Don’t care about old composers

October 21, 2009

I think about retiring from academia quite a lot these days. One thing I would miss is the affiliation with an organization that ensures I have a performances of my music. Once you retire, you don’t have the same connection. I look at many American composers late works and no one seems to care too much. Oddballs like me may love Griffes or Carpenter or Reale, but the whole world? Not so much. I personally LOVE Stravinsky’s late work, but most don’t. It rarely gets performed.

What American composers of so-called classical concert music are still played extensively today? John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, I’m not going to count Stravinsky and Schoenberg (tho the verdict is probably the same) all come to mind. Not too many university professors or composers of “modern” music. These days John Adams is our most popular I’d imagine. Many of us may lust after John’s success, but we are also very happy for him, as he’s “one of us.”

I asked Aaron Copland what he was composing in fall 1976: “Nothing, and I am not accepting commissions; if people want to play my music, there’s plenty of it available in my catalog.”

Today I went through an old journal, listing old UCLA Music faculty and their appointments and salaries. I looked at all the composers and saw their careers over a span of decades. I sighed and thought about how none of their music is heard these days. And I’m sure that this is true for every music school in America.


So, should I worry about what I compose after I retire? No. I’ll compose if I want to, and if someone or group commissions me. America doesn’t care about composers so much, especially old ones, so don’t expect to be any different.

So in your retirement, Roger, why not reinvent yourself? Try something new! Catch up on reading! Blog more (count on it), and put more energy into our publishing company. Travel. Meet some new friends. Take risks. Love life while you still have it.

I love being a composer and what it has afforded me in this life and this world. I have loved the time spent composing it, playing it in progress for my close friends, and most especially, having premieres of new pieces. I went into this profession knowing I would not ever be “famous” like the Beethoven club, and have accepted that.

It shouldn’t be relevant to anyone as to whether what you’ve done in our life lasts beyond your lifetime. You’ll be dead, or at least, not here. Your music is important here and now, and that’s enough.

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inspiring reads | curtis macdonald
November 2, 2009 at 2:04 pm

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