Final project for Music History: 1600-1800. A narrative of the development of opera from/through the Baroque and Classical Periods.
We have all expended a great deal of time and energy trying to uncover the meaning of life. Surely there is no more noble pursuit. However, I am of the opinion that there cannot possibly be one universal meaning.
The human race, even with their flaws, follies, and imperfections, has accomplished a truly remarkable feat in their time on Earth: the creation of language. And not just one - thousands. These languages, each with their own individual nuances and complexities, have allowed for us to assign words, archetypes, symbols, or emblems to the things which conjure specific emotions within us. We are able to make social agreements amongst each other so that with these words, a nomenclature for things involved with the human experience can be used by everyone. We all have the ability to communicate using agreed upon guidelines. This is nothing short of a miracle. Using language, we are able to describe to others events that happen to us. But at times, the mental and physical events that happen to us are simply incommunicable to others despite languages' best efforts of equipping us with hundreds of thousands of words which we have at our disposal. Actually, there are millions of words in the English language, but none of these words have any intrinsic meaning.
The fact is, you and I are the ones who assign meaning to things. We may all refer to something similarly, or even call it the same thing, but we don't experience it in the same way. Experience is personal; experiences are contingent upon perception, and perception is in the mind. Language and communication, however, is intrapersonal. Given that we all live separate lives manifested by different initial conditions, fostered by even more drastically differing life experiences, and governed by an entirely different set of meanings to things, to me, it seems exceedingly naive to believe that the meaning of life is universal.
I believe that the meaning of life will not be found externally to me or to you. The answers - whatever they are - will be found inside us, just where they've always been. I don't know what these answers are, but I do know that, in all likelihood, they won't be yours.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Reddit, it's basically a social media site where people post links, ideas, rants, etc. The site is based on an upvote system, which means the links that display "higher" or earlier in the thread you're looking at are more popular and therefore get viewed more often. The following is unrelated, but as a side note, because a majority of the links are legitimately hilarious, most users who post (understandably) steal from one another and pawn off the ideas they read as their own. I am what the website refers to as a "lurker," because I don't actively participate in posting, upvoting, or commenting, yet I still judge everything I read and bitch about incorrect use of the site. Anyway, there is a mildly popular "subreddit" called "Explain Like I'm Five." Every so often, an ELI5 post will get upvoted enough times to find its way onto the front page. Today, I found the following post and scrolled through the comments only to find that no other users reacted the way I did to it:
"ELI5: If humans continue to cut down forests, will there eventually be a point where oxygen produced can't compensate for oxygen being used?"
Answer: I'm pretty sure a five year old wouldn't ask this question, and if they did, they wouldn't use the word "compensate."
When I was in high school, my dream of being a composer seemed insurmountable. It was an arbitrary goal with no destination, no directions, and no instructions. Molding my dream into reality was and still is a daunting task. Years ago, I remember asking myself a host of questions:
1) Where do I even begin?
2) How am I to navigate the complexities of this profession?
3) Will my music ever compare to the music of the composers that I idolize?
4) Is it practical or plausible for me to make a living off composing?
My answers to these questions are not definitive. They are still being crafted. With time, more questions arise. Nothing is etched in stone. Every day, I learn something new and am reminded that I know nothing.
1) Well, the easiest way to begin something clouded with uncertainty and veiled by mystery, is to begin. Just do it. Your first piece will most likely not be a masterpiece. Your second piece also won't. And that is okay. I can honestly tell you that the first several pieces I wrote were atrocious. Why do you think they aren't posted onto this website? The truth is, you begin by beginning.
2) I don't navigate this profession. At least, I don't do it alone. I am eternally grateful to my previous and current educators who have supported me and helped me better understand this extraordinarily complex industry. Since I know nothing, I cannot expect to be successful by myself. Thankfully, I have the luxury of being able to rely on great educators. Like Jamie Weaver (scroll down to see him), my middle school band director, who changed his flight so that he could be present at the world premiere of Portraits of the Southern Sky in March 2014. Or like Dr. Nicholas Williams, who graciously offered to perform my band piece with the GDYO Wind Symphony...twice...in one semester(!!!). To get started as a composer, you may have to ask for help, but I assure you that, somewhere, there is a willingness to help future composers that exists in the musical community.
