Author Topic: September, 2017: How do non-musicians react when they find out you compose music  (Read 1350 times)

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Ron

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As you may know, there was an article about me in the local newspaper two weeks ago. It created a stir in the local Bridge clubs. I mean, the fact that I write music is not a topic that comes up at the Bridge table, and so it came as a surprise to almost everyone.


The reactions of some are almost comical, if they weren't so sad in another sense. Almost everyone assumes that because I compose I must be a musical genius. I take it that they haven't met many composers and so imagine that we are all Mozarts and Beethovens. I try to dispel that notion by telling them that there are literally millions of people composing music world-wide. If I know they are golf-players which many (non-mobility-impaired) retired folks are, I ask them if they consider themselves to be Olympic calibre. Same diff' I tell them.

One woman asked me in all seriousness if I had my own choir. Why? I wanted to know. "So you can hear what you write," was her sincere response. Okay.... Several people have asked me to play something for them. I hold up my arthritic bent fingers and tell them my playing days are long behind me. "But how do you write music if you can't play?" I tap my temple. "It's all up here." Oh.

It will blow over and in another week or two they will have all forgotten as they work on their Cappalletti defence strategy.

What's been your experience when non-musicians discover your calling?
Ron
Rules? What rules?

mjf1947

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Ron,

I find most non-musicians to be somewhat pleasant and maybe a bit complimentary; however, since most are of limited knowledge or interest in serious music ... their comments at times can be quite disconnected to my intent.  There is no real context for them to truly understand the process .... although they might find a work pleasing and say as much.

Mark

tbmartin

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The most common responses I get are mild interest, along the lines of discovering any other less-common hobby; or the "math and music" reaction. As an actuary, I'm typically stereotyped as a math nerd, and indeed, it's generally true for me.
Terence Martin

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Goal: Improve quantity and quality of concert band compositions.
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gogreen

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When I tell people I'm a composer, they respond hesitatingly. When I clarify that I write mostly for school groups--bands, choruses, and smaller ensembles, they act surprised and delighted. I think many of these people had some experience in a school music group, or at least they were aware of the school band or orchestra, so they have a framework to relate to what I do. Still, I get the sense that they think there's a mystique to composing that leaves a certain amount of hesitancy in their reaction.

Patrick O'Keefe

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Some background before directly responding  to the question:

I'm not a social person.  My social contacts are primarily with two groups of people.   There's a bunch of people that do recreational Balkan Dancing once a week.  I've been doing this since about 1974.  These people are mostly acquaintances rather than friends.  And there is wine tasting group, started by some of my IT coworkers back in the 1990s that still meets once a month or so.   Some of these people I consider good friends.   (And interestingly, through the wine tasting group I've reconnected with a person who is now a very good vintner that used to be an IT coworker of mine back in the 1970s.)

So in my social circles I'm know as someone interested in Balkan dance or as an IT professional interest in (but not particularly knowledgeable in) wine.  Classical music rarely comes up in the conversations.  It's more often Balkan music, IT war stories, or wine.

On the other hand, ... I started trying to compose about 7 years ago, fumbled for a year, and then start taking lessons in theory and composition (at the urging, maybe demand, of members of this forum).  Until this summer's Octava Chamber Orchestra concert, my only public presentations had been a short piece buried in a "Delian Suite", a simplified version of flute and piano piece of mine played by very young (14 years old?) flute student to an audience of parents of young performers, and a couple presentations at the Seattle Composers Salon where composers present to each other to get feedback.

I know how I react when I hear somebody say (for instance) that they've started writing in retirement and are now an author.   I'm remind of a joke/story told (I think) by Sholem Aleichem that ends something like "By your mother you're a sailor; by your father your a sailor; by a sailor you're no sailor".

I rarely tell people I'm a composer.  I have proof that I'm a retired IT techie.  I have a history of dabbling in Balkan folkdance.  I have no credentials as a composer.  I think anybody that reacts with doubt to my claim of being a composer (or more usually my wife's claim that I'm a composer) is justified.  The Ocatava performance changed that a bit (in both my eyes and to the members of the wine tasting group) but would have been more persuasive if the performance had come off better.

