Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Love the art vs. Love the artist

I am embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I've learned to make the distinction between these two concepts (as they apply to myself and my own work). In retrospect it is kind of hilarious that I was operating previously with these things conflated.

Happily, I have come to realize that what I really want to accomplish musically has something to do with having people like the work, but has nothing to do with needing people to like me. Ah, what relief. Of course, I do still need people to like me, but that's an entirely separate matter. Understanding that this is an entirely separate matter is a wonderful thing!

At the same time, I am more and more clear about the fact that all people will not like the work. In fact, most people will probably not like it (or at least not care about it). However, there are some people who will actually like it and be enthusiastic about it. This is nice.

Having learned these simple things makes it much easier to swallow a lousy review (like the one that was published on Monday in the Post), because my self esteem isn't all tied up in whether or not people liked the music. People responded quite positively to the show - and I think that has a lot to do with the potential for the group and what we're trying to accomplish, even though I've got some work do to as far as getting the music where it needs to be. Carl told me today that he thought about 75% of the music didn't really work, but the other 25% was really exciting. For our first time out with this project, I'll take that. Ok, so we didn't knock one out of the park our first try, but we'll get there...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ouch. A bad review.

The Low End String Quartet's concert on Saturday went quite well. I was really happy with how things went. We had a great audience, the "early show" experiment at Velvet Lounge worked out, and we made it through our set without any major troubles. Considering all of the technical things that could go wrong (especially with my poor old laptop running the show), I'm pretty psyched about how it went.

Of course there are technical / execution things that can be improved. This was our first time performing most of the music, and we can use some more rehearsal. I need to find a better system for dealing with Andrea's violin pickup - the sound we're getting now isn't so hot.

The Post sent a classical music critic, and she really didn't like it. Oh well. I had hoped we'd get a good review that we could attach with grant proposals and add to our press kit and whatnot, but this one ain't it. Oh well. Fortunately the other group members escaped unscathed. She only harshed on me - and particularly my compositions. I can understand that viewed through the lens of post-classical minimalism (Reich, Glass, John Adams, Terry Riley, etc) my work would come off as a bad imitation.

Anyway, we've got work to do. We have two rehearsal days this week before we head into the recording studio on Monday night. So that's two work days this week where I get to have super fun and call it work.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The greatest work day ever

I wanted to write this up two weeks ago, and then got behind... but I think it's going to repeat tomorrow, so I'm happy to revisit.

I've been complaining a great deal lately about my dayjob(s) and stress related to money, etc. That all took a backseat a few weeks ago when I had a daytime rehearsal for the Low End Quartet.

I started this project about a year and a half ago. I threw together a few pieces, found interested players who were willing to do a couple of rehearsals and one show for free, got us a spot opening for a friend of mine, and we did a little proof-of-concept. It worked quite well. The music was well received, we made some rehearsal recordings, and I was quite insipired to write more music for the group. Instead of writing said music immediately, I wrote grant proposals. And then some more proposals. Then I got really lucky and some of those were funded.

So here we are, I've got this thing going as a paid gig. I was able to take a few months at the start of the year to focus on composing, and I've got the budget to pay the performers (including myself) for a handful of rehearsals and a show or two. Plus we're going to spend three days in the recording studio in September. Exciting stuff...

Of course real life didn't unfold according to plan and some of the details in my proposals have been changed. I had to hire a new bass player, I didn't finish writing the pieces I needed in the time alotted, etc., etc... but we've got a show coming up this weekend, and the recording session is two weeks away. And here's the best part -- our rehearsal days are paid for. It's literally my job to rehearse with the group. Not as much as I'd like, but we're devoting a couple of days to it - six hour blocks of time, which is quite unheard of in my experience with other bands.

