I enjoyed reading this almost-year-old but always timely article by Aaron Gervais on newmusicbox about the joys and struggles of the composer’s ageing process. We’re not talking about the post-retirement ageing process and 4pm dinners at Denny’s that come with it, but rather the dreaded move from a composer’s twenties to a composer’s thirties and then to….Well, we were never told in school what happens after that!
Without a doubt, the field is obsessed with youth and with young and “emerging” composers. I have been at once pleased, amused, and bewildered to see ever-increasing national contests for composers in high school and even younger.
In response to Gervais’s article, I would also stress the importance of connections. I continue to be grateful for the excellent performances I receive by musicians I also count as friends. And as a composer now on the tenure track, I can vouch for the unceasing need to prove one’s worth with up-to-date accolades. (We know you got a Pulitzer last year, but what have you done lately?)
Yet despite the challenges, I can say that I feel more certain about my own music making today than at any point in the past. I have found a certain steely resolve that could only have come from experience: from ample doses of both the positive and the negative, or what George Rochberg’s widow, Gene Rochberg, told me was “taking your lumps.”
Many years ago, I was asked by a teacher: “When did you decide to become a composer?” In being too honest and specific and showing my own doubts when replying, it was clear from the teacher’s reaction that I had given the “wrong” answer. But the truth is that composing is not something I’d decided to do, or at least not at a specific age or on a specific date. It was something I had done for as long as I could remember. And so if there was a decision or if there is a decision, for me, it is the decision to continue from one day to the next and from one year to the next, and the quiet realization that I am doing the right thing, the only thing I can do. That is a realization that could only have come with the passing of time and with a certain amount of time away from a degree program and away from Those Who Would Grade Us. Like they say, with age comes…can’t remember…too old!
So here’s to composers in our 30s, in our mid-30s, and beyond! To the privilege of having fewer contests open to us, fewer application fees, and one less midnight trip to the post office!
To the right to write the right notes. Our notes. (Take note!) No matter what!