Composer Talk

Composer Talk

This is about the most fun I’ve had on any project in my life so far, and I’m only half-way done.

Written By

Rob Deemer

NewMusicBox would like to welcome composer, conductor, and educator Rob Deemer to our Chatter pages. Deemer is currently assistant professor and head of composition in the School of Music at SUNY-Fredonia, and he has begun work on a new book focused on contemporary composers. He’ll be sharing the progress of that work and gathering feedback in this space each Friday. —MS

Who would want to sit down and read what fifty composers, all born in or after 1960 and from every corner of the country, would have to say about art, process, inspiration, doubt, learning, teaching, and making a living? Hopefully, you would. And several thousand of your closest friends. That would make the project I’ve taken on very meaningful. And slightly lucrative. But very meaningful.

You see, I’m writing a book. Well, not writing per se, more like…making a book. This book, which I am calling Untested Waters until I come up with a better title, will be the result of hours upon hours of interviews with folks who are exploring what it means to be a composer in this day and age. Some of them you’ve heard of, others may be new to you. They write music for opera, band, chamber ensembles, orchestras, jazz ensembles, gadgets, computers, singers, vocalists, and choirs. They collaborate with filmmakers, choreographers, librettists, and theatre directors, as well as with other composers. They are very much like the composers you’ve read about on NewMusicBox…and in fact many of them have been featured here at one point or another.

Why go to the trouble of interviewing so many composers, you may ask? (Go on, ask…you know you want to.) I have several reasons. First, it’s fun! Actually, it’s about the most fun I’ve had on any project in my life so far, and I’m only half-way done with the interviews. Second, these composers have a helluva lot to say! I ask them all more or less the same twenty questions, and it usually takes them about an hour just to get through the first three. Third, with the ephemeral world we now live in, with blogs and Facebook and PDF scores and MP3s and everything you’ve ever written residing in a thumbdrive on your keychain, the idea of creating a book that you can hold in your hands, digest at your leisure, and use to learn about some incredible people and fill that gap right over there in your bookcase when you’re done just seems like a good thing to do. Finally, and most importantly, there’s so little out there written about composers of our generation that it very much needed to be done.

While writing a book about music and composers in public isn’t new (see: Ross, Sandow), the book and subsequently this column won’t emphasize my own biases—we have plenty of good columns here that do that already (see: Gardner, Smooke, Visconti, Holter). I would much rather focus on the individuals who will be featured in the book, especially some of the fascinating similarities and dichotomies that arise as more composers are interviewed, as well as the many questions and issues that have presented themselves in putting the list of composers and list of questions together.

It was these reasons and others (see: tenure dossier) that goaded me to apply for some of those academic grants you hear about folks receiving when they ask nicely. I must have asked nicely, because back in April I was suddenly in the position of not only dreaming about the project, but I now had some funding and the pressure to deliver that came with said funding. Fast-forward six months and after having interviewed 28 composers and my comfort level rising with bringing the process of putting this project together to the public eye, now seems a good time to begin discussing it here at NewMusicBox.