I’ve heard so many horror stories over the years about composers who were mistreated by the academic institutions they served. It seems like the composers who have good relationships with their universities are few and far between.
So I’m feeling very fortunate to have been pretty nicely taken care of by the University of North Carolina School of the Arts for these many years. And this Saturday night they are celebrating my fiftieth birthday in a big way.
How big? Well, for starters, they are bringing the Emerson Quartet here to give the US premiere of my fifth quartet – the concert’s been sold out for some time. But that’s not all. The school has also organized a symposium about my music featuring members of the Emerson Quartet along with guest moderator Welz Kauffman – and invited a few dozen top supporters of the school to attend.
(Want to know the coolest thing about having a piece played by Emerson? Not only are these guys are at the top of the game individually, they’ve been together as a quartet for more than 30 years. There is no substitute for that kind of musical intimacy. Watching them work together is just amazing.)
It’s a whole lot more than I expected when I first arrived here 23 years ago. I figured I had a living wage and some musical stimulation, and that was about it. When I was first hired, I was put in charge of the theory program, the contemporary ensemble and Medieval studies (go figure). Now I’m Composer in Residence, with one counterpoint class and a studio full of talented, hard-working composition majors.
Along the way, I’ve taught bunches of classes and seminars on every conceivable topic, served as Assistant Dean and Interim Dean, and organized a veritable tonnage of concerts featuring new music and old. But now the job is almost exclusively about composing, which suits me very nicely at this point in my life.
Winston-Salem is a small city, but there is far more support and enthusiasm for the arts than I could have imagined when I interviewed here in 1987. When I think of all the places I could have landed back then, I’m really pretty astonished at my good luck. Faculty and students give my music enthusiastic performances on a regular basis. Community members follow my activities and even commission new work from time to time. It’s really an ideal situation.
Academic institutions, like people, aren’t all that predictable, and it could easily be that UNCSA will unceremoniously boot me out of here in ten or twenty years – or even next week. But for the time being I certainly can’t complain.
And Google informs me that this is the 500th blog post on an infinite number of curves – another thing to feel grateful for, on so many levels.