3) Unfortunately, your music will never be to others what it is to you. This is reality. However, I think it is of paramount importance to remember that other non-composers do not experience music in the way that you do. Just because your music does not have the affect over others in the way that (ex.) Joseph Schwantner's "and the mountains rising nowhere" affected you, does not mean your music cannot have a profound effect over others. (If you don't know that Schwantner piece...you should.) Remember that no two people experience things in the same way. Try not to get discouraged when someone doesn't appreciate or enjoy your music as much as you do, or - more importantly - as much as someone else does. You are you and they are them. Be careful not to write music for others. Sure, writing music with the intent of a specific person performing it is quite common, but ultimately, you are writing the music for you. If you like it, others will too.
4) No, making a living as a composer is not practical or plausible. If it were, more people would do it. But even though it isn't, trust yourself anyway. Have an almost irrational confidence in yourself. If you want to write music more than you want to live, you will. There will be many loose ends, and you will tie them up. This is the human spirit. Although it does not have to be, holistically, music composition is as complex as you make it.
This nifty little presentation is a product of another project required by my music software course. I created this presentation in Prezi, which I have determined is astronomically better than PowerPoint. I hope you all enjoy the hard work that went into this quality presentation. As you can see, it is called "Baylor Parking is Laughably Obscene" and It is about the laughably obscene parking situation which is currently plaguing Baylor University. Baylor Parking Services will surely be thrilled that this is the topic I landed on.
I made this project for my music software course using PureData, my saxophone, and my mind. It's not a very good piece, but I don't really care. (The audio comes in at 16".)
I was sought out by a young clarinetist who requested from me an arrangement of Requiem for a Dream by Clint Mansell for him and three other of his young clarinet buddies. I was contacted because I had recently arranged the same piece about four years earlier for a quartet of baritone players in my high school (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHea5xVVXPQ). Anyway, this is the story about the young clarinetist who requested my services and how each of us handled the situation. (Don’t worry, I’m telling it from my clearly non-biased perspective.)
The young clarinetist - which I will sarcastically refer to as "client" - had originally requested the arrangement for four bass clarinets. Initially, this set off a few red flags because I knew that no serious musician in their right mind would request a piece for four bass clarinets. If the client were anything but, say, a high school student in marching band with four bass clarinet pals trying to impress the rest of the band, or perhaps a newly converted middle school band geek browsing the web for some "cool songs to learn," he would have done the arrangement himself. Despite my skepticism, I didn't want to miss out on an opportunity so I emailed him back to make sure that he was - you know...real, and also to confirm that he did in fact want to perform Requiem for a Dream with a quartet of bass clarinets. After a few days, he replied to that email asking if he could alter the instrumentation to be for 2 B-flat clarinets and 2 bass clarinets (which, shocker, is also an uncommon instrumentation). As uninformed as his new request was, it was much more feasible than his original request, so I told him that this new instrumentation would not only be possible, but much easier on my part. However, I explained, since 50% of the ensemble was now in an entirely different register, arranging the piece in the same way that I did for baritone quartet would not be possible. I went on to say that the only way to make this arrangement possible would be if I were allowed to take some liberties - totally re-conceiving my original arrangement. He agreed with my amended terms and said he trusted my judgement. I estimated the amount of time I would be devoting to this project, and politely asked him if he and his “colleagues” (yeah, that’s what I’m calling them) wouldn't mind paying me a small fee under the table at an undisclosed amount in order to compensate for my labor. To my excitement, he agreed to this as well. I began working.
I spent more time on this project than I care to reveal to any of you. (Let’s just say, I took it very seriously.) He had given me a deadline that was more than manageable to operate under. I would send him emails periodically asking questions concerning each members’ skill level and each of their ranges. He made it clear that he believed they could “play anything that I threw that [them].”
How fortunate for me, I thought, it looks like I'm casually collaborating with four prodigious clarinetists. Right? Wrong. As the deadline approached, I was still sitting on the arrangement, editing and tweaking like I normally do with pieces before their deadline. But then, three days before the deadline, he emails me: (*Disclaimer: this is not a direct quotation of our conversation, I’m just paraphrasing for length’s sake.*)
“Hey, are you finished with that arrangement yet?” - Client
“Yes, I’m just making some final edits.” - Me
“SEND IT TO ME ASAP, WE HAVE TO PLAY IT IN 3 DAYS!!!” - Client
Did this kid actually set the deadline to be the same day as the performance? Who does that?! No one does that - that’s who. Professional musicians don’t do that, and even if you’re not a professional musician, understanding that musicians need to rehearse to effectively perform is not rocket science!
