Severin’s confession

December 15, 2006

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When a doctoral candidate in composition is ready to begin his or her dissertation, their first meeting is a meeting where the candidate meets with the committee to defend their dissertation topic. It is here that the faculty advise: “be sure to read…” or “you’re biting off too much” or “your proposal seems rather modest for a doctoral dissertation” or “you realize this piece will never be performed.”

My most recent charge is Severin who defended his dissertation topic the other day, and it was a memorable one.

The piece is largely an improvisational format, where the experience is primarily for the musicians, the participants, and not necessarily the audience. In fact, when one faculty member pushed and asked “do you care what the audience thinks?” the answer, after two beats was a resounding NO. “I don’t care about what future generations think about my music. That is of absolutely no concern to me. I am only concerned about the here and now.”

Part of the unspoken tradition imparted to young classical musicians is that they have to be world famous in order to “make it.” I try to dispel this notion whenever I can. I tell them: “You can be a successful oboe teacher in Dubuque, Iowa and have a good, successful, fulfilling life.” Our desire to be canonized in our music history books needs to be cauterized.

I often wonder whether music is not unlike a wonderful meal. One that you remember for a while, and then it needs to be refreshened. Composers are like aural chefs. And that’s ok. I see, during performances of my music, how my music touches the audience, or doesn’t. And more and more, I am adapting Severin’s confession as my maxim. The whole notion of culling favor with the future while ignoring the present is silly.

Carpe diem!

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