Michel.R.E

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I don't meet that many new people, so most of the time when I DO meet new people it's within the context of having one of my works performed.

Often I have to deal with "the music isn't modern enough" crowd, and I am very defensive in that regard.

Otherwise, the few times I've met people who did not know me within a musical context, I've had some - well, let's just say "less than convivial" discussions. A few people from my baseball team came to a concert of one of my works. And after the concert, they said "wow! so we didn't know that you actually wrote music".  And I couldn't help but respond with "what exactly did you expect it to mean when I said 'I'm a composer'?"

Most people who aren't in the slightest knowledgeable of classical music are most likely to not understand what it means.
On the other hand, I've met many choral singers who have been very supportive and appreciative.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Jamie Kowalski

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I almost always get either "What kind of music do you write?" or "Have you written anything I've heard?"

The first is always difficult to answer without knowing how much they know. The second is probably an attempt to show genuine interest, but I find it a little irritating. Do they really think there are only a couple of people writing all the music?

Ron

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I almost always get either "What kind of music do you write?" or "Have you written anything I've heard?"

The first is always difficult to answer without knowing how much they know. The second is probably an attempt to show genuine interest, but I find it a little irritating. Do they really think there are only a couple of people writing all the music?

As most people know, there have only been a handful of people brilliant enough to be able to compose music in all of history. Handel and Bach invented music and then there was that upstart Mozart (tormented by the jealous no-talent Salieri), the master of all music Beethoven, then a handful of lesser knowns like Brahms, some atonal fools writing nonsense, then rock n roll! (Have I mentioned that the educational system collapsed after I left teaching?)
Ron
Rules? What rules?

Michel.R.E

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(Have I mentioned that the educational system collapsed after I left teaching?)

well then! you shouldn't have left, should ya!
 ;)
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Ron

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(Have I mentioned that the educational system collapsed after I left teaching?)

well then! you shouldn't have left, should ya!
 ;)

No, because I would have had a generous pension now if I had stayed, though the race would have been on to see which I became first: divorced or the town drunk.
Ron
Rules? What rules?

flint

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I only tell other musicians that I am a composer. And even then, the next question is always, "what type of music do you compose?" which is difficult to answer.
"Music is like wine; the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

Ron

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When people ask me what type of music I write usually say "art music; what some people call classical, but 'classical' to me refers to a specific period of music." "Oh, you mean you write that modern discordant stuff." Me: "Modern music is not about discords. Some of the most beautiful music ever written is being written today." I know they don;t believe me. At least I've tried.
Ron
Rules? What rules?

Jamie Kowalski

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I say "contemporary concert music."

Patrick O'Keefe

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An exchange of questions and answers I've gotten several times is "What instrument do you play?".  I respond "None" and get a puzzled look.  "Then how do you compose?"  Huh???  A couple times I responded to the "what instrument" question with "None, but I used to sing in choirs" and got responses similar to "Oh.  That explains it".  Uh, explains what?

One person explained the issue a bit more by asking "If you never played an instrument how do you know how to read music?".  That's a very different question.  I have no idea if that's what was behind the other people's questions.  But that's an interesting side topic.   I was out of college before I realized that not everybody could read music.  I was taught in elementary school.  I remember being taught the names of the lines and spaces of the treble clef in the 2nd grade.  I have no idea when I learned note and rest durations but I assume it was also in the 2nd grade.   Or maybe it was earlier; maybe it was at home.  Actually, I don't ever remember not knowing how to read music.  I don't remember puzzling over unfamiliar basic notation.   

Ron

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I too was taught how to read music in elementary school. In grade 1 the teacher had a poster with a staff on it and the 7 notes of the diatonic scale. One by one we'd have to stand and sing whatever note she pointed at. If you were a boy and got it wrong, you got the pointer smashed across your shoulder. Girls were exempt from corporal punishment. All through school there were two topics that were considered important: reading music and speaking Latin. Everything else was secondary.

I also encounter people who assume that I must play an instrument if I write. Do they assume that anyone who can read must be a writer?
Ron
Rules? What rules?