It is only today hitting me what I did in a composition lesson yesterday afternoon. I actually took a student’s work, crumpled up the paper, and threw it in the recycle bin. Actually, I missed the bin, it fell short, but I still took my student’s work and threw it in the trash.

It seems pretty hardcore, right? Like those stories you hear about really crotchety composers who don’t like a piece and throw it out the window while the student is playing it on the piano. Well, true, I didn’t toss the piece in the trash because I liked it so much. The thing is, the whole act was done out of respect for my student. It wasn’t an insult, the student agreed with me that the work was not very good.

I am, in general, very kind in my composition lessons. I’ve never ripped a student’s music apart. Never said things like the things that were said to me during my undergrad (You can change this all day and it is STILL going to suck). I try to teach from a sense of compassion but sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is to tell someone that they need to do things differently if they want different results.

So why do it? The student was too attached to notes and rhythms and it was simply killing the music (this piece in particular and the student’s music as a whole). The student was frustrated. The ideas were there but creating an actual score was too cumbersome. We talked about how the student could create an environment for the performers to make the music the student wanted to hear. The student didn’t want to enforce an artistic will upon the performers but rather wanted to create shapes in which performers could play.

We talked about graphic scores. We talked about how to set up an environment for performers to play in. We talked about not using Finale. The student sounded liberated, like what they wanted to do was somehow forbidden and I was saying that it was really okay.

So I threw my student’s work into the trash. I still think it was for the best.

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  1. Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Yeah I quite agree! And furthermore in art one should be allowed to trash and start over- it is indeed liberating, When I grew up and studied art the mentality was everything was valid and students were discouraged from tearing up and starting over- I think because tutors wanted to see an audit trail of a students progress, but as both a visual artist and a composer, I would tear up and start over, and like your student, would be glad to see the back of it! Artists need the right to tear up and start over.

  2. Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Well it is true that you can spend more time fixing a piece – with indifferent results – than by just starting over. I think we must guard against the idea that once notes are put on paper the piece becomes somehow precious. Maybe there should be some sort of ad-hoc ceremony when a piece is abandoned – trashing it implies that there was nothing gained by doing it. Burn it, perhaps?

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