and the greater the potential disappointment.


There have been at least ten different songs — as well as a television series, a film, a painting, and a book — with the title, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

Broken dreams — dashed hopes — is cleary a concept that resonates for many people, just as the more hopeful Disney quotations above also resonate for many, presumably because we all have had aspirations of varying magnitudes during the course of our lives, but we have all experienced deep disappointments along the way as well; we have all felt both optimism and dismay at different times.

We must all learn to navigate between chasing lofty dreams and pragmatism, but my advice for all composers is to go ahead and dream as big as you wish, because you are unlikely to find much success without first dreaming of it.

However, greatness in composition does not result from luck, like winning a lottery; it is the product of years of hard work, critical thinking, thinking outside and inside boxes, a positive attitude in the face of rejections, and many other factors, some of which I have discussed in previous posts. Luck can certainly play a part as well, especially in terms of one's success as a composer — composers are sometimes "championed" by music directors and conductors, for example — but even in cases like these, you have to be good to be lucky, as the sports saying goes.

So, go ahead and dream big, but be prepared to put in a lot of hard work along the way. Be pragmatic at least some of the time, because we cannot survive, let alone entertain lofty aspirations, without the provision of our basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, and Belgian dark chocolate, but be aware that too much pragmatism can be a dream-killer; a highly-pragmatic person might decide to abandon their dreams in favour of more "realistic"or achievable goals, and, while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I wonder how many people would ever achieve their dreams if we all felt this way.



It may be comforting to know that many people who did not achieve their "Plan A" dream were successful in achieving their Plan B (or C, or D, or …) dream; failure in one area can lead to success in a different one. Or, to put it another way, most people who achieved success in one area were unsuccessful in others along the way.

If Plan A did not work out, you are one plan closer to the one that will work out, provided that you keep setting goals and working towards reaching them.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be a writer. That was Plan A. While I didn't exactly fail at that – I am writing these very words right now (!), and I have written many other things as well, some of which have been published – at some point, I decided I would rather become a guitarist and songwriter in a wildly successful rock band, kind of like George Harrison in The Beatles. This became Plan B, and it seemed like a pretty good gig, with excellent salary and benefits.

After spending most of my teen years playing guitar for 6+ hours every day (no exaggeration; I played from the moment I woke up to the point I had to go to school, then after school 'till bedtime, with occasional interruptions to eat, do homework, and sports), it began to dawn on me that Plan B was unlikely to come to fruition, for several reasons , one of which being that I was Paul McCartney's friend (George and Paul became friends as teenagers). Nor did I know any Paul McCartney-types, meaning fantastic musicians who could play anything, were seemingly indefatigable and constantly in good spirits, workaholics, and on a path towards becoming, arguably, the most successful song-writer in the history of popular music.

Other roadblocks in achieving Plan B were that I was also not as good a guitarist as George, and I lacked the alpha personality to form a band, ruthlessly fire people who did not work out, get gigs for the band, or go through all of the other stressful experiences involved in the formation of a successful rock band.

So, what to do instead? Well, I didn't really have a Plan C, so I went to university and got a BA degree in Humanities. I finished a few weeks after my 20th birthday, and promptly got a job as a telephone information operator at Grey Coach Bus Lines, in Toronto.

Not bad at all, eh? Living the dream!

Indeed. But despite the giddiness that came from having a regular salary, I decided that I REALLY wanted to make some kind of music dream happen, but maybe I should learn a little more about music first; I thought it might be useful to learn how harmony worked.

A friend suggested I take a class in music rudiments at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) in Toronto, So I did – every Saturday morning, along with a bunch of kids who seemed to be around 12-16. Thus, at the age of 20, I began learning about key signatures, how to subdivide different meters, and how to spell different chords. What the heck am I doing, and why am I doing it, I wondered, frequently.

I came to realize that I was learning nothing about how harmony works, or song-writing for that matter, so, when I finished the rudiments course, I decided to take a harmony course. And then I decided to take more history and theory courses after that.

This is an example of "falling down the rabbit hole," because, what with one thing leading to another, in no time at all (well, 15 years, but that's not long, geologically speaking) I ended up with a doctorate in classical music composition.

However, since I like to feel that I am not, strictly speaking, a geological formation, 15 years actually felt like a very long time indeed.
Quick digression: On the question of whether we are or are, or are not, geological formations, John Donne wrote a famous poem called, No Man is an Island (Meditation XVII – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions). Paul Simon wrote a song in which the protagonist unsuccessfully argues the opposing viewpoint: I am a Rock, I am an Island.
Getting a doctorate was not Plan C, however; at least not initially.

No, Plan C was becoming a jazz guitarist, because, while working at Grey Coach, I had begun to stay out 'till all hours of the night listening to jazz musicians, and I decided that playing such music in poorly-attended clubs on a nightly basis was the life for me.

