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self-evaluation

When i was in my second semester as an undergraduate composer at West Chester, my profs gave me a questionnaire to fill out. I've filled out the questionnaire once or twice since then, and I thought that now that i finally completed my master's degree, it'd be a good time to do it again. To keep myself unbiased, i haven't looked at an of my previous answers.

I think i might cross-post this to composers_forum.

The Questions

  • What are your strengths as a composer?
  • What are your weaknesses as a composer?
  • Have you grown this term/year as a composer?
  • How has your listening grown/changed this year?
  • What compositional projects do you have in mind for the future?
  • In what "direction" is your music headed?

What are your strengths as a composer?

I think my biggest strength is how easy it is for me to hear everything in my head. For as long as i've been a composer, i'd have to say that maybe only 5 percent of it was done behind the piano to help me. It's true that when I first started using Finale I used it to help me compose, but one of my peers at West Chester encouraged me to think of Finale more as a notational tool as opposed to a compositional tool, and over a period of time I did that. Occasionally I'll use MIDI playback to help me get a clearer picture of pacing or certain complex harmonies or fill some orchestrational details, but these days my process always starts on paper. When I feel confident about how I hear the piece or a section of the piece in my head, i'll transfer my paper sketches to Finale.

Obviously it's not always as clear cut as i'm making it out to be, but to expand on the exceptions and the motivations behind those exceptions would be tangental.

I think another strength I have is my compositional methodology. I'm always looking to strike a balance between the emotional and the analytical. I don't like pieces that are purely academic, but neither do I like pieces that are only surface level listening. I try to find a way to appeal to the listener immediately, yet also give them something to discover when they listen to the piece a second or third time or look closely at the score. If i'm able to do that, i consider it a successful composition.

What are your weaknesses as a composer?

Two stick out to me.

First, my biggest strength is also my weakness in that I can rely upon how I hear the piece in my head too much. I discovered how this affected my electronic music projects more than anything else. Jeff always encouraged me to just experiment with sounds outside of the context of a form. Take a sample, mess with it, see if I find something interesting that will create an idea for a piece or a section of a piece... define the piece's vocabularly, and then let the piece write itself.

I've never been good at that kind of composition. It makes me feel insecure to come up with material that I don't already know belongs somewhere in a piece. I *was* able to come up with a couple of electronic music pieces that followed the above paradigm, but it felt awkward. It makes me worry that i might be becoming too fixed in the way i compose. I need to learn how to be comfortable with my process, but still be fleixble to change and grow.

My biggest weakness as a composer, however, is my lack of aggression when it comes to self-promotion and administrative details. It's not my general M.O. to toot my own horn. I can sometimes acknowledge that I write good music, but even if I do, I don't want to tell people about it. It makes me feel weird. I don't want to tell people what I'm good at. I want to tell people what *they're* good at. I'll boost someone else's lesser achievements before I'll talk about my bigger ones because I try to stay out of the limelight and focus of attention. I haven't told many people that i have a masters degree now. somehow it doesn't seem as important than, say, Kim putting on her senior recital or Erica's middle school conducting gig or Willamette's winter concert next thursday.

It's not that i object to this kind of thinking, but practically it's not good for my career. i need to aggresviely promote my compositional career if i'm going to make it in the field. Enter more competitions, be better about registering my pieces with ASCAP, and don't let my modesty get in the way of trying to make connections either in the academic or marching world.

FMO Concerts have been good for self-promotion, but only because i've shown all of the guest artists my competency since i was always in charge of concert set up and I really know what i'm doing. If i didn't have any of that responsibility, chance are I would have talked to the guest artists and made small talk, but i might not have stuck out as a person who could, say, be a valuable resource to their doctoral program or for personal projects.

People like Andy and Mel and Troy have gotten themselves involved with other departments or installations or other things just because they put thier names out there. I don't do anything less competent, but I don't put my name out there.

I feel depressed about it, but i should shake that and start to change it instead. Depression can be too self-indulging and not always useful.

