Many people who compose music these days have academic jobs. They are instructors, profs, teachers, etc. When not composing, they give lectures, grade papers, go to committee or departmental meetings, and hang out in their offices. This must make composing hard work. I’ve been around a number of colleges and universities, and I know more than a few academics, active and retired. I think many academic settings must dull inspiration and creativity.
Composers in those settings do have advantages. One is that their music will get played. It’s hard to get people to play your music, but if you are a faculty member, you may even have some sort of arrangement that guarantees that what you compose will get a performance. I don’t have that going for me, and I have to hustle and “sell” my music to performers. I’m not one of nature’s salesmen, either.
Then again, I’m not grading papers and the rest of it. I have much to do where I live that takes me away from composing or playing music per se. But maybe not…We have a garden and a large yard. I bake our bread. I do a lot in the garden and save some of my grass to be cut with a scythe when it gets long. These are wonderful things to do anyway, but they have the result of aiding composition and music-making. Whether on a fine, sunny day or a day that puts one in mind, say of the Hebrides Overture, or when the snow is very deep, at least I’m not tied to papers, the classroom, or committee and departmental meetings. Much of what I do is soul-enriching. Much isn’t, of course, but much is. I remind myself of this when I am faced with composer’s block, and how much worse it would be if I were in a university department.
Now, I readily admit that I never liked school at any level. I may have a graduate degree, which shows that I went through a number of years of university education, but they were not pleasant. At the same time, I like being on campuses, maybe especially ones of institutions in which I am not enrolled. I like being a scholar without being an academic, and I like university libraries. I have library cards at two.
I’m able to be a composer under these circumstances now because we’re retired. Actually, it’s my wife who is retired. I was a house-husband doing odd bits of work before she retired. Much better now that we’re together all day most days. We live a simple, frugal life on the whole.
My latest composition projects have been to write unaccompanied pieces for players to play during the pandemic, specifically for themselves, neighbours, or friends. I’ve done two for cello (both in transcription for viola), one for clarinet, and one for recorder, and one for kantele. The first of the cello pieces has been recorded by the very fine young Chicago cellist, Alexa Muhly. These works are available upon request. I only ask that you play them, from porches, balconies, backyards, etc. for your friends and neighbours. The general title of these works is Solos in a Time of Pandemic.