Almost All Is Vanity

[TWO UPDATES BELOW] I don’t submit many scholarly articles to journals anymore. I figured out I can put my research in some journal and only three people will ever read it, or I can post it here on my blog and hundreds will read it, and comment, and link to it.

I’m certainly not going to hand the scores of my music over to some publisher so he can take half the royalties and tie up the copyrights. My music gets around much faster as PDF scores on my website, and with no appreciable loss of potential income on my end.

Likewise, I’ve been debating the wisdom of putting out any more CDs. They sometimes cost a mint to produce, distribution channels are terrible, reviews are almost unheard of, and income from sales? That’s a laugh. I can’t convince myself that any more people will hear my music from “commercial” CDs than from mp3s on my web site, and not making CDs would save me money.

Writing books is a lot of work, and I’m not sure what it does for me. My Cage book got me a couple of nice radio interviews that I had to drive many miles to record. I counted it up, and what I’ve made in book sales in 20 years is dwarfed even by the rare music commissions I’ve had. If I wrote difficult-to-read books with titles like Hexachordal Invariance in the Late Music of Roger Sessions, academia would consider me one of the Serious Guys, and I could write my own ticket at some university – but I’m not going to do that. Analysis of 4’33”?  Robert Ashley? Player pianos? Give me a break. Musicologists are nice to me and quote me, but no music department is going to ultimately import someone with my undistinguished areas of expertise. I’m considering not writing any more books, because I just can’t see the point.

I don’t write newspaper reviews or program notes or liner notes anymore. That was a tremendous distraction from my natural interests, and it never paid enough to justify it except when I was near-destitute.

I work like a dog trying to write a few pieces of music a year in-between all my other commitments. But my music doesn’t “take off,” whatever little successes I have hardly ever bring new commissions, the new-music groups out there never seem to consider playing anything of mine, and my kind of music is certainly never going to win any of the kinds of awards that would impress musical academia. I’ve been toying with the idea of not writing any more music.

Meanwhile, what do people say when I am introduced to them? “Oh yes, I’ve read your blog.”

Given that I have a day-job salary: why do I do anything but blog?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATE: I had a feeling I might have to contextualize this intendedly humorous musing on futility. Here’s the situation: We have three markets. There’s a commercial market, entirely determined by huge corporations whose sole interest is money. We’re never going to make a dent in that one. There’s an orchestra-music circuit that you have to enter young, and it’s all about who you know, and the music sucks. And there’s an academic market, which demands a healthy respect for the Schoenberg line and a suspicion against anything populist. I and my 400 closest friends don’t fit any of these markets. Back in the 1980s, there was both a Downtown scene and a rising new-music market that looked for years like it really might take off. The scene has been dispersed, the new-music fad has been rolled back. When I was 28 all this was a fight worth taking on. But we haven’t won the fight – things have actually gotten worse. And in a weak moment Doug McLennan convinced me to write this stupid blog, and somehow it has more impact than anything else I do. People meet me, and I’m not the composer, I’m not even the author, I’m the blogger.

I have a nice screened-in porch, with the Catskills visible through the trees. At the liquor store down the road, my friend Jim has a standing order for my 18-year-old Bowmore single-malt scotch, and I have a humidor full of Padrone maduro cigars, smooth and chocolatey tasting. I’m 54 and I’m through fighting the system every day and watching things go south. And I’m very seriously wondering if there’s any reason I should do anything after a day of teaching secondary dominant chords besides come home, sit on this porch, smoke those Padrons and drink that Bowmore? ‘Cause if all this work is never going to lead to anything, I’m ready to decide the answer is no.

UPDATE 2: Forgive me for insisting that some of the moroseness being read into this post is in the reader’s own mind. I am not the slightest bit depressed; I am dissatisfied. I want more money. I want to travel. I want some free time. I want to enjoy myself. And after some years’ achievement in composing and publishing, I find that these activities, even when crowned with all available success, are not bringing me any closer to those goals. Quite the contrary. These extracurricular activities take up virtually all of my free time, and much of my disposable income. I have reached a point in my life at which I have to consider whether continuing to work like a dog for the next 20 years is going to result in any actual personal satisfaction, and if the trajectory suggests that it will not, I will jettison what responsibilities I can not in the spirit of sour grapes, but with a clear conscience and a relief at no longer delaying the gratifications I’ve put off for so long. Music can be the greatest thing in the world and still not be worth martyring oneself for.


