When a novelist creates a character that lived 200 years ago, inhabiting his thoughts in a way that transports us off into a different time and place, we admire his mastery of a distant vernacular, and his ability to make every word count toward his subterfuge. We don’t accuse the novelist of hiding his true thoughts behind a different persona – that’s his job.
I’ve just completed a six-minute allegro for strings that could have been written in the 1820s. I did it for the same reason I write every piece I write: I felt like doing it. I was writing what I wanted to hear, but hadn’t heard before.
Unfortunately, unlike in drama or literature, when a composer inhabits the past, it’s considered cowardly. All my training and experience has taught me to avoid writing in older styles – never imitate, only steal. But the truth is, I wasn’t imitating or stealing in this piece, I was just using the conventions of an earlier era to say what I wanted to say.
The whole time I was writing the piece, I kept thinking Dillon What Are You Doing? And the answer was simple: I was really enjoying composing, which is always one of the great pleasures of my existence. I don’t claim that this piece is revelatory in any way – just that it’s beautiful, and I love it, and I had a wonderful time writing it.
So what does this have to do with sincerity? It gets to the heart of what I believe is an artist’s core responsibility: to create the work that you want to experience. Sincerity is not necessarily writing in the style that automatically makes you sound contemporary. Forget about historical imperatives: it’s your job to create the imperatives through your work, not to make your work fit into a pre-existent narrative. Others may come along and say such-and-such a piece fits into its time, or is ahead of its time, or behind its time, or stands outside of any logical relationship to time, as the case may be. All of those results are acceptable, and worthy.
What matters more to me, though, than how a piece fits into a given era is how much I love the way it sounds, the way it moves, and the way it thinks.