We in the arts  like to live out loud in 2008, talking about almost everything (in detail)   – except  $$.

Since for most of us an artist’s life doesn’t actually pay well, we become our own patrons and subsidize our heart’s work with a day job of some sort.  For many composers, the day job is teaching. 

For that reason I was much struck by the poignancy of David Gessner’s comments in Sunday’s  NY Times , adapted here  for composers:

      Even if we grant that you can be as original within the university as up in your garret, we must concede the possibility that something is lost by living a divided life.   Intensity perhaps.   The ability to focus hard and long on big, ambitious projects.
      A great [creator] , after all, must travel daily to a mental subcontinent, must rip into the work, experiencing the exertion of it, the anxiety of it and, once in a blue moon, the glory of it. It’s fine for  [composers]  to talk in self-help jargon about how their lives require “balance” and “shifting gears” between teaching and [composing], but below that civil language lurks the uncomfortable fact that the creation of [music]  requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise.  It’s hard to throw your whole self into something when that self has another job.

 – David Gessner, NY Times Magazine (Sunday Sept. 21, 2008). 
           “Those Who Write, Teach”

2 Responses to “Composer $$ Matters: Intro – the Day Job”
  1. Christian says:

    Mr. Gessner’s comments are moving, but there’s another side to this. Teaching, performing, or other work takes a creator outside of themselves. Often, valuable interactions with colleagues, students, and visiting musicians result, feeding a composer’s creativity and providing them with perspective.

  2. Chris Becker says:

    Hello, Judith.

    I think the paradigm in New York City has shifted drastically from where it was in the 80′s to the present if you’re talking about day-to-day how an artist is able to pay the bills. I’ve discussed this with musicians and dancers who were in NYC long before I showed up (Dave Soldier, Jonathan Kane, Flip Barnes, Patricia Parker) and it seems the people of my generation (I’m 40 – and should acknowledge that there are plenty of 30 something composers who may offer you a perspective much different than mine) have had to invent a new myth for themselves or give up a life of making music and living here in this city. Living this new myth is not easy. But what is the alternative exactly?

    Working full time and composing may seem like an impossible task (especially if you take to heart your edited versioning of David Gessner’s copy), but frankly, I’ve found that being broke, being homeless, and/or being isolated from a community did absolutely nothing for my creative self.

    And my music benefits from my perspective as a working person. And I tend to work with musicians who have this same sort of perspective. Many of us did not grow up in privileged surroundings, maybe we didn’t go to college, and/or maybe we grew up and have lived in some pretty rough neighborhoods. All of this goes into what we play and/or what we write. And you can hear it. Or at least, I believe you can.

    All that said, I think we as a society have lost the myth of an artist as shaman. Creativity is connected to leisure and consumption. The spiritual journey we take – and the sometimes hermetic existence we live in order to go where we need to go – is suspect. Or at least not discussed much. “You make any money doing that?” is such a brutal horrible thing to say to an artist. And yet that question is considered to be a rational one.

    And with that…lunch break is over! Back to the j.o.b. :)

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