  1. says

    Well let’s not get too gloomy about things else you will be out buying an expensive sports car and chasing younger women. Or you could turn to the dark side like Andre Rieu.
    We simply have the misfortune to live in an age where the value of art in the popular mind is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it – and that isn’t the whole story.
    What about Bach – money wasn’t his motivation. Or Ives. When you create art you are contributing to the culture, even if that culture does not see fit to reward that effort with something of commercial value.

  2. says

    First, I am STILL learning from your thirteen essays for the American Mavericks project of Minnesota Public radio. I have all of that project printed out, your essays, Phil Blackburn’s interviews, etc, all in a book, 8-1/2″ x 11″, 550 pages. I built it into one file, so it can be searched.
    Second, Marvin Rosen on WPRB, Princeton, plays your music on Classical Discoveries. Also, Nadia Sirota on Q2 from WQXR plays your music. Neither is frequent; but you are present and accounted for.

  3. says

    Great post. Your comments about publishing hit on a major peeve of mine. Any idea how this bizarre publishing system evolved?
    A month ago, I submitted a perusal request for a new trumpet concerto from a major publisher. Just looking at the score to decide if I want to rent it costs $35+shipping. Weeks go by, and I finally get a CD from their NY office. The score is shipping separately from London.
    I have the pleasure of paying for all of that. The bill will be about $50, and there’s absolutely no indication of when the score will even get here.
    That’s total nonsense, especially since it takes about 5 minutes with a score to decide if it’s worth performing!
    What composer wants his music to be so hard to access? Why should a musician have to pay $50 just to look at a score in the age of the pdf? What good is a publisher doing a composer by cloistering his scores away from the public?

  4. jkl says

    salinger was a big fan of writing, but he didn’t need an audience to do it [as was made clear by the fact he didn’t publish anything substantial after catcher in the rye]. do what makes you happy – if writing a book and doing all that research are things that you enjoy on some level, then do them without worrying about publication. people continue to whine about credibility, but from what i’ve read, it will take you exponentially more effort than it’s worth to get there.
    i think many musicians are struggling with what it means to release music in an atmosphere where people are accustomed to getting it for free. there are good arguments on either side. you should look into self-publishing and starting your own label if putting out albums means something to you. with a day job, it’s not easy to focus on distribution and promotion though. many paths have been tread with potential, but none are worn enough for me to encourage.
    modern venues for exposure and sales are so complex now. i don’t know what “success” looks like in a monetary or promotional sense – i just know i’m content with the end result. i’ve seen friends put out albums that had a plethora of very good reviews without selling more than a few hundred copies. so… i guess what i’m getting at is exactly what you posted – it’s about making yourself happy and fulfilled. if you only want to focus on writing and performing music, then stick with that. i’m a happy reader either way.

