What, me struggle?

In the Broad Street Review, Beeri Moalem wrote about “one struggling young composer’s attempt to make some sense of” where the sweep of music history has brought us, and how a composer can offer anything meaningful in view of the plethora of styles. Dan Coren, one of BSR’s regular reviewers, took issue with, well, just about everything, Moalem wrote back, then Coren did, and there was a good bit of energy such as is often the case in this online publication, edited by Dan Rottenberg.

Knowing what it’s like to be a composer, or at least one composer, and holding onto the belief that I remember what it’s like to be young, I thought I’d jump in. Here’s some of what I wrote:

[Beeri Moalem writes:] “The struggle of the composer today is to create something original when so many things have been tried and documented—to find a voice without falling into one of the clichéd categories that I outlined. It’s the struggle to create something pleasing for audiences, university professors and musicians simultaneously. Something beautiful, interesting and meaningful yet also unique.”

[I write]: Yes, all creative artists have had a taste of this struggle, but I think that to grow, the composer has to treat every word in that paragraph as utterly false. … If I were to ask how to drive to the Shore from Philadelphia, and was directed to the Walt Whitman Bridge, and I responded that the Delaware River is deep, I would be stating a fact, but not a helpful one.

The struggle of the creative artist is not to be original …  The struggle is not to be unique … The struggle is not to avoid cliché (cliché is simply laziness: either the composer’s, which is easily fixed, or the listener’s, which cannot be).

The struggle is to tell the truth.

Even beauty is secondary. Beauty grows from truth. Seek originality and you will never find it. But tell the truth, and you’ll get originality and beauty and everything else thrown in.

There are many bridges (it may be quicker, or more interesting, and there are more gas stations if you take the Tacony), but the depth of the Delaware is of no consequence. There are as many ways of telling the truth as there are composers. If one is fortunate to grow as an artist, new struggles will replace the ones left behind. But far from discouraging, they reveal new ways of telling the truth.

Rottenberg edited most of my verbosity, but cut out the Delaware River metaphor, which was my favorite part. Gas stations, I thought, made me sound less pontifical. Well, he was probably right, as the loss of it didn’t weaken my argument. Moalem responded and then so did I, and Coren added more, and you can read it all here. We also had a few emailed exchanges sub rosa, which didn’t add substantially to the arguments, but which, I think, helped in our appreciation of each other. Moalem’s quite an inventive composer; check him out here.

I did say in my last email to him that if anything I wrote took his mind off of university professors, then my job was done. Don’t get me wrong, my professors were nothing but supportive. But you can only tell what you know. Nobody may want to hear it, true, but there’s nothing else to say.

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