I occasionally get invited lately to visit music departments and lecture about my own music “and/or the current scene.” I appreciate that one of my functions in academia is that I will expose the students to crazy music that the resident faculty won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. But I’m always surprised that anyone ever supposes that, given the choice of talking about my own music or someone else’s, I would ever waste a sentence on someone else’s. For one thing, I know very little about the current scene: I can describe the Downtown scene of the 1980s and ’90s in great historical detail, but like most composers of a certain age, I’ve quit paying attention. I don’t mind being paid to lecture on one of my topics of musicological research, whether Nancarrow, Cage, totalism, whatever, but if you’re looking for enthusiasm rather than dutiful professionalism, ask me about my own music. If I thought Glenn Branca, David Lang, and Diamanda Galas were out there lecturing about my music, I might reciprocate by lecturing about theirs, but something tells me this isn’t going to happen. I agree that composers in college ought to be exposed to less mainstream forms of musical creativity, but it’s time for composition teachers who think so to start doing that on their own. Please, if you’re interested in bringing me to your department, don’t expect me to dilute the interest in my own music by talking about other people’s – unless you’re specifically bringing me in as a musicologist, and then I may require a higher fee because I have less incentive.
Relatedly, I am really not interested in writing liner notes anymore. When I was in my 30s, living hand to mouth and with loads of time on my hands, the occasional $400 I could make on a liner note fee (and that’s the most it ever was) was often a life saver. I turn 55 this month, I draw a steady if modest salary, and I spend every spare moment on my own music. I have trouble finding people to write my liner notes, and what I need are commissions, not petty-cash jobs. I won’t say it’s not flattering being still thought of as the young house music critic for the wild and crazy set, but I need for people to start thinking of me as just another self-obsessed old composer. Thanks.