So I studied jazz guitar for a while, while continuing to work at various jobs and study at the Conservatory, but – and I don't exactly remember how this happened – somewhere along the way, I started to become inordinately excited about renaissance counterpoint, contemporary music composition, and all manner of musical studies.

This – becoming a skilled composer – became Plan D.

Initially, my lofty aspiration within Plan D was to finish all the RCM harmony, counterpoint, and history exams. This was Plan D, part 1. It took about 2.5 years, but when I accomplished this, I decided to pursue studies leading to an ARCT in Composition (Plan D, part 2). This involved writing 12 three-hour exams in a variety of musical styles, such as renaissance counterpoint, baroque harmony and counterpoint, 19th-century harmony, contemporary techniques, history (all periods), and analysis. It took me 4.5 years to complete all exams. So, that's a total of 7 years of music studies so far, for those keeping score.

My next lofty aspiration (plan D, part 3) was to do a master's degree in composition at U of T. This was seemingly impossible, since I did not have a BMus degree, and U of T was famous for telling prospective applicants to go away and perish if there was anything irregular about their background.

After an interview that was perhaps the most humiliating experience of my life, U of T very grudgingly allowed me to take a year of 4th-year courses with no degree standing. The understanding was that if I did well enough, my 4th-year music results, plus my ARCT in composition and my BA degree, might make me admissible to their master's degree.

I apparently did well enough in my one year as a 4th-year Faculty of Music student – some of the courses, such as renaissance counterpoint, were easier than the level of exams I had taken at the RCM, but that was fine by me – because I was admitted into their master's programme in composition the next year. I finished it within 9 months.

I had, at that point, completed 9 years of music studies, which of course only began after I had already graduated from university.

Plan D, part 3, was about as lofty as my dreams got at that point in my life. I never gave much thought to what I would do if and when I ever got a master's degree in composition. I thought perhaps I could become a private music teacher, and make a living that way, while continuing to compose music, and hopefully win a prize or two some day.

But then the Faculty of Music's graduate secretary called me one day and asked if I was planning to apply to the doctoral programme, and I thought, okay, why not? And so I did, and that – getting a doctorate in music composition – became Plan D, part 4.

Plan D – all 4 parts – took 15 years to complete from my first rudiments class to the completion of my doctorate degree. During this time, I worked as a sales clerk at The Bay, a department store in Toronto, most of the time. I also sold stereo equipment briefly. And, around the time I turned 30, I was hired by the RCM to teach composition, theory and history, so, while I wasn't making much money, I was able to get by. I also got married, and we had a lovely daughter along the way, who became the greatest and most meaningful joy of my life.

The trouble with Plan D, aside from the length of time it took to complete it, was that it was almost impossible to make a living as a composer of contemporary classical music in Canada, no matter how skilled you might become. People who make a living from composition usually work in other fields, such as television, cinema, advertising, and video games, not in contemporary classical music. The only exception I was aware of at the time was R. Murray Schafer.

While there are many 'art-music' composers in Canada, almost all of them do not make their living from their compositions. Most do other work, such as teaching, among many other options, or they are supported by a partner or their family.

When I realized this, I decided to pursue a new plan – Plan E – which was to become a composition and theory professor. I did not appreciate what an absurdly-improbable aspiration this was at the time; there may have been only about 6-7 full-time, tenure-track university jobs in composition that became available over the past 26 years in Canada.

And somehow, through a lot of work, perseverance, many ups and downs, and an inordinate quantity of luck, Plan E worked out, for which I thank my lucky stars every day. The collateral damage was that my wife and I separated, and then divorced along the way, and I only got to see my daughter for a few weeks every year, although we spoke on the phone for many hours every week. All of this was extremely painful, as you might expect.

Eventually (about 7 years after I started working as a professor in Newfoundland), fortune smiled upon me again, because I became friends with, and eventually married, another professor, and we have been blessed to have two more children, plus many cats, and a hound. My daughter and I have remained close through her entire life (she is almost 28), but I never stopped missing her.

So, it took a ridiculous amount of time and many revisions of plans, but it all worked out in the end, at least so far.



I would guess that variations of this story – many plans, over many years, with many ups and downs along the way – are pretty common for many people in different walks of life.



Here's a chart that I had fun with (when I wasn't getting frustrated over the challenges of formatting it in HTML); the statements on the "pro" side (left column) are arguments in favour of pursuing one's dream, with counter-arguments represented on the right column. To be clear, neither side necessarily represents views that I hold; this is just a thought experiment, looking at the pros and cons of following one's dreams.

Which statements do you agree with?

Some Pros and Cons of Dreaming Big Dreams
• Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

• Nothing great was ever achieved without first dreaming of it (me, paraphrasing Emerson)


• Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true (Emerson)
• The greater our enthusiasm, the greater the pain we feel when something does not work out

• The greater the dream, the less likely it is to come true. Dream of small  achievements, like finding a good parking spot, and you won't be too disappointed when they don't work out.

