Why compose? This question is like the metaphysical why: why does the world exist, why do we die, why is there evil, why do bad things happen to good people… and composing is very much like a bad thing that happens to good people.

How can we justify composing? It is a political statement, an exercise in the freedom of speech, and in that respect, it is our right. It is not a self-serving activity. There is little outer success to be expected in serious music, and it has to more do planetary positions and marketing than the intrinsic qualities of a piece. The composer can’t really be blamed for composing for ego satisfaction, as the activity typically entails one rejection after another, interrupted by glimpses of success that come and go as fast as shooting stars. Around the time of a premiere, the composer is the object of attention from the public, surrounded by performers and colleagues, but the next day, it’s like nothing ever happened. Music mirrors the ephemeral passing of time. All the energies coordinated to present a new work suddenly dispel into nothingness.

In the past centuries, composing was a craft learned from a master, carefully absorbed and practiced, fashioned into a slightly personal style, within a consistent set of parameters. Each piece had a purpose, for the church, for a special celebration, or simply for some princess to fool around on the harpsichord. Composers were practically servants to the powers that be. Has this changed? Yes, and that’s another good reason to compose. We are freer – not totally free, but somewhat free. Composing and producing music is now accessible to many more individuals than in the past. But in the 21st century, history and geography are dead weight: each musical element has been subject to so many permutations, so many different styles of music from all the different parts of the world, that making a compositional statement is more like making conceptual art than practicing a craft. In fact, certain composers totally defy the idea of composing technique.

Some of us compose from the heart: for spiritual reasons, for the departed, for a friend, a person we love, for a muse, because of a dream. Or we are motivated by something that takes place somewhere in the future, in reality or imagination. There is such a thing as inspiration – but should I use such a naïve, old-fashioned word? Is the term artist outdated? a romantic notion that no longer applies to our society? Should it be discarded like an over-sentimental birthday card? The word artist carries a social stigma. The artists are like the cursed shamans of a previous civilization, no longer wanted, while the old shamans from the past centuries are glorified because their work is now worth a lot of currency. What are we? If not artists, channels of collective consciousness? Masterminds of absurdity?

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