How to say “I didn’t like it”

June 11, 2008


Composers get used to civilized and noncommittal responses that usually mean “I didn’t get/like it.”

Top of the list is: “Congratulations!”

Next is the seemingly interested by ultimately not “I thought it was INTERESTING.”

Both “interesting” and “congratulations” can actually mean what they mean, but the composer must learn to perceive TONE in order to know which one they mean.

Shake hands and shout like a pirate: “You’ve done it again!” and it’s never exactly clear what “it” is.

And then there is the “let’s avoid talking about the music” approach and focus on what was clearly a great performance: “What a terrific performance!” with a big smile gets you off the hook.

There is a new one that popped up this year: “Gosh! That was such a lot of hard work!”

And now that I’ve got my poor reader confused as to what you say to a composer upon hearing their new composition. Try one of these:

“I love the flow.”
“I need to hear it again if you want me to say something intelligent about it.”
“It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I still found it interesting.”
“The range of musical languages was puzzling but satisfying.”
“I cried in the …”
“My favorite parts were…” [composers may pretend to not be interested, but they are.]
“Why did you use the electric guitar in …”
“The love duet reminds me of …”
“I especially like when it …”
“It makes me think of [spring time in the desert].”

After all, as Igor Stravinsky said: “Music is much more important than just ‘to like’.”

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[Interview with Stravinsky before the premiere of “Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam” recorded from a KUSC broadcast.]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ComposerBastard June 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm

My favorite:

“WOW! What kind of paper did you use?”

Brad Wood June 11, 2008 at 7:53 pm

HAha paper indeed!

I think it was Paul Reale who first mentioned the “Well, you got a good performance” strategem when one doesn’t want to say the piece was not particularly favored.

I’m reminded of a student group’s performance of one of Paul’s pieces, I think it was for string quartet. In this case one could hardly evaluate the piece, the performance was so bloody awful. Paul told me afterwards, when I struggled to find words of, well, condolence, that what might have been construed by the listeners as tone clusters, in the relative stratosphere of one passage, were in fact supposed to be…triads.

mryantaylor June 19, 2008 at 8:13 am

My composer collective had an evening of string quartets here last Saturday. The performance of my piece had many errors on the part of the players (paid players even). Afterwards, I was particular wounded by one of the comments from one of the other composers; he said something like, “I like this the best of your music I’ve heard.” Ouch, it still smarts. I felt like my entire body of music had just been dismissed. Composers do care if you like their music, but they especially care if their peers like it. I keep trying to remind myself that the audience really liked the piece, errors or no, but I’m not quite the proverbial duck yet with the ability to let it roll off my back. In the end, I think composers just have to get a thick skin.

Roger Bourland June 19, 2008 at 8:40 am

My advice is to NOT write for composers. They are the most opinionated listeners and will rarely be your biggest fans.

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