Sunday, November 05, 2006

Why do I write music??

I was thinking the other day - why do we write music? Is it to impress a small group of people with our compositional skill - or is it to move people on an emotional and perhaps even a spiritual level? That got me thinking of what my motivations have been for writing music over the course of my life. What motivated me to write music, and for what purpose was I writing?


I started writing music when I was 17 - right at the tail end of high school. I was playing in a little garage band with my friend Scott, and our drummer friend Mike. After we exhausted all the Black Sabbath, Megadeth and Metallica we could play, we just started to kind of mess around - jamming as rock bands do. That lead to me writing the first few songs - the very first one was completely instrumental since none of us thought we could sing. But, shortly after, I began to write songs and lyrics and began to sing those songs. This time was just about the joy of playing and making music, and discovering something for the first time. It was about playing music with my two best friends and having fun.

After I decided to go to music school, my motivations changed drastically. It became a quest to prove myself - not just to myself, but to basically everyone else that I could actually write the kind of music I was going to study, and that I had the talent to back it up. NO ONE knew - I myself wasn't even sure. The burning desire to prove yourself can be a powerful motivator and it drove me to take in and learn and experience as much as I possibly could, and to grow musically as much as I possibly could.

By the time I graduated from my undergraduate school, I felt like I was well on my way to proving that I could actually do what I set out to. People were convinced I had talent, and I was convinced that I had proven myself to whoever doubted me - including me. It was just around this time that the third motivational force came into my life, and her name was Mandy Morris.

I was at the very end of my senior year at the University of Texas - I had less than 2 months to go, and I was outta there - I already knew I was going to Indiana for graduate school. I hardly expected to meet someone right at this time - it was actually horrible timing - but I guess things happen usually when you least expect it. One of the choirs at UT was performing a piece of mine, and the conductor invited me to a rehearsal to hear the progress, etc. I had written a solo for soprano in the piece, and when it came time to rehearse that part, she asked the sopranos who would be interested in singing the solo that day (I guess she had been letting different singers do it on different days). A girl raised her hand - "I'll do it!". Wow - it was THAT girl - the one I always see walking around campus with the backpack twice her size, eyes always facing forward focused on some unknown intent. That girl that I waited for every day to walk past the door of my counterpoint class - the one with the unique and very cool style.

When she started to sing - the sound that came out of her mouth - I was floored - I couldn't believe it. I didn't know my music could sound like that - what a voice - I was completely blown away. I was looking for a singer to sing in another piece of mine that I was doing on my senior recital - gave me just the right excuse to go talk to her. I won't go into the mushy details, but I'll never forget that moment as long as I live.

So, needless to say, we started dating. I was completely fascinated by her. She was not only a world class singer, but an amazing poet, and an artist as well. She was smart - funny - laid back (sometimes - lol) - beautiful in every way, truly. She became my new motivation. The only thing I wanted to do was make her proud of me, and to prove to her and to myself that I was worthy of her. She probably never cared - I know she loved me - but that never stopped me from trying all the same.

The Motivation Stops

I had never in my life had such powerful motivation before. It drove me to really make some huge leaps in my composition, and to overcome fears and intimidations that I had had for years (like writing for piano). She was the driving force in my life, and I really felt like she understood me like no one else ever had - I she felt like I understood her the same way - and the crazy thing is - I did. However, that all came crashing down on March 5th, 2002.

Mandy had gone to upstate New York to do an audition for a graduate school there. While there, she crossed a busy intersection on her way to eat, and was hit by an oncoming car. She was in a coma for a week, but never pulled out of it.

Needless to say, I was in total shock, and pretty much a vegetable for at least 6 months - I basically couldn't do anything. Not only was my best friend and the person I loved most of all in the world gone, but, speaking from the point of this blog, my motivation to write music was absolutely and completely gone. For years after, I struggled with my lack of motivation, and I wondered if I could ever get it back. The motivation I felt when Mandy was here was so powerful, it's very difficult to accept anything less.

Graduate School

After her death, I continued on with my graduate studies. I finished my Masters degree and decided to go on with my DM. During this time, I was constantly struggling with motivation. Why an I doing this? For what purpose?

The general mentality when studying classical composition in graduate school is, you get high praise for technique and form, but completely ignored (or even shunned) for the emotional appeal or impact of a piece of music. Usually, the score matters more than what the piece sounds like. It is very easy to get caught up in this way of thinking, since you are rewarded for one thing, ignored for another.

My New Motivation

The closer I've come to finishing my studies, the more I'm finding myself railing against many of the academic perspectives on music. A few weeks ago, I had my piano trio "il dolce stile nuovo" performed in San Francisco by a professional group. There were many other pieces on the concert, including one by Michael Torke and also Joan Tower (2 very famous living composers). The audience was filled, not with composers and professors, but with regular people from the Bay Area. Their reaction to my piece was the reaction that I always hoped it would get, and validated that what I'm trying to do with music is the right way for me. I've been asking myself that question, why do I write music, a lot lately. Is it to impress a small group of people with my compositional skill - or is it to move people on an emotional and perhaps even a spiritual level? I know, for me, it's the latter, and I know that Mandy would agree. My motivation now is to write for anyone who wants to listen, and to try to reach them on their own personal emotional and spiritual level. Maybe I'll never succeed, but it's what drives me now. I have a feeling that would make her proud.


M said...

I feel exactly the same, man. My music is for the real people, but not for academic idiots. My recital will be a milestone for me to move on to the next level.

I will show you a big possibility in this winter in Japan. I hope it will encourage you to gain a clear view of practical actions we must make from now on as composers.

Anonymous said...

I felt kind of nice after reading your blog. I write music because there are people who like my music and are interested in performing my music. I like that interaction with people. As long as I have them, I would keep writing music. - from a grad student who is right in the middle of academia.

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