[This blog entry is the fourth of a series on my work here — the process of deciding, doing, and promoting my music compositions. To see all of the “Process” postings, click “Process” next to “Tagged” at left.]
The usual list of questions is “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.” Up to now, we’re just two questions into that list — “What“, and “How (it got two entries). “Who” also implies two things — who will play my stuff (performers), and who will listen to my stuff (audience). I’ll defer the performers discussion largely to “Where” (which will also include “When”). Here I’ll discuss audience.
In my young adulthood, my “creations” were 3-minute songs, and I had a lot of fun writing stuff that expressed events and feelings through words and music. (Someday I’ll add some of that to this website, but not today.) Finding an audience for such was pretty easy, comparatively — back then, “singer-songwriter” was a thing, and there were venues where you could be heard and appreciated (if you were any good!). But it had its drawbacks, things that pushed to the front as I went back to school and began this new journey. 1) Back then I wrote only things I could play, so my possibilities were limited by my own performance skills. 2) Beyond just my playing skills, the scope of things that fit into a 3-minute song embedded in that world was soooooo small. Lyrics were required. Verse/chorus/bridge was pretty much the extent of the musical ideas you pursued. And things like harmony and tonality? Weeeell…
But now, I have a whole new attitude. “I’m writing just for me — I’m the ‘who.'” With these new eyes, I looked at the state of music performance, and just did not see much that truly reflected where my ear was. Of course, that’s actually a challenge — “if you don’t see it, create it!” It’s arrogant, but one can argue that all new art (and a lot of other things) comes from that place.
If I hadn’t had a successful premiere (below is a picture of the audience responding to the Lexington Chamber Chorale’s performance of “20-20: A Choral Suite“), I’d probably have left it there. After all, my computer plays things back for me, after a fashion. It’s an audience of one, but it’s me — I’m good.
But here we are.
My sense of audience has gotten tempered a bit as I try to apply what I’ve learned to what I do as a composer. If I think of this process as being embedded in the University itself, that helps a lot, since there are people there who are well equipped to consume what I’m doing now, and I’ve gotten some encouragement there. But I must be careful. After all, universities are very much more about study than about creation, and if one listens too closely, one ends up being merely an extension of those studies, a footnote on an historical arc in which your own vision can be lost. From a purely musical perspective, I’m probably OK, since many of the musical trends of the last few decades (severely atonal work, nontraditional ways of making sound, to name two) have never been that interesting to me. But just being in a university setting doesn’t mean you’re home free. Balance is still hard to achieve.
So far I am reasonably confident that my work is, in fact, quite listenable for people whose expectations are close to mine, so that’s a start. And I’ve already had people I never expected to come up and say “Gee, I really like this!”, so I’m confident that a possible audience is wider than I had originally imagined.
But I’m a realist. If, in fact, no one will play my music, and no one will listen to it, I’ll survive to fight another day. As you can see from the “#2a, How (The Music)” blog entry, my day-to-day composition habits reflect the fact that I’m, by and large, still writing for me.
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