So a few weeks ago, I set up the basement for us and sure enough we spent the better part of the day playing new music in my basement. We didn't cover as much material as I'd hoped, but I'm always putting too many things on my to-do list for any given day. This was no exception. We took a short break for lunch, and played some more. A photographer for the Express came by because they're running a feature about our upcoming show. We got to get acquainted a bit more with one another during lunch, and we got to get acquainted a bit more simply by playing together. (The cat's out of the bag, as far as my skills as a performer... the other members of the group are pros and I'm not quite up to speed when it comes to playing chamber music ;-)

At the end of the day, I was awfully content. I put my coffee down at 9am and forgot to drink it, I was so absorbed in what we were doing all day. When I found it again after the rehearsal was over and everyone had left, I realized that I'd just had the best work day ever. We'd worked hard, but it was seriously fun the whole time. Maddening at some points, given that my music is repetitive and we have to count bars carefully, but fun!

I can't wait for rehearsal tomorrow.. and the show on Saturday should be a blast. Check out the Express on Thursday (I think that's when the feature will run), and I think the Post is covering the show so a review should be in Monday's paper...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

Not qute viral marketing but...

I haven't really done much publicity for our upcoming Low End String Quartet show at the Velvet Lounge (Aug. 23rd at 8pm, it's gonna be awesome and you should totally come), but the wheels seem to be turning nonetheless.

I got an email from the arts editor at Washington Post Express - I don't think I sent her anything about the show, but honestly I can't remember... and they sent a photographer over to my house to take some pictures during our rehearsal yesterday.

Also, we got a mention in the Post yesterday, at the end of a review of the Section Quartet's show at Iota (they were doing an evening of Radiohead covers).

Does this mean that there is some buzz building and I don't have to push so hard to generate it myself? That would be sweet.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Money vs. Time vs. Misanthropy

I spent most of July working for the man, and now I feel a little less anxious about money. Getting my total net worth above zero makes a difference. Imagine that.

Now my anxious-ness has shifted focus from money to the other side of the same coin: time. Now that I'm committing the majority of my time to earning money, I'm running up against some real obstacles when it comes to accomplishing the things I think I'm supposed to actually do with my life. For whatever reason(s), one of those things is to write string quartet music that rocks. And I've got a deadline, since we start rehearsing again next week... but when do I finish the piece I'm working on, and how will I ever get the score and parts done before Thursday morning? And, oh crap – shouldn't I be doing publicity stuff for our show, now that it's less than four weeks away?! And on top of that, my list of grant proposal deadlines is pretty long for September and October, so I have to get started on some of that work during August, or I'll really be in trouble...

So here I am in anxious-land, nervous about how I can make time to do the things I “need” to do even though I “need” to pay the bills and I also “need” (and importantly, want) to spend time doing some leisure things – spending time with Cameron, and the dogs, and fixing up the yard and the house, etc.

I heard this sermon a few years ago, about looking at our calendar through a spiritual lens... not surprisingly, the big conclusion is to find a purpose in life and do things with that purpose in mind. Then the frenzied activity goes away, or at least feels rewarding rather than frenzied since it's all in service of the grand purpose.

Ok, but I still want to write this string quartet music that rocks. Is that my grand purpose? I don't think so, but maybe writing and playing music is... in as much as it serves a grand purpose like inspiring others or somehow expressing the inexpressible, you know, like music can do sometimes... or maybe it's more about allowing music to create the opportunity for people to come together and simply have a shared experience – one that may occasionally be a moving experience? I think I learned a little bit about that playing with Joe last May. He seems really clear about his purpose - which I interpreted as being all about bringing people together. And that meets the Henry Moore test as mentioned in that sermon I linked to, about having a purpose that is totally impossible. It is definitely getting harder and harder to bring a group of people together for any kind of shared experience. (And I'm part of the problem here... I'd much rather stay home and watch TV with Cameron and the puppies than go out and do something with people – hey wait a second, I hate people. I've been using the “so so so fun test” to say no to all kinds of activities; if it's not going to be so so so fun, then I'd rather just stay home. I haven't found much that passes the “so so so fun test.”)

Even with that aside, so let's say we're close to my grand purpose – to use my creativity to create something that brings people together for some kind of special experience (let's pretend I find a way to get over the fact that, in general, I hate people). Or something like that. Now what about the money? Am I just too chicken to really take the leap and live my purpose because I don't know how the money can possibly work out? I tried it for the first five months of this year – I wasn't doing very much in the way of unrelated day-jobs, and I wound up broke without much in the way of future earnings on the horizon, so I headed for the temp agency. So now what?