  5. says

    Some of us readers consider your career to be rather illustrious and aspire for something similar. I’ve long dreaded the idea of non-self publishing but feel obligated to make futile attempts due to the tenure process. Same with CDs. I’d much rather give everything away on my own netlabel than have to deal with those waning few who make money off the stuff.
    On your topic, though, my assumption is that you enjoy what you do. It certainly comes across in your output. I would hate to think that you threw everything out the door due to perceived matters of prestige. Do you really have no more music to write? Are journals the only reason to do research and get lost in a topic?
    KG replies: Well thanks very much for putting it that way; not the first time I’ve been gratified by your support. I have to think about the answers to your questions. I do enjoy what I do, and I’ve always done the onerous work along with the fun, because I thought there was a battle to be won. I thought that with enough work, what Malcolm Gladwell calls a tipping point was going to arrive, at which time everything would be no longer uphill. I’ve made a small dent in academia, but I’ve come to realize that the essential nature of academia can’t be changed. The trustees who invest money in a university want from it a certain elitist, high-sounding prestige, and that need filters down into a school from the top, and so of course explicating Roger Sessions is always going to get you more credit there than explicating Elodie Lauten, precisely because the trustees don’t understand Sessions, so it’s like science, and that’s not going to change. Plus, we’re increasingly in a corporate dictatorship situation that puts harsh limits on upward mobility or any kind of success outside the existing structures. And so while I do enjoy what I do, there’s an element of relentless hard work to it that I sort of ache to be released from.
    One’s fifties are an odd transitional decade that no one talks about – no longer the fiery warrior, and not yet the wise counselor on the back bench. But I gather from a little reading that I’m about at the age at which you realize that your life is what it is, and God’s not going to suddenly swoop in and unmask you as some kind of hero. That tipping point isn’t going to come. I do have some music I’d like to write, but I usually have to fight away other commitments to find time to do it, and I’d be more relaxed if I just took care of those commitments. Some things I want to do are like things I’ve done before, but I think, well, almost nobody paid much attention last time I did it (you excluded), so why should I do it again? And the music I want to analyze, sometimes even the composers themselves don’t show much interest, or don’t cooperate because they think I’m doing something academic and therefore trivial, or they want to control how I write about them, so while I can study the music for my own pleasure, there’s not much pressure to make my understanding public – or at least, the blog seems sufficient for that.
    Maybe all I need is to reach a point at I can wake up in the morning and write a microtonal piece, or analyze a Branca score, because it tickles my fancy, and not because I think I’m going to accomplish something or change anyone’s mind about anything. I find myself doing Sudoku puzzles – and, more surprising, not criticizing myself for wasting the time.

  6. says

    I also sit on the porch and watch the musical world I thought I was entering (full of hope) thirty years ago, crumble before my very eyes. But I also see parts of the musical world that I had never seen before. I see young people who need to be involved in music in order to find meaning in the chaotic stimulation of what has become a media-driven market, where the value of anything and everything is measured in terms of money. Young people also need to do something with their hands besides push buttons in this automated world where it is possible to have almost every sensory experiences delivered electronically or synthesized. Talk to anyone around the age of 20, and you will know what I mean.
    Even, and especially outside of the “active” musical world, there are children and adults who really want to play instruments. A beautiful voice is still a thing to be cherished (and envied). Children become happy when they get a chance to sing, and they need music to sing. Children who play (and adults who play) need new music to play. They really do. People who listen to music and play need guidance in order to understand their current musical world and the world of the music from previous generations.
    The good thing is that it really doesn’t matter what form this guidance comes in. Keeping a blog is just as good a way of guiding people as writing a book. We have come to accept the failed notion that the things we do are worthwhile only if someone is willing to take a commercial chance on them. In the case of a book or a piece of music, a publisher’s investment is very small, and a writer’s investment is huge. If it is successful the publisher makes out well, and the writer gets a pittance. If it is not successful, the publisher, who owns the copyright, can keep the book or piece of music out of circulation, and the writer is left with nothing. It is a much wiser choice to write for love rather than for money.
    All is not vanity: music and writing about music is about sharing, because after we are gone all that is left of us is what we leave for other people.
    KG replies: As Spencer Tracy once said in a movie, it sounds better when you say it.

