Thoughts on 18
I've started and restarted and revised and rewritten this post more times than I can count. I've brainstormed titles, possible nuggets of wisdom, and jokes that I think will somehow be valuable to you. But I've come up with nothing that I felt was worthwhile to complete and publish (title possibilities have included things like "Highlights of my Life" and "Why I'm Suddenly Qualified to Buy a Lottery Ticket, Sign a Contract, and go to Jail"... Yikes.) As a result of my many many many tragic attempts at writing this, I feel the best thing for me to do is just write a stream of consciousness "I'm 18 now and here's what's happening in my brain" post. Here goes.
So I realized that most of my hesitation in writing anything and sharing it with the world (or my parents and close friends (hi Mom)) came from how selfish I feel. I feel like sharing my thoughts with you guys is wrong because when I do that, I'm operating under the assumption that these thoughts can be valuable in your life, which is putting myself on a pretty high pedestal. But if these thoughts are only valuable to me, then releasing them is still selfish. Either way, reading this post would be a waste of your time unless I say something pretty darn brilliant (Spoiler alert: no brilliance here!).
At this point, maybe you can see that I'm not really talking about my blog post anymore. I'm talking about my music. I've found that a couple of questions are very consistently posed to music students as "food for thought": Why do you make music? For whom do you make music? These questions are also hidden in other questions: What is your goal with this piece? What are you trying to communicate? Who is your intended audience? I really struggle with these questions. I mean, I don't know many people who can give solid answers to any of them, but I feel like most people have a pretty good idea of why they make music. At the very least, they know why they love it. I, on the other hand, have a really hard time articulating these things...
Don't get me wrong, I love music and I know that. I love how I feel when I'm listening to John Mackey's band music and my heart gets all happy. I love how I feel when I'm listening to Sondheim and I realize that the melodic material in the orchestra came from a previous vocal melody and it's all brilliantly related and perfectly placed. I even love how I feel when I play through a Mozart sonata movement for the first time with no mistakes. But I didn't always.
When I started piano lessons, I distinctly remember "falling ill" on quite a few Saturday afternoons, only to magically recover when I knew there was no risk of actually having to attend my lesson. I still sometimes feel like the journey from my bed into the practice room is the longest and most treacherous walk of my life. But usually I make the hike anyway, because I live for those aforementioned moments at the end of Mozart sonatas. I play piano for myself, and if others happen to like it, then great.
The same cannot be said for composition. Sure, I love hearing a performance of my music. I guess. But not in the same way that I love other musical experiences. I'm way more critical of my music, and I feel like I'm listening through a microscope... if that makes any sense. So I really don't even allow myself to enjoy hearing my music performed, if I'm being perfectly honest. So why do I do it?
As I tried to break this question down, I thought about all the aspects of composing. For me, those include improvisation at the piano, improvisation in my head, playing it on piano over and over to make sure I like it, notation, more notation, rehearsal, and performance. And I realized that the only parts I really really enjoy are improvising at the piano, and then playing something I like until I get 2000% sick of it. So why do the other things? Why not just focus on being a really good pianist or a really good music educator and mess around with composition on the side? Wouldn't I be happier?
Sidenote: I've always been jealous of my peers who enjoy all aspects of composition (except maybe the notation part... the only person I know who enjoys that is my dad), but I'm in the process of coming to terms with the fact that I'm just not like that. And that's okay.
So anyway, I think I got tricked into being a composer. I've known this for a while, but I've phrased it differently; when people have asked me about my compositional background, I've consistently responded with something along the lines of, "Well, I tried to do the singer-songwriter thing for a while, but I was bad at lyrics. So I just stopped writing lyrics and wrote a band piece instead. Then, I submitted it to a competition on a whim, won an honorable mention, scraped together a summer camp audition portfolio, and somehow ended up at Interlochen. Then, I just threw myself into composing and now I'm here." I've admitted for a long time that I never had a second thought... because I didn't give myself time to breathe or look back or change my mind.
Since the beginning of my formal training (a little less than two years ago), I've had 15 weeks where I haven't been thinking about composing: last summer, and this year's breaks. That means that for the past two years, 86% of my life has been composition. Trust me, I did the math. And now that I'm attempting to provide a reason why, I can't. This may sound like I feel stuck, like I ended up doing something I never wanted to do, which is not what I mean at all. Instead, what I'm saying is that I've ended up doing something I never planned to do, and now that I have a chance to look back on it, I'm taking time to figure out why I ended up so far from my intended path, and why I've loved it enough to never think twice (this is especially difficult because I can clearly articulate things I don't love about composition, which makes me question whether or not I really am enjoying this path).
But back to why I do music... If I'm not completely in love with the whole process myself, then do I write music for other people? I think the answer to that is a pretty healthy "somewhat", because if I were really concerned with what others thought, my music would have changed much more drastically this year than it did, but it does matter to me that someone likes my music. I can deal with people not liking it, but if nobody in the world liked my music, that's when I would have to reevaluate. As I learned from [title of show], I'd rather be 9 people's favorite thing than a hundred people's 9th favorite thing... those 9 people keep me going.
So maybe I don't write for myself. Maybe I don't write solely for others either. But maybe I need to write it anyway. Because what if other people accidentally love my music? What if my music makes someone else feel the way John Mackey's music makes me feel (at some point WAAAAY down the line)? Going back to my original hesitation with producing art, what if my heroes thought like that? I found a blurb on Wikipedia (sorry @English teachers everywhere) about Sunday in the Park with George that says, "Following the failure and scathing critical reception of Merrily We Roll Along in 1981 (the show closed after 16 performances), Sondheim announced his intention to leave the musical theatre to write mystery novels. He was persuaded by Lapine to return to the theatrical world after the two were inspired by... Georges Seurat." Sondheim thought his art lost value because Merrily was such a flop. So he tried quit. But thank God James Lapine convinced him not to!
Imagine just for a second that Sondheim had never written Sunday. Now maybe Sondheim isn't as prominent in your life as he is in mine, but I think musical theatre and the lives of musical theatre followers everywhere would be drastically different if Sunday in the Park had never been written, let alone all his shows that came after (Into the Woods, anyone?). AND (art-ception coming up here), what if Georges Seurat had been too afraid to paint "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte"? What if he thought he was being selfish by painting his surroundings? What if he thought he would waste everyone's time? Then, not only would the world be missing out on a beautiful work of visual art, but also a revolutionary piece of theatre.
All this to say, at this point in my life there's a lot of fear associated with art. I'm afraid that nobody will like what I write, I'm afraid that I'll waste others' time and energy, and rightfully so. I'm not Sondheim or John Mackey or Georges Seurat. And at this point, I still don't really know why I do music (sorry I wasted this whole post trying to figure it out). But I have realized that the only thing scarier to me than writing bad music is the possibility that I could deny myself opportunities to create something good.
I owe a huge thank you to my family, as well as my friends for supporting me for the past 18 years, and I also owe a huge thank you to you for reading my stream-of-consciousness and listening to my inner thoughts in the form of this blog and my music, even though it might not be "valuable" to you in any way shape or form. Have a wonderful day :)
P.S. I watched this documentary tonight on "Merrily We Roll Along" and why it was such a disaster and now I'm literally reflecting so much on the life I haven't even lived yet, so I would highly recommend it to anyone. It's called "The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened" and it's on Netflix.