On amateurism and flakiness

I think I have mentioned this here before, how I thought, walking one summer day past the local music school, which looked beautiful, being in an old restored convent, and had music coming out the windows, how nice it would be to have a kid attending it so I would have an excuse to hang around there.

Then that came true. My kid started learning an instrument there and I eventually decided to try the cello, not to get good at it, just as a way to get a little closer to the window and look in on music a little better. I never had any plans to become a real cellist.

I still don’t. It would be nice if it happened, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

I get self-conscious about this amateur business. I don’t just do this, I also see myself doing it, and I can see that one could be of the opinion that it is flaky to be doing this. Playing music with children at their level, or below, as an adult. It is a good reason to learn music as a child and not an adult, it comes at a higher price when you’re an adult. Whether that price is people thinking you’re flaky or an unrealistic self-conscious fear of being thought so or (I suppose) a combination of the two is another story.

It’s just, here I am, looking for the window. Or, now, the door. Opportunities are offered to me, so I take them and find myself playing in an amateur orchestra. Or composing. The music school has some very dedicated and brilliant teachers, and some of them ran a composition workshop this year. Gamma said she would do it if I did, so I signed up too. Last night there was a concert where about a dozen compositions were performed, results of the workshop.

Two adults took part, me and another father. I sat there trying to decide whether this was flaky or not, because I figure as long as you realize it might be flaky, it isn’t flaky yet. There is the risk that that makes it even flakier on some metaflaky-level but I’ll just have to live with that.

Mostly, I am grateful to have this chance to fool around with this stuff. A couple professional composers were there and spoke, and one mentioned how composition ought to be taught to children the way we let them paint in school, or write stories and poems, without expecting they’ll be the next Picasso or Shakespeare. Here, at least, you can’t usually study composition before the university level.

We also got to meet with them before the concert and discuss what we had composed. They were nice guys. They said nice things about what I had composed. (The concert was recorded and I ordered a CD. If the sound quality is ok, I’ll post an MP3 here eventually).

I told them how amazed I had been by the process of composing. How you can start with absolutely nothing and end up with something that generates images and feelings and a narrative, that evokes something specific and intended, if only for yourself. I could have explained what I was trying to get at with the piece for a long time.

It is, somehow, a different process, and a different result, than other amateur creative pursuits I engage in. When I write a text, the origins of the text are more mysterious, usually, as are the intentions, usually. A painting is even more so. The tune, on the other hand, was extremely concrete and specific. It was, specifically, about grief being overcome (or balanced) by life. The good, old yin/yang thing. It was about that dead fox at the side of the road, and a happy badger walking off into the woods of a warm summer evening.

Gamma’s piece was one of the more interesting compositions, as was mine. (She had the guts to perform hers herself. For a shy kid, she can be rather fearless.) Neither one of us won the “audience prize” that was awarded by the end of the show, because people are philistines, but we were praised by real musicians, including the composers, who (in our private conversation) encouraged me to continue with this.

This was cool: when you compose, you can create a language for that piece that is specific to that piece. I did this consciously, build a set of rules the piece must follow etc. And the composers (and others last night) mentioned this to me, that is, they got it. That was neat.

They also said the cello part hadn’t made the most of what a cello can do (which was true, but again, the cello part was simply following the rules of the piece) and one or two other things could have been better. One problem was the use of mobile phone ringtones in the piece – do you use them only once, at the beginning, or more often? I used them only at the beginning, and some listeners found it odd and expected them to turn up again. But if they come again later, I thought, that could also be too much – I didn’t want to run that gag into the ground (or, turn it into a joke).

Another thing to do while looking for the door. Another thing to do for love and fail at, although please note that I am using the word “fail” in a slightly different sense here.

I can’t praise the teachers enough who organized this, or the school for offering it, or the various entities that supported this program. It was a very cool experience in so many ways, and who gives a shit if you’re one of two adults in a group of kids. It was amazing to see a tune go from idea to performance, and it was neat to see my daughter and five other harpists and a cellist playing it, and it was neat to see Gamma and her cousin climbing around inside a grand piano playing her tune. Even the ice cream we ate afterwards was neat, as was the balmy summer evening.

5 responses to “On amateurism and flakiness

  1. From one old flake to another: My sincere congratulations on your successes (and Gamma’s).

    Why else are we here but to try? Even the greatest cellists among us strive to improve, to grow, to create something better.

    It seems to me that door is wide open and inviting you in. Enjoy the ride.

  2. mig

    Thanks. I agree. I’m happier doing it this way than, you know, not trying at all. What could be better than doing something for love? Doing it for love *and* getting paid for it, maybe. Maybe. I hope it doesn’t sound as if I’m complaining, I’m having a nice ride here.

  3. I don’t know what to say, Mig. I think this is nowhere near flakiness, not even close. I’m just in awe of you for doing this. It was really brave of you. But you’ve just got this drive to create, I think, irrepressible. I hope it’s decent enough that you can post the song here.

    It’s funny though about the music being more concrete for you. For me, there’s little art that’s as abstract as music. But of course creating it is very different from experiencing it. Still.

  4. flerdle

    I don’t think it’s flaky (but then again, I’m doing it too, and I do lots of unusual things). Part of the problem is that, as an adult, I can much more fully appreciate *_exactly how crap I am at it_*. But then again, I can “feel” it more exquisitely when it actually does come together, even if it’s just a few notes out of many.

    I’m willing to bet your composition isn’t crap, though. I’d like to hear it.