  7. says

    For a composer who is (nearly) 28, your post is at once unsettling and motivating! You’ve summed up here a largely complete list of all the professional and economic worries I expect to encounter as I enter these “markets.” On the one hand, it’s a bleak and terrifying time to be a composer. Artistically, everything is possible, so often nothing is possible. And economically, the profession of composing requires ever more skills, effort, and luck, met with shrinking returns.
    On the other hand, the potential of reaching an aesthetically and geographically diverse audience opens up huge new possibilities for us composers and our product. I’m still on the fence about how much of my “product” to give away freely, but I’m very encouraged by the potential of easy, broad distribution. It’s this aspect that I think makes your blog so central to your output – whether or not you intended it as such. If you’ll forgive my saying so, I don’t much care for most compositions with non-standard tuning or ratio-based rhythms I can’t sightread, yet I enjoy the challenging opinions, diverse topics, and consistency I find in your posts. Through this blog, you keep yourself and your music and thoughts on other people’s minds and conversations in a way that “traditional” publication channels can’t rival. Eh, for what that’s worth anyway.
    As a brief tangent, this article on “cognitive surplus” discusses the variety of non-financial motivations that shape how people invest their time. Perhaps it’s applicable to both creators and consumers of new music as a viable alternative to the various “dead” markets you’ve listed above.
    KG replies: I think that what keeps things going ’round is that the 28-year-olds are full of motivation and energy, and the 54-year-olds are ready to throw in the towels and enjoy themselves. So we’re both doing our parts. I’ll take a look at your link, thanks.

  8. Bob Gilmore says

    These are really serious and urgent questions and they’ve gone through my mind also. Thanks, Kyle, for expressing them so well.
    Much of this came home to me, big time, a couple of years ago when I contributed an article to the Contemporary Music Review special issue on James Tenney (vol.27 no.1, 2008). This was an extremely good issue, with not a single duff article in it, but almost NONE of my friends – even good composers, seriously interested in Tenney – were aware of its existence, unless they were in academia (and not even then, necessarily). I seriously began to doubt the real relevance, even to the tiny new music community, of this sort of publishing. Maybe there’s a very slow drip-feed going on, so that after about, say, five years, people might have begun to see this thing. But that feels a bit too slow in the light of the way we live now.
    I’ve no idea how to resolve these issues. Should we, basically, just give up this kind of scholarly work? Or just piss occasionally into the wind, and see where our “drops” have ended up when we’re old and grey (which is essentially what I do)?
    I also wonder: did we have these anxieties twenty years ago, c.1990? Is it the internet that has created them? Are things therefore still essentially the same, not really worse, just that our expectations are now higher?
    KG replies: That’s an even more pessimistic view of one aspect of it. Contemporary Music Review doesn’t seem to be on JSTOR, which is a real crime. I see that permanent online subscription is $935! Certainly academia’s publish-or-perish system has created a glut that make the few truly significant articles difficult to find. But CMR certainly ought to be on JSTOR, and should even make individual articles available for a nominal fee. It’s a shame. I’d love to look at the Tenney issue.

  9. Steven Baker says

    I’ve said it before, your posts have a tendency to strike terror in the heart of this 21 year old hopefully soon-to-be musicologist. But then again, your blog also helped spark my interests in musicology and new (and American) music, so the terror has balance at least.
    Maybe your fifties are not a time where you are the sage to all people, but you are also not at such an age that you have become entirely out of touch with what is happening on the ground in your field. Being able to give advice, or impart information of an educational variety is even more useful when you can combine experience, wisdom, and an awareness of current surroundings. So I would not look at your place as entirely futile, your experience may in fact be more relevant to more people that at any other time yet.

  10. says

    this post was particularly thought-provoking for me because i, too, have had similar feelings.
    i would like to illustrate one way in which your work and existence can have obscure consequences. i have an odd friend with whom i make music now and then, an august akimel o’odham man named buddy hayes. he has been listening to your music for years now (he loves your custer/sitting bull piece) and has grown quite obsessed with everything robert ashley (he can recite all of his complete operas). buddy speaks fondly of you, and also makes fun of you and robert, but in an endearing way. to contextualize things, i should mention that buddy is a deeply spiritual messianic zionist who has fashioned his own mythology and sacramental religion. he holds regular ceremonies on the reservation and often our music-making sessions become “services” in their own way. absurdly enough, he has begun referring to you, kyle, in his services as a deity named yatayawahey. in the very late hours last night, we made this recording(an excerpt):
    in this intensely religious context, buddy is invoking the spirit yatayawahey (he is definitely not sober, by the way), and YOU, apparently, are its real-world counterpart.
    were you aware that your music and influence are having such bizarre and distant effects on complete strangers in this world?
    this is, indeed, a disturbing universe.
    KG replies: That is… really… really… heavy. …………………

  11. Paul Beaudoin says

    Peggy Lee sings “Is that All There Is” on my iPod while I read this post. Is that coincidence?
    Being at about the same age, I hear what you are saying – quite clearly!
    KG replies: I do strongly suspect I’m going through some kind of mid-50s rite of passage. For years I’ve been considering a blog entry just wondering what one’s 50s are supposed to be about.

