As the semester comes to a close, and things begin to wind down for the year, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief…and actually update this blog. I give my last exam tomorrow (Ear Training), I’ve submitted most of my grades, and best of all, I just finished a piece! And 2 whole days before the deadline, I might add. It has been a busy year, to be sure, but I can’t help but look back with a sense of accomplishment. I’m one more year closer to getting my PhD, I’m now teaching at two different schools, I completed 2 1/2 major pieces (hey, that’s a lot for me), the music program at Park Street is really taking off, and life in general is beginning to feel more grounded. I still have those days where I can’t imagine why I ever decided to go into music, or why I ever thought I’d be a good composer, or, or or…but overall, I feel more certain than ever that this is what I’m supposed to do, and that maybe, just maybe (maybe), it may be, you know, important.
But aside from my own personal revelations or reflections (or ramblings), I’ve been thinking how very varied the life of a musician actually is in this day and time. This was especially evident the last couple of weeks, when I had a practice (and gig) with my Ska/Reggae band, a rehearsal and several performances with my brass ensemble (Christmas music out on the streets!), a performance with the church orchestra (Mendelssohn’s Christus and Bach Christmas Oratorio, one movement of which I conducted), a parade with my Italian marching band, and a performance for my electroacoustic music class at Brandeis (which mainly involved free improvisation with way too much reverb and ping pong delay). And all of this, of course, was on top of my own classes (currently electro-music and 19th century song cycles…not together of course), teaching at Brandeis (ear training), Gordon (comp and ctrpt), and MIT (piano lab), and composing a vocal sextet. And my experience is not uncommon, or even as busy as some of my colleagues! Gone are the days of the “specialist”, and blind are the students who think they’ll be able to do nothing but compose all day for a living, or play nothing but pieces from the classical repertoire their whole career. The modern musician can’t afford not to have at least some knowledge of jazz, popular music, baroque performance practice, improvisation, music technology – sometimes all in the same week!
This is not to say that a “classical education” is not still an important and vital part of a musician’s training – in fact, it’s more important than ever! With the musical world expanding and redefining itself every day, musicians have to be sure they have both a solid, practical, applicable grounding in theory and performance, and the dedication to continuously supplement their training with knowledge of new trends, new advancements, and a constant reforming and re-contextualization of their musical philosophies. However, it is not possible to rely solely on the relatively narrow teachings of any one area of study. I would love to sit at home receiving commissions every other day (or every other year, for that matter), but that’s not happening (nor is it likely to). So instead I play Ska gigs, I play church gigs, I teach piano (which is really funny, for those who have ever heard me try to play the piano), I do arrangements, I conduct volunteer ensembles, and all the while I become a more well-rounded and experienced musician.
Maybe one day I’ll get lots of commissions and do nothing but compose. But I’d probably just get bored.