Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is giving the secret to getting ahead?

Articles like this one about Adam Grant are fascinating.  Reading about human creativity is exciting in and of itself, but just as enjoyable is figuring out how the findings might relate to music.

One question concerns the difference between the unreservedly-generous people who end up successful and happy, and those who end up frustrated and burned out.  The former restrict their giving to others who give indiscriminately, and those who at least match the generosity they receive.  So the people who are unrestricted in their generosity are actually partly restricted in their generosity if they are successful?

As a composer, one of the primary questions is how to add value to a situation.  A new piece of music is often considered more of a burden than a gift; the words, "Here's a new piece for you!" are not always greeted with enthusiasm.  This is actually understandable; performers are busy people, and looking at a new piece takes time.  So the question is, how to find those situations in which new material is actually appreciated.

The no-brainers are the performers or ensembles who have actively advertised for material.  Your search engine is your friend, as are sites like  Your second most important source is the people you know, and here is where you can see the value of Adam Grant's approach.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Barbara Sher

On the subject of doing what you love, one of my favorite givers-of-advice is Barbara Sher.

She's both practical and upbeat.  Her "Idea Party" is a place where people post what they'd love to do, and what's keeping them from doing it ... and offer each other suggestions and resources to get around the obstacles.  It's not unusual for me to find a solution there for a problem I didn't realize I was working on.  Or two, or three ...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Creativity Tools and Methods

Here is a link to a website about creativity.  I've heard Win Wenger speak twice, and each time he was inspiring.  First he collected many known means of boosting human creativity.  Then he applied them to the problem of coming up with improved means for boosting creativity.  They are posted here.

This is one of his methods specifically related to music.

To be major or minor (in music)?

But seriously ... once you're done groaning ...

Should young musicians headed for college or university be encouraged to major in music?

This is a question that's been bothering me.  After all, I did go to a good university, did major in music, got a master's degree, paid off my debt, and lived to write about it.  It's clear that there is nothing like a university music school to train a young artist, and it's also clear that university-level music study provides incredible advantages, some of which aren't obvious until you've been away from the university for some time.

But it's been a long time since I was a university student, and in the meantime the economy has changed.  Music school tuition has risen, wages have not.  For a good music school you are now looking at between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.  There aren't many entry-level music jobs that pay that well; in fact, there aren't that many entry-level jobs that pay that well, period.  So if you're borrowing any substantial fraction of that money, you have a problem.

Many have seen this as a reason to counsel students to major in "practical" things, such as finance, law, or medicine.  Once you have the resources, they argue, you can study whatever you want.  The argument did make some sense, at least up until 2008 when shockwaves went through the financial world.  Suddenly people who did major in finance, people who had good jobs and thought themselves secure, were out on the street.

I'm certainly not up-to-the-minute on the outlook for financial careers, nor do I want to dissuade any would-be finance majors.  But while the advice to major in something with obvious practical applications still has merit, as the list of viable career options shrinks the calculation changes.   Today's students are forced to take increasingly risky gambles that the degree they receive will, one day, allow them to pay off the cost of attaining it.  Those who lose the bet face financial ruin.

If you're going to have economic difficulties, would you rather be facing them as a result of having spent four years intensely involved with something you loved, or as a result of something you were doing only because you hoped it would make money for you ... but the money never came?

Since writing the above, I've realized that the situation is actually much more complex than I allowed for.  It's not an all-or-nothing decision, for one thing.   For another, there really aren't guarantees for anyone.  For a third, people change, and so can the pursuits they enjoy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bookstore find - amateur band guide

Recently I made a bookstore pilgrimage and came home with a treasure: The Amateur Band Guide and Aid to Leaders, by Edwin Franko Goldman, published in 1916 by Carl Fischer.  1916 was during World War I.  Charles Ives had recently written some of his most famous pieces; Arnold Schoenberg had written Pierrot Lunaire four years earlier.  John Philip Sousa was touring with his own band.  Charles Ives completed his Fourth Symphony during 1916; he had finished his second String Quartet a year earlier.

Goldman's book is a long way from all of these.  He doesn't mention very much actual music by name; what he does mention are waltzes, polkas, two-steps, marches, quicksteps, and so on.  He talks about having the band play chorales as an exercise; otherwise the only "classical" genre he mentions is the overture.

This, in other words, would have been the musical diet of a primary source of small-town entertainment during that time.  Here's how the band would have been organized, including sample by-laws, a suggested rehearsal schedule, some basic instructions on how to conduct, explanations of tuning and warm-up exercises, and a whole chapter describing, and listing the ranges of, a number of typical band instruments.  The ranges given are approximately those that would be considered appropriate for high-school performers today.  Goldman also discusses the care and maintenance of the various types of instruments, and has compiled a bibliography of tutors and exercise books. 

As musicians, we're aware of history in a special way.  The  past is never entirely dead, because we're always picking it up and re-creating it.  The wind and brass players who took part in the premiere of Ives's third symphony in 1946 probably learned from some of the material Goldman lists.  It's one thing to read about music and musicians of the past, it's another to play their music, and it's something else yet again to hold in your hand the same book they held.  What significance this all has for us today ... that's for us to decide.