  12. says

    As always, Kyle, you are putting things out there that need to be said.
    You once told me that you would rather wander around a foreign city and happen upon things unexpectedly than get a map and head straight for the well-worn tourist destinations. I believe the career goals you imagined as a young man are like those well-worn tourist destinations. You are better off just writing and composing for the fun of discovery, and historical monuments be damned.

  13. Samuel Vriezen says

    Kyle: I was going to comment yesterday but decided to wait a bit because I didn’t trust this entry completely, it seemed as if you wrote it to test your readers… only half a year ago you had a blog about “Why blog?” and now it’s “Why write books and compose?” Hard to believe! I know for a fact that you enjoy composing too much, and it has brought you some good pieces, a chance to explore some odd ideas, a reasonable handful of fans, some devoted performers – if that’s not a music life, then there is no music life.
    Even more interesting I find the book situation. It seems to me that a blog is a great thing, but a blog with a couple of books behind it is even more wonderful, even if I haven’t read those books themselves. The books prove that the author has invested something – I would say it’s a bodily investment – into his or her knowledge. People who do that are people worth paying attention to. Sometimes, I even get to read some of those books!
    Of course, in your case I had already read your Nancarrow book way before I knew about the internet… so when I first came across your blog I thought, hey, the guy who wrote that Nancarrow book is blogging?
    Bob: it’s worth taking a look at how the American small-press poetry world is organized, how they organize their interactions between blogs, e-zines, paper magazine, independent publishers, academia, reading series, etc. I think the music world is simply quite bad in comparison at establishing communities. Why? Perhaps it’s because we have centuries of taking the institutions all for granted behind us? Perhaps because with music, the fact that you (think you) do it “for an audience” makes our mindsets already enmeshed in a (capitalist/individualist) logic of commerce rather than an activist one of community?
    KG replies: No, I know what you mean, but it’s not a test – more an admission that under the new dispensation, the things that used to have an impact, like books and music, no longer do, and the blog does. Also, I used to assume that a large quantity of scholarly publishing would eventually lead to some acceptance in academic circles, but it turns out that’s only true if you reinforce the narrative they’re already invested in.
    And I take your point about community.

  14. Patrick says

    Don’t lose hope yet, just move to Canada. The dent is being made north of your borders. I received a large grant from the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council (which means it was read by dozens of humanities professors at various Canadian universities) based on a proposal I wrote to do research on the electric guitar in classical music. Branca, Gordon and Chatham, Brady, and Dolden were the main names mentioned and I even took a jab at composers like Daugherty and Kernis. I also got into the MA in Musicology at the University of Toronto based on a similar idea.
    So while you may not personally be able to reap the rewards of your work, please don’t give up yet. You seem to be making things more interesting for my generation.
    KG replies: Hey, I’ve thrown my heart into Canadian job applications, but they don’t like to hire us down-under types. But your last sentence is the most gratifying thing anyone could have said.

  15. D Fishkin says

    fyi, listening to “you make me feel so young” as i read this post.
    the way I see it Kyle, you’ve already written your masterpiece, (custer and sitting bull) so you might as well enjoy your time! and if enjoying means writing and hustling microtonal, or smoking doobies on your porch, or blogging ’til your fingers bleed——get to it.

