THE PROCESS, #5: When, and Why?

[This blog entry is the sixth and last of a series on my work here — the process of deciding, doing, and promoting my music compositions. To see all of my “Process” postings, click “Process” next to “Tagged” at left.]

For those of you following along at home, I’ve covered “who, what, where, and how” in the list of questions reporters are usually charged with asking. That leaves “when” and “why.” There probably isn’t enough content in them to justify two blog entries, so I’ll make one with both to finish out the thread.


That’s an easy one for me personally. As anyone who’s read anything on this website knows, this is an exercise in self-indulgence, a method of providing some retirement entertainment and purpose through a program at the University of Kentucky which supplies such experiences in an academic setting for free. (The main entrance to the UK College of Fine Arts is below.)

But I would be remiss if I didn’t address the underlying general “why” of musical expression. Why would anyone choose to do something that requires much effort, is this complicated, and for little payback? Music, in general, is quite honestly everywhere, and serving a myriad of purposes — marketing (yes, “You deserve a break today” is music — and you’re singing it right now!), illustration (think movie soundtrack), inspiration (huge amounts of the music I study is driven by religion), pleasure and comfort (besides Enya and such, elevator and restaurant music counts), and, of course, entertainment. That most certainly doesn’t exhaust the list — somewhere on it most certainly should be “learning and growing.” That’s a category of music, as you might infer, with a very small audience. But for me, music shouldn’t just satisfy, it should push our minds further, challenge our beliefs, help us grow. It is my intent that my work as a composer is in that category.

As my wife Dee knows, my culinary desires simply don’t stand still — I want my next meal to not be fear-inducing, but challenging enough to be a worthy new experience. (Dee’s abiding interest in culinary exploration has made us a perfect match!) That is exactly my relationship with music — I have to have a path in, but once there, my desire to be challenged takes over and I crave new experiences. Now that I’m a composer, that very definitely drives how I write (as I mentioned in “How?“). I’ve found that there is, deep inside me, some stuff I’m wanting to give voice to. I’m sure the full “why” picture is a jumble, only some of which is simply creating music — logic puzzle, craving for attention, the public persona I hope to create doing it, and social belonging.

Whatever it is, I have the incredible luxury of being able to give it all full rein.


Yeah, this one is even easier. My first composition, the string quartet, was written during the pandemic, when school had pretty much stopped. Besides that, it was my first attempt, and served as a “proof of concept.” Since then, the timing of my new work releases have pretty much matched the academic calendar — I strive to complete a composition I’ve started by the end of each semester. My choral work was finished by the end of the fall of 2021, the tone poem by the following spring, the children’s piece that summer, and the brass quintet this past fall. This spring I’m madly trying to complete my “dance suite,” but I’m worried that I won’t make the deadline. Not helping matters much is that the project seems to suffer from mission creep. Then there’s the whole “I’ve never written for that instrument before, let me learn it, and induce my technology to reproduce it” problem. (Don’t you just hate learning goals?)

The initial ideas and starts aren’t quite that predictable, but the hard work so far has been.

But looming in the not-to-distant future is the possibility that my academic ties will become more abstract — that is, my work as a student of composition will gradually be taken over by just plain composing. Then, motivation will be completely internally driven, and I will have either graduated to deadlines provided by external forces (contests, commissions, etc.), or ones that I just have to be disciplined enough to set for myself.

Yeah, I can’t wait…*sigh*

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