Back when I worked at the Lincoln Center Tower Records, one of my colleagues, a former administrative employee at Manhattan School of Music, told me how it was not unusual for alumni of the school who had studied composition to come in looking for letters of recommendation for law school or business school or some other practical endeavor unrelated to music.

Of course you can still compose after you have given up pursuing a career in music. But I’m curious. Are there any doctors, lawyers, bankers, or what-have-you out there who once wrote music but who no longer compose?  What made you stop?  Are you happy you did? Regretful? Philosophic? Let’s hear about it.

8 Responses to “Why Don’t You Write Music Anymore?”
  1. david toub says:

    I never stopped. I also strongly suspect that many of us chose to go into other professions yet still continue to compose. We don’t have the time for it, certainly, that we might have had if we had gone into a career as a composer. I have to steal whatever small amount of time I can find, usually on weekends and during off-hours, and am quite sure this is true of many of us who have different, nonmusical careers. But for someone to willfully stop writing just because he/she is now a physician or (blecch!) an attorney would seem really odd to me. If you’re a composer, you do it because you get a kick out of writing music, because it’s something you’re passionate about, etc. Nothing about composing is at all incompatible with a nonmusical career. Indeed, I think it only makes us more human and interesting.

    There are composers who are active in this forum who are in IT, engineering, development, medicine, etc. I think that makes it unlikely, I think, that someone would ditch composing despite having a nonmusical career.

    But you should ask, David, that even if there might be former composers who gave it up for other careers, would they even be on this site to read your question?

  2. I did not study music in college but have pursued playing and composing while having a conventional day job. So this might not be the strict answer to your question. Most of what I write gets performed – at least among friends – and I find that very gratifying.

    That said, I am in a bit of a dry spell – I havn’t written anything for about 6 months. I would like to but don’t seem to have the motiviation just now.

    I think the reason is that presently I don’t have a group to write for – players and acquaintances changing often in my location. I find I can focus much more when I have a specific group to write for – knowing the mix of instruments and voices, as well as their skill levels, etc.

  3. Robert Jordahl says:

    After many years of composing I stopped writing last year when my software crashed.
    Also, much of my music was no longer in print.

  4. zeno says:

    Robert, I don’t believe that either of your reasons are all that strong; and I hope that you will soon reconsider. Things change, and your music may come back into print. … Dii pedes lanatos habent. (Petronius, Satyricon)

  5. David Salvage says:

    I was thinking people might chime in with stories of friends who had stopped composing.

    Anyhow… guess I better read that damn Taruskin article. It’s been sitting on my desk for almost a week now.

  6. Steve Layton says:

    My best friend from about 4th grade on. He had the lessons (trumpet and piano), I didn’t. As a natural consequence of hanging out, we played together in various little rock bands; he as guitarist, me singing. I drifted into classical first but he soon followed. Stravinsky was our common point of reference; he tended more to the Beethoven/Wagner side of things, while I went with Tchaikovsky/Debussy. We boned up on everything together: Shostakovich, 2nd Viennese, Ginastera, Stockhausen, you name it, all-nght listening and bull sessions.

    At the same time, there wasn’t any question that we had to be composers. I had no real theory when I went off to state college; he had quite a bit, but stayed at home in a community college. We wrote long letters about our discoveries and efforts, mailed scores etc… Once, during a summer night when I was hanging around his place eating frozen pizza & watching Johnny, we got into a little argument about 12-tone, and ended up challenging each other to write a complete 12-tone movement before daybreak. (True to ourselves, his was Germanically worked-out; mine was built out of little modules of a few bars each, that cycled through permutations.)

    He finally went off to one of the bigger universities to continue, and it was there that he had his crisis: in everything he wrote, he couldn’t help but hear every other composer, but not his own voice. I knew that none of us can completely escape our influences, but felt that the individual’s voice is always there no matter what. But he just couldn’t hear himself among the echoes of all his idols. And so he stopped, just like that. His listening and analysis kept going and growing, and he was always able to best me in analytical depth and focus (I’m a “width” guy, I guess…). But aside from horn charts for a reggae/soca band he ended up playing bass in (while all the while working up lengthy investigations of the Ring cycle or Lulu), no more composition.

  7. Cary Boyce says:

    I had a friend, Steve Colip, who died of AIDS a few years back. He was a fine pianist and a brilliant composer. (I try to get his music known when I can, but sadly, most has likely been lost. I have photocopies of a few pieces. Steve stopped composing, even before he got sick. Except for a few songs he regarded as simple “pop” tunes, after the Mass he wrote for his masters thesis, that was it. His reasons? “It’s just too hard. I feel like I don’t have anything else to offer, and when I do, it’s just too hard.” I think he meant it was hard to write–but the constant work it takes to get a piece off the ground once written must certainly have added to his frustration. It’s a great loss, from every perspective, I think.

  8. Jeffrey Quick says:

    Steve, your story sounds like most I’ve heard from former composers. For example, the late ethnomusicologist William Malm started as a composer, but said, “I have excellent taste in music, so I quit.” I once knew a guy who’d won a BMI Young Composer in high school but basically stopped composing in college. It’s all about that self-critical voice. And a lot of us a lot of times are into it for the immortality factor; we want to “be Beethoven” (as Roy Harris once expressed it), and when we see that isn’t going to happen, it becomes too much work. I’ve had a few people find my music deeply meaningful, and I’ve written a few OK pieces, and that’s enough to get me through my more mediocre efforts. If I’m as famous 150 years from now as John Lodge Ellerton or Silas G. Pratt, I’ll have more compositional fame than I could reasonably expect now.

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