  16. Paul H. Muller says

    I had a similar moment when I was about 50. My career in pressure sensors had reached a comfortable enough level, but my trajectory was clearly flattening and I felt I was no longer likely to revolutionize the world of pressure measurement… so I started writing music. What you are experiencing is entirely normal.
    Maybe like the early minimalists it is time to question basic assumptions and start over from scratch. Why write music? And for whom? As Samuel Vriezen points out, music is about community. If the old institutions are passing into history, then go back to basics – find a community and write music for them. If you are of a religious persuasion, write music for a local church. Or find a community on-line. The great thing about the Internet is that if 40 or 50 people anywhere in the entire world share a common interest – however obscure – they can form a community. The impressionist painting community in Paris of the 1870s, 52nd street in New York in the 50s or the downtown new music scene in the 70s – it’s all waiting to happen again on-line.
    The Internet is having the same effect today as the printing press had on the middle ages. After Gutenberg information and ideas were no longer under the control of big ideological institutions. In rapid succession there was the Reformation, the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. Your blog and music are already successful – who knows what will happen next? The future is changing and you have a front-row seat without even leaving your porch.

  17. says

    That was intended to be humorous? I’m glad you clarified that. On first reading I found it kinda sad.
    The reason you write may be that you are damn good at it, no? You have a gift and an amazing facility to clearly describe and contextualize music and performance that few other “critics” display. And you were always an advocate for those of us who were standing in opposition to academic/classical authority. We musicians who were trying to build new communities of listeners and practitioners valued your counsel.
    There was a time when we relied on your insight and guidence to reassure us that we were going in the right direction, that we were encouraging the best emerging composers, that Relache was making a contribution of some significance to the story of music in the 20th century. I, for one, am still listening.
    We worked our collective asses off to create a “market” and a sustainable audience. Yeah, we failed! So what? We had a damn good time. And now it’s time for younger people (like you and I were then) to do what makes sense to them. Who can blame them if it’s not bassoons and violas?

  18. says

    My dear Kyle, I can confirm that you really HAVE made things so much more interesting for us younger folk (even if only a little younger!) in so many ways. You were a total inspiration to me when we first met over 20 years ago, and have continued as such – you helped me see a musical path outside of academia, full of all sorts of fascinating music and amazing people, and without that I’m quite sure I would not still be a composer today. When I first heard your music performed live at the 1990 Bang On A Can Marathon, my first thought was “ooh! I hope some day I can write music like THAT!” So basically? Don’t stop composing! I know how difficult it is when tangible results are few and far between, but rest assured you have had a much broader impact than you know.
    That said, this sounds like burnout to me – maybe a summer OFF is in order!!
    KG replies: Thanks very much, Alex. A summer off *is* in order. I should have made it this summer, obviously, but it’ll have to be next year.

  19. says

    the book … topic with many themes, many in my own life, having produced 10 with my name on it, another 10 as typographer … bought & sold 1000’s at a day-job … … for now, i’ll just comment that 3 of mine are “previewable” by searching my name at … + i tried yours just now and found your new book’s index is online, with numerous links, the preface, oh i don’t know how limited is “limited preview” …. nor would i want to read it in any format than inksmeared deadtree reading device … but, i’m just saying … and waiting for kyle gann week at q2 … peace

  20. John Kennedy says

    Kyle, have you been hanging out with Peter Garland? Cage’s first work, never really finished, was a setting of “Vanity of Vanities”. I wonder if all these (common and justified) feelings would be less prevalent without the internet…just you, your studio, your porch and the wide world living onward into time.
    KG replies: That’s an interesting thought, John. I’ll tell you one professional hazard, on account of having been a critic, that I have to guard against, and maybe you too. I get 25 press releases a day of other people’s concerts – used to be in the mail, now it’s e-mail. All those composers, unless they’re good friends, tend to blend into one composer who’s just not me, and I see all those and I reflexively think, “Jesus, that guy’s getting a million performances.” I have to remind myself that it’s really half a million composers getting two performances each. It might be kind of a comfort not to be reminded what’s going on.

  21. says

    On the other hand, if you’re now known as a blogger more than a composer/musicologist/critic, that means that you’re closer to being in tune with the present more than most.

    Nobody really cares about what composers are doing nowadays, but bloggers? Yes, there’s a chance that someone might care. I think it’s just how you look at it.