This laughably outrageous news actually kind of shocked me and sent my blood rushing. All at once, I had to set aside my idealization of the music that I created. This feeling was similar to the total-chaos moment you feel when you realize all too suddenly that you have forgotten something important or that you don't have enough time to finish. After a few panicked moments, I settled down and realized how funny my reaction was. I wasn't even involved in the performance, yet, I briefly panicked. It was like the client wasn't at all worried about what he had gotten himself into, and because of this I felt obligated to worry for him.
At this point, even though I had resolved to myself that their performance (if it even panned out) was probably going to suck, I wanted to give the group ample time to prepare it. I quickly finished my final edits that day, and sent over everything to him - score, individual parts, and extracted audio file. I waited about 10 minutes and then I got an email back from him:
“Can it be more like the baritone version? I'm not in favor of the changes.”
Worst nightmare: realized. The client is unhappy with my product. What do I do? Do I apologize? Do I simply comply with his request?
Ordinarily, I’d like to think that I would apologize profusely, comply with his request, and then apologize again. The customer is - or should be - always right. Then I realized that I had gotten so emotionally attached to the arrangement during the writing process that I had projected my idealization of who would be playing this piece - other actual musicians - onto this kid and his clarinet buddies. Sadly, that was wildly inaccurate. So yes, ordinarily I would be exceedingly apologetic and quickly correct the problem, but this situation felt totally unprofessional on the part of the client: from the “can you use an uncommon instrumentation?” question, to the “we can pretty much play anything you throw at us” remark, and, my personal favorite, the parenthetically stated afterthought, “oh, by the way, the deadline is the same day as performance." Yep, this situation was different and therefore had to be handled differently. (By the way, if you can’t follow my “run-on” sentences, read them repeatedly until you do because they aren't run-on sentences. They’re just really long sentences. Haven’t you listened to classical music with long phrases? Besides, this is my blog and syntax is my decision.)
Because of this thing that I have called “self-confidence,” I knew the arrangement I sent him wasn't bad, he just couldn't play it or - perhaps even worse - understand it. You tell me by listening to the audio file. (Quite different from the euphonium link, right?) I suppose that what perhaps caused him to not want the arrangement - the degree of difficulty - is my own fault. I mean, why did I think that a 14-year-old kid could actually play to the level that he had advertised? Silly, Greg.
At this point, I was thoroughly displeased with the client, but I still had to handle the situation at hand by responding to his email. I certainly wasn't going to waste my time copying the old baritone parts that I had arranged four years prior into clarinet parts verbatim. I explained to him that the YouTube video to which he is referring was one of my first arrangements I had written. It was written for three high school students at All-State level, and one student with mild Asperger’s syndrome, and the parts were written accordingly based on that information. I mean, I listen to that old arrangement and think, “this is the most immature thing I have ever written.” I then went on to remind the client that even if I spent the time copying and pasting these old baritone parts into clarinet parts, it would sound terrible because (once again) 50% of the ensemble is in an entirely different register. I closed the email sarcastically, saying that if he really wanted to play Requiem for a Dream, I could take a picture of the old baritone parts, email them to him, and he could transpose the parts himself. I thought this would ensure his acceptance of the new arrangement that I really did work hard on, but I was sorely mistaken.
He replies with, “OK, let’s do that.” My plan had backfired. I then had to take a picture of each of the pages, email it to him, and politely ask for that small under the table fee we agreed to (I figured it can’t hurt to ask). The result? I haven’t heard from this kid since, and I have absolutely no idea what he ended up doing with the music.
So there you have it: an example of how not to deal with composers when asking them to devote their time to something. Hindsight is 20/20, but of course, I would never have taken the job if I had known he wanted a version of Requiem for a Dream that was about as simple to play (in my mind at least) as filling a car up with gasoline. Perhaps this is just as much a lesson to me as it is it to the young clarinetist. I went into this process thinking I was going to gain experience and also make a small amount of spending money, but instead came out losing my belief that young musicians can accurately assess their abilities (which isn't necessarily their fault - that has to fall on the educators), working for an undisclosed amount of hours on a project for which I ended up not receiving reparation, and ultimately, wasting my time. But it’s okay, at least I got experience, right?
And to the kid who this story is about: I am sorry to embarrass you like this (at least I’m not revealing your name). Hopefully someday you will learn.
I’ve decided to add a blog onto my website because despite my best efforts to keep my opinions and personal experiences to myself, I simply can’t resist.