20 February 2019
I’m currently preparing a composition recital for April 14th, 2019 and it’s actually the first recital of this nature that I’ve put together. I’ve done voice and conducting recitals before, but never a recital featuring solely my compositions. A few people asked if I am performing the compositions myself, and I am not for two reasons.
First, it is very important for composers to put their music in front of other musicians. Often, this helps us realize places where our notation lacks clarity and/or specificity for the performer. The craft of musical notation is as much about preventing the performance you don’t want, as it is ensuring the performance you do want. If we compose and perform our own music without having it vetted by others, we can easily miss confusing or omitted indications in the score. Composers know how we want our pieces to sound, so we tend to play/sing our own compositions as we conceived them. Other musicians do not have that concept. They only have the tools we provide them on the page. Brilliant composer Stewart Copeland describes this challenge very well in this brief linked Drum Channel interview.
Second, composers and performers have a mutually dependent relationship. Musicians are nothing without compositions, and compositions are only dots on a page without performing musicians. Something that I value highly as a composer is the interpretive role that performers play in my process. This is why I often have very specific performers in mind when I compose. It inspires me to consider what they might enjoy about performing my music, and also how their personal stamp will impact the performance via their particular musical nuance and proficiency. This variable can be a little unsettling, because it means no two performances will be exactly the same. Once embraced by the composer, this human element can be very exciting!
I definitely compose for composition’s sake. Often it takes years to get a piece performed, so the motivation and primary thrill can’t come from audience applause or accolades.
That said, it is certainly exciting to hear my works performed. Unless the opus is intended to be entirely computer-generated, musicians are a vital part of the compositional process. Their interpretation and ability to lift those marks off the page and create an aurally interesting (and hopefully pleasing) experience for listeners is integral to the composition itself. I never consider pieces “complete” until I hear them performed by musicians other than myself.
Now, my music is in the hands of musicians. It’s no longer under my control. All I can do at this point is answer questions if they arise, and look forward to the gig! I always hope that the audience will find the pieces interesting, but I am actually more concerned with whether or not the musicians enjoy the compositions. Sometimes they cuss a little when they practice (as the Facebook post above indicates), but my goal is for them to willingly invest themselves as co-owners of the music with me. This ensures a sense of accomplishment for them and me each time the pieces are performed.