    KG replies: That’s kind of how I was looking at it. But everyone seems to think my last question was ironic.

  22. Paul Beaudoin says

    You wrote:
    “Music can be the greatest thing in the world and still not be worth martyring oneself for.”
    There are so many wonderful things out there in the world and to deny yourself any pleasure from them doesn’t do much to enrich your human spirit.
    IMHO – Better I wish I hadn’t, than I wish I had.
    For whatever it’s worth – I think you already know the answer to your question here.

  23. says

    Your music and words definitely continue to inspire me and many Aussies for what it’s worth.
    A little reminder from the Taruskin essay you so admired:
    “John Cage once observed that he was fortunate in that his work was also his entertainment. That was his explanation for his lifelong
    commitment to the practice of a particularly abstruse brand of art-making that afforded little or no pecuniary return: he took
    pleasure in it, or (to quote my desk dictionary) found in it “an agreeable occupation for the mind.” That pleasure, the agreeable mental pursuit that (if one is persistent and lucky) can repay the
    pursuer with a great intensity of delight, was certainly my own conduit into what has become my vocation. Wasn’t it Johnson’s?
    Isn’t it everybody’s? Can there be any other motivation for engagement with art? Before romanticism raised the stakes, the
    purpose of art was always described as that of “pleasing. ” All pretenses notwithstanding, other purposes, and especially Johnson’s, remain secondary.
    KG replies; Well said. I don’t much enjoy correcting proofs, fleshing out bibliographical citations, or shortening for space constraints. So perhaps blogging gives me everything I love about writing with none of the drudgery.
    As for composing, when it’s going well it’s heavenly. When it’s not, what could be worse?

  24. says

    It’s funny, but here (and in your follow up article) I’m finding a reflection of my own professional life as I near the tenth anniversary of MY terminal degree. A month ago, Alex Gardner was herself asking these questions on her blog, which in turn led me to ponder this over on Sequenza 21. Yes, things may have gotten worse, but us youngin’s stand on the shoulders of giants, all of whom are an inspiration to us and the work we do. This is what I said a month ago:
    “One other reason that I compose (and created and conduct an ensemble) is that I think it is important, culturally, aesthetically and politically. It is said that the health of a nation’s soul is measured in its art. In our nation it is very easy to be discouraged by the lack of importance given to the arts, particularly new art music. In a time when making a living solely as a composer, let alone reaching a wide audience, is a near impossibility for most of us it is a patriotic act to be a composer PRECISELY because we are apparently so unimportant to the culture at large. What we do IS important. What we do has GREAT VALUE. For what we do is make music that ideally goes BEYOND the three minute pop song; music that acknowledges the intelligence of its audience, rather than take it for granted; music that challenges our ever decreasing attention spans and asks its audience to be transported beyond mundane reality to comment upon it or perhaps even at times transcend it.”
    The downtown musicians you write and fawn about, musicians I’ve been largely introduced to through your book on American music, most recently (I encountered a very few in grad school, but, really, I’ve gotten into Branca, Glass, Duckworth et al largely after reading your American Music book five years ago), along with heroes of mine I met earlier (the Bang on a Can collective and Louis Andriessen especially) are the giants on whom I and many other younger composers have built this important work. Maybe I still have a bit of youthful idealism left, but if we do not do this work no one will, and all we’ll have left to listen to is the music fed to us by the corporate dictatorship (the writer David Mitchell coined a great term for this: corpocracy) and academia. And that’s just no fun.
    KG replies: Well, I didn’t mean to fawn. :^) But thanks. Based on the little personal crisis I’m going through now, I’d advise you, for all the importance of what you’re doing, to pause to enjoy yourself frequently and make sure you get something out of your life too. I think I sacrificed myself too long for some supposed reward that would come later, and it finally sprung back and hit me.

  25. says

    Understood. Believe me, if music, for all of the importance I place on it, ever ceases to be fun, I will have to rethink my career choices. The pleasures a lot of the time have to be small, in this economy, but they’re there. Good company, my children’s laughter and good music making is all I need right now.
    Travelling WOULD be nice, though!