We are all familiar with the struggles that composers face in finding artistic and professional success. The difficulties are enormous and the external rewards are few.
Elodie Lauten made a great list of reasons not to compose last month. I agree with all of her reasons, but I’d like to offer a complementary list of the reasons why composers’ work is essential:
- There are so many people who devote their lives to destroying things, it’s important to have just as many people devoted to creation, in order to balance out the ledger.
- Composers create a unique record of what it means to be alive at this moment. Their record is different from poetry or prose, it’s different from visual representations. Without that record, we, as a civilization, know ourselves a little less, and the future understands us a little less, which is to our detriment.
- Composers teach the world to listen more closely. We will never reach a point where people listen too closely to themselves, or to one another. Our presence, our work, serves as a reminder that listening brings greater wisdom and awareness.
- Composers make a unique connection to the past and the future. The musical ideas that get passed on and transformed from the beginning of time to the end are a tangible demonstration of the consistency and variance of life itself.
- New music surprises us, and rewards us for our willingness to be surprised. Developing the ability to accept and grow from surprise is a crucial survival skill.
- Living composers, forging music from their best and worst thoughts, demonstrate that the joys and indignities we all experience in our daily lives should never be wasted.
- It feels good. Never underestimate the importance of doing things that give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Those good feelings feed one another, feed our relationships with others, and in turn are passed on to people we never meet.
If, as individual composers, we are ignored in our own lifetimes or forgotten when we die, that is beyond our control and, to a certain extent, irrelevant to our purpose. The truth is, most people are ignored and forgotten by society at large, and each one of us has come from a long line of ignored and forgotten people, what Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation. For adolescents, this is a tragedy. For adults, it should be an inspiration.