Okay. I am a glass half full kind of guy. I like to think that I'm pretty good at maintaining a positive outlook on things. But I seem to be coming across a lot of darkness lately and I feel the need to write about it a bit. I need to let it out.
As artists and musicians, we are met with many challenges. They're good for us. They're necessary. But they can often really feel oppressing sometimes, no doubt. Let me tell you a couple things I've experienced lately. This week I listened to a podcast conversation with the great drummer Jim Black who moved to New York City in 1991. He was talking about how after about the year 2000, it seemed that young musicians needed to go straight for teaching jobs right out of college. Whereas more guys and gals of his generation were able to work together, develop bands, and have the opportunity to tour these bands. I think he was talking mainly about finances. New York City has just become a damn near impossible place to live for an artist. It's just too expensive. I was just reading the same thing in Brooklyn Magazine today. This city is full of creative people, especially musicians, but we're all too busy trying to make rent by working day jobs or teaching. The creative potential of the people here is insanely high, but we don't have time to work together because of our financial needs. Artists are leaving the city fast. My art has essentially become a habit. I have to look at the books to see how much I can afford to play gigs and make records. I don't even consider the possibility of taking a band on the road at this point. I have some collective projects in the works that could develop that potential, but as for hiring musicians I love to play my compositions on a tour - it just doesn't seem possible to afford. It's barely affordable to play a gig in town.
Also I came across a post on Facebook of a video of the great composer Maria Schneider pleading to the US House or Representatives Judiciary Committee to fix the internet copyright laws. She seemed to be on the verge of tears as she explained how most of her time now is spent trying to control what people illegally share on the internet instead of writing new material. It's sad. It seems to me that musicians of her generation, the same generation of Jim Black, had a taste of pre-internet, pre-financial crisis, pre 9/11(?) success. They were able to afford to try stuff, and take bands on tour, and make money on those tours and from record sales. It was never easy no doubt, but I get the feeling that it was justifiable. Fans payed for art back then, and now although these artists have established themselves and they have big followings, people don't want to pay for their work anymore. But the even sadder part is that most musicians of my generation have never had a taste of that kind of success, and we don't even consider it a possibility, unless we're putting our our first record and don't know any better. We make records for the joy of it, and that is valuable and important. We may sell some at gigs. But you have to admit that the making a recording of any kind these days does not make much financial sense. There is not financial justice in it. I did not get into music for the money, but it would be nice to know that touring and record sales could eventually mean at least breaking even. At this point it seems that I would need to throw an impossible amount of money into those activities for years before they could begin to become financially responsible. And I'm beginning to think about the future - where I want to live for the rest of my life, starting a family, etc.
Now it could be that I am just a pussy. It could be that my output is not top of the line, that I'm not making music that people want to hear, or that I'm not succeeding in what I'm attempting artistically. It could be that the universe is saying no. You tried. You failed. To tell you the truth, I can dig that. It's not easy to take, but I've come full circle with the notion that I play for myself. I make music for myself. I do it because it makes me feel good to put what I feel is beautiful out into the world. And I'm not going to let these dark things get in the way of that. Around the time I released Bagatelles for Trio, I think I let the business side of things take over a little too strongly. It was getting in the way of the process of creation and expression. What I've discovered is that I need to maintain a sense of wonder and awe in my musical world. I need to keep the perspective of a learner and lover of music, so that when I go out to hear concerts by my colleagues who have had more widespread recognition I don't feel resentment toward them and I simply am able to love their work fully. It's a privilege, honor, and inspiration to know these great musicians.
The title of this week's piece refers to rising above all the darkness when I sit down at the piano. Whether it's in performance or at home, especially at home actually. Playing the piano and writing music is a gift. It releases tension. It's negative ionization. It's an expression of gratitude, an expression of love. It's amazing. It's the best. I will not let the darkness interfere with the sacred time I spend at the piano any longer.
Over Rise is a special achievement in another way, because I succeeded in extracting major scale harmony out of Messiaen's modes in a way that wasn't compromising. The piece uses three transpositions of Messiaen's third mode, a different one in each of the three voices. Basically I was able to fill in the notes that were missing from the major scale with the other transpositions, if that makes any sense. It doesn't really matter if you understand that. What matters is that this piece makes me feel good. If it makes me feel good, it's got a better chance at making you feel good. If it makes you feel good, that is really awesome, although I have no expectations that it will do so.
Interestingly, while working on the previous weekly composition project, I was often quite self-conscious of my major diatonic pieces, feeling like they weren't "hip" enough. But here I am super happy that I managed to get it out of the Messiaen techniques, and I have no reservations about presenting it to you. It feels good. I'm thankful for this.