Tuesday, June 26, 2012

on being prolific

Just read this interesting article in the Chicago Tribune. The subject of prolificacy haunts me a little - I strive to be prolific, yet feel sometimes that 'real' artists take their time. I guess they are just expected to do so, to dip into culture with something profound, then dip out again, as the writer says.

The article discusses Steven Soderbergh, whom I like but frankly have not seen any of his films in the past nearly 10 years (last I saw was his Solaris remake). But I do admire his pace, and his attitude that the article highlights. Many of these films are experimental, are often quite different from each other, and aren't consistently successful - and he is okay with this.

I generally compose 5-6 pieces a year. 2 per semester, or thereabouts. Sometimes more. In some ways I worry that I'm not spending enough time, making them 'profound' enough. But at the same time I have come to realize that I like pieces that have simple, well-developed concepts. I like pieces on the shorter side, in general. But there is a hidden pressure, from teachers, from 'the field,' that each piece have such nebulous qualities as 'weight' and 'scope.'

To which I have jokingly asked to my composer friends: "why does every piece have to be every piece?"

By that I don't mean "why do they all have to sound the same?" What I mean is, why are the first suggestions from teachers or colleagues in seminar or masterclass settings always concerning what one could/should add to the piece? Why not subtract?

Why should you add key clicks to your flute solo? So people know it's contemporary?

Why should you arrange this for concert band? Is brass quintet really not enough volume?

Why should you add more movements? Sure, the piece is 'only' four minutes long, but will it have that much better chance of being programmed if it has 3 more 4-minute movements tacked onto the end?

So all I'm saying is that what I am trying to do is make a bunch of little pieces with clear ideas of their own, that can go out and represent what I was interested in at a certain point of time. I'm not interested in (or perhaps even capable of) creating grandiose emotional 'life-changing' expressions.

Why does every piece have to be like Mahler (who really did want every piece to be every piece)? I'd really rather be like Webern - each piece is a little crystal, and you don't really understand them until you've collected a few in your memory.

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