Have you grown this term/year as a composer?

I'm applying this question more to my time at the University of Oregon as opposed to just this past term/year.

The UofO sucked a great deal of creative energy out of me for reasons i don't want to go into detail about on a public journal. I certainly gained more skills and confidence as both an acoustic and an electronic composer. I like most of the acoustic music i wrote, and even those I didn't i see as important learning experiences.

I gained a lot of electronic music knowledge here, both from teaching and composing in it. I understand the technical details of acoustics and sound properties, and resultingly that made it easier for me to create electronic music and understand electronic equipment that I only had a vague understanding of before.

There's still a lot I need to learn, and it's possibly a rough road, but I think i realize that I have the skills and the passion to make it in my chosen path, and even if it doesn't go exactly the way I want it to, i have some good alternatives to fall back upon. Now that my thesis and my master's degree is over, i've still devoted myself to writing as much music as i can, and hopefully I can keep up my devotion to it even outside of the academic context.

There's also no doubt that the marching band side of me is still very strong, and i've arranged full marching band shows for the first time since being at the UofO thanks to my great connetion with Willamette. I feel more comfortable arranging for marching band and writing for large ensenmbles as a general rule, and that part of me is definitely something I want to continue for as much as high schools or colleges will be willing to hire me for.

How has your listening grown/changed this year?

honestly, i'm not sure how much it has. I still listen mainly to twentieth century classical, techno/electronica, heavy metal, and rap. My listening has broadened some to Renaissance, but that appreciation is kind of like my Baroque listening - i love listening to it, but not enough to own the CDs.

I certainly expanded my listening vocabulary by being exposed to more artists - classical music from composer and electronic music forums, concerts, and being a performer in the 100th Monkey ensemble, and techno/electronica from p2p networks like Napster used to be and Gneutella now serves to be, and also from friends who are into it. Techno/electronica is what I listen to most these days.

What compositional projects do you have in mind for the future?

I have a few different projects that i have in mind and/or have started.

First priority is Willamette's winter percussion show. I'm meeting with Andy tomorrow to talk about the motion sensor electronic part. Mark, Aaron, and I are going to meet about the show on Tuesday to go over my concept (transformation of color) and try to apply music and visual ideas to it. And we have rehearsal on Wednesday, and i have to write some cymbal parts.

Second priority is the percussion ensemble piece i'm writing. Charles has been bugging me to write a piece for his percussion ensemble at the UofO, and I want to have one ready for him in the spring. I have about one minute of it done, and i know how i want it to end, but I don't have the middle details yet. I'm anticipating that it'll be a long piece - it sits as a fifteen minute piece in my head right now, but obviously that's flexible.

Third prioirty is my Probability Loop Machine. Part of that also involves learning MSP which i've been pretty motivated to do, so even though this is third priority, i'm going to be working on this at the same time as my perc ensemble piece.

After that, i have a couple of other electronic music projects in my brain and i want to write a horn quintet. We'll see what happens.... i'm not sure if i can get those off the ground until after april, but some of these priorities might change depending on factors i won't know about until january or februrary.

In what "direction" is your music headed?

Even after all this time, i'm still not prepared to answer this question. I'm not committed to a particular compositional voice since i have a passion for so many different kinds of music. I want to start creating some techno/electronica. I want to continue my academic electornic projects and my acoustic music. I want to continue my marching percussion and marching arranging stuff. And all of those things are so different from each other from a musical, compositional, and philosophical standpoint.

I'm not sure if it's a question i ever want to answer. It's conceivable that this could hurt my professional compositional career since most famous composers get associated with a particular kind of sound, but I'm not going to dictate the way i write based on a particular "successful" formula. I'm going to write what I have a passion to write, and if people like that and i become famous because of it, i'll go with that. But i'm not sacrificing my compositional integrity for it.

Comments

( read spoken (1) — speak )
yookoso
Dec. 15th, 2003 11:00 am (UTC)
I like this. I'm going to hang on to these questions.
( read spoken (1) — speak )

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