• You are unlikely to make your dreams come true unless you dream of small things, like finding a good parking spot, or beating the boss level in a video game.
• When you have a dream, and follow that dream, you will gain from the experience, no matter the outcome (me)

• Pain, disappointment, and frustration are all experiences from which we can learn (me)


• That which does not kill us makes us stronger (Neitzsche)





• Yeah, you'll gain pain, that's the only guaranteed outcome of following a dream!

• Sure, you can learn from these things; it doesn't mean you have to go looking for them, however. Why not choose a safer path that is more likely to produce a positive result?

• Neitzsche alienated many during his life, and became become "effectively unemployable… Subsequent feelings of revenge and resentment embittered him," (Wikipedia: Nietzsche) and he eventually went mad. This would seem to call into question his statement in the left column.
• All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them (Disney)• This is self-evidently ridiculous, but in case you feel otherwise, here is why: Even if your dreams have no imagination whatsoever, like aspiring to find a good parking spot when you go shopping, there will be times when your dreams do not come true. You may have to park a long way from your favourite mall entrance during the Christmas rush. The store may be sold out of the item you really want. Your favourite restaurant may take your favourite dish off the menu. And if your dreams are loftier than this, there is a greater probability that at least some (and probably most) will not come true.
• Did Disney even say this, or is this something that the Disney Corporation wants you to believe while visiting their theme parks, presumably so that you will spend lots of money making sure your kids' dreams are not dashed?
We are all resilient, to varying degrees. Yes, following a dream can lead to profound disappointment, and even leave us feeling crushed; however, we have it in us to bounce back and try again, possibly a little wiser from experiencing the setback

• Not only are we resilient, we are adaptable; if, after working at it for some time, we conclude that our dream is unattainable, we can re-think our dream and come up with another one. Frequently "dream B" (or dream "C," "D," "E," etc.) succeeds in a way that exceeds our wildest hopes for "dream A" 
• Some people are more resilient than others. We all have a pain limit… If chasing a dream fails repeatedly, and the pain of it all becomes too much to bear, perhaps we should stop chasing that dream

• Well, if you conclude that "dream A" will not work out, or if you conclude that to continue pursuing it is resulting in more pain and frustration than you can bear, do you really want to open yourself up to more of the same by chasing "dream B," "C," and "D?"
• There is no path in life that is devoid of pain, frustration, and disappointment. Yes, following your dream can (and likely will) lead to negative experiences, but to think you can avoid them completely by following another path is foolish. So, if these are a given in life, why not experience them pursuing your dream, instead of following a "safer" path that you don't really want to be on?• Some paths have a significantly-lower probability of success than others. If my dream is to become a huge Broadway star — the next Idina Menzel — and I find myself reduced to doing poorly-paying sporadic dinner-theatre shows to bored audiences in suburbia twenty years from now, I don't think I would be very happy. There is a time to admit when your plans are not likely to lead to a positive outcome, and come up with more realistic plans
The decision of when to follow your dream, versus when to modify your expectations and pursue something else, comes down to "risk tolerance;" how much are you willing to risk, and for how long, in order to achieve your dream? It's a dilemma with which most people wrestle, and there's no, "one size fits all" solution for everyone.

I've known people who kept chasing their dreams until they turned 35 or even 40, at which point they experienced a mid-life crisis because they were poor, and didn't have a back-up plan; how do you train for a different profession AND subsequently get hired when you're 40? (Ans.: It's possible; I've known people who did this, but it's not easy). 

How do you start a family if you are poor throughout your twenties and thirties? (Ans.: This too is possible – I know people who did this – but, once again, it is not easy, because raising children well can be a fairly-expensive proposition (clothes, baby paraphernalia (car seats, strollers, toys), food, an instrument if they want to do music, music or dance lessons, band trips, etc.)). 

My concluding thought is that, while I think it 
 something with which most people struggle, and it is a decision we must all work out for ourselves. 
• I actually agree with many of the points on either side of the above, "pros and cons" chart. I think it's good to have a dream, and to overcome any fears that may be preventing you from pursuing your dream. 

• I also think it's wise to check-in with reality periodically (acknowledging that different people have different realities), and to consider other options if option A is not working.

    • I have met successful business people who told me that they too had dreamt of becoming musicians, but they ultimately decided to go to business school when it became apparent that their dream was not likely to pan out. The people I met didn't seem to regret their decision at all, presumably because they found tremendous success in another area of life, and I think this is fairly common. 

       But part of my motivation in holding onto my dream of becoming a composer was the worry that, if I didn't go after my dream, I would regret it later in life. I don't know if I actually would have regretted it or not, of course — in retrospect, I think I might have been content in other pursuits as well — but I didn't want to become a bitter old man, regretting things he didn't do in life, so I stuck with my goal, despite frequent doubts as to the wisdom/practicality of this goal, and some significant, soul-crushing setbacks along the way. Luckily, things worked out, at least so far…