Tag: career building

Perceptions of Success

Several months ago I wrote a post entitled “Perceptions of Opportunity” that looked at how important it was to ensure that opportunities for composers to further their craft and have their voices heard were neither limited nor perceived to be limited. In a similar vein, perception seems to be a driving force today in how composers, performers, ensembles, and the media understand “success” within the new music community. In order to get a sense of what that perception is and how it works, one first has to agree on a definition of success. How does one actually become successful in our field? And what does that even mean?
From my humble vantage point out here in western New York, the answer to those questions depends on what kind of success we’re talking about. If we’re discussing personal satisfaction (having the opportunity to create, perform, and disseminate one’s art), that’s one thing; if we’re discussing financial stability (whether directly through one’s own creative work or through other means), that’s another. Both of those either affect or are affected by the content of one’s own work (and, of course, they’re not mutually exclusive).

Where the situation can become more troublesome seems to be found with the type of success that is based on exposure and notoriety. That notoriety can take obvious forms, such as the winning of a major award, a particularly positive review or article in a newspaper or magazine, or a significant commission by a respected ensemble or performer. But notoriety can grow subtly as well, through a gradual inclusion into the national discussion in print or online media, social networks, or by word of mouth.
Gradual notoriety and exposure can happen organically over period of years and come from a variety of sources or with consistent repetition from a few, high-profile individuals. This is, of course, not a new idea by any stretch; most of the composers that we would today label as “masters” were championed by others in print, in the classroom, and on the podium. What separates today’s composers from those in the past are the numbers; just as the number of composers have risen, so too have the conduits through which audiences can discover and explore new music. This expansion in numbers has created a growing need–or at least an opportunity–for guidance and, for lack of a better term, taste-making.

Over the past several years, there have been a number of composers, performers, and ensembles that have caught the attention of those in the media whose influence can have a sizable impact on the artists’ reputation within the greater musical community. It would be very easy to infer that if those artists are able to garner continued attention from the media, then their music must not only be of high quality but of superior quality when compared with the work of those who are not being noticed…and therein lies the rub.

Considering the small number of individuals whose judgements, opinions, or programming decisions can truly alter or affect public tastes, it’s very easy to come up with false inferences in both directions. If a particular style or musical sensibility becomes prevalent in the media–be that print, online, or radio–or on the concert stage, some observers may infer that that style or concept is “the one to pay attention to,” while other observers may fairly or unfairly assume that if that style has been embraced by the media, then it is automatically suspect and possibly invalid.

Public exposure and notoriety–what some might call a “surface level” success–is neither harmful nor beneficial in and of itself. If nurtured wisely and not taken too seriously, then it can be used to improve current projects and provide opportunities for new ones. If taken too seriously (from either the vantage point of the artist or the audience/onlookers), it can twist expectations, alter interpretations, and breed unhealthy reactions. It is hoped that with realistic expectations from artists and audiences and a wide-open, broad-based, and truly investigative media, the new music community can de-emphasize the surface-level successes and emphasize those successes that emanate from the content itself.

Big Picture

Holding a Picture Frame
As someone who both creates and teaches for a living, I find myself in a continual and simultaneous state of reflection on the past and projection towards the future. It is, of course, only natural to focus on one or the other at different times in our lives, especially when we reach a major personal or professional crossroads, and to look only in one direction without the other for a prolonged period would most undoubtedly be a mistake. But this bi-directional perspective can also be paralyzing, especially if there are no overarching goals to act as signposts on the road that lays before us, and it is at this point that I have found myself this summer.

Before I began my six-week teaching stint at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp at the end of June, I had been on a bit of a roller coaster. The end of the school year provided a wild ride of good news (I had been recommended for tenure and promotion at SUNY Fredonia after six years of teaching there) and bad news (I was notified that there was some dissension within my composition studio) and good news (several opportunities to write large-scale works for orchestra, band, and choir over the next two years). Add to that list the fire near my home a few weeks ago, and you can hopefully understand why I would not list this as one of my more serene summers.

The issues I’m facing both with my studio and my composing are in some ways quite similar. Both were unexpected and, while I’ll admit that I was more pleased to hear about my composing opportunities than strife within my studio, both will require a large amount of time, effort, and focused attention to ensure successful outcomes. In the big picture, however, these are things that anyone who teaches or creates has to address from time to time. Obviously the fact that the house next door burnt down is a pretty big deal and my wife and I will be getting used to our new environment over the next few months, but in the grand scheme of things that too falls under the category of a temporary adventure.

The whole tenure thing is a bit different. Setting aside the typical knee-jerk conversations about job security, teacher apathy, and other topics that tend to crop up when tenure is mentioned, what really resonated with me when I received my letter was that I had reached the last “marker” that had been placed before me. From the time we begin to attend school as a child, we have markers or signposts in our lives that we work toward, and those of us who decide to go into higher education have quite a few. When I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film scoring career, I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have a “finish line” to work toward–I was young enough that the vast chasm of my future was both challenging and exhilarating. When I decided to go back to grad school a few years later, I could see the next few markers laid out in front of me–master’s degree, DMA, unknown number of teaching gigs, and hopefully tenure at a rewarding institution. I didn’t have a clue how long it would take me to get to the end of that particular path, or even if I’d make it to the end, but at least I was able to parse out and plan what direction I was going in and what projects I could and should take on from year to year.

Fifteen years since I began that long trek by embarking on my grad studies, I find myself back where I was in L.A., with that same vast chasm in front of me. Over the years I have discovered several different topics of interest that I want to continue with, including exploring our community of composers, working with young composers and encouraging educators to understand what composing is, and advocating for new music and living composers in various media. (I thoroughly enjoy writing for NMBx and hope to get back into radio and delve into video or television at some point.) That’s all in addition to improving my composing and teaching careers along the way, but all of these projects spark my interest in a way that I cannot help but pursue. However, without those life “markers” I mentioned earlier, balancing them all into a rich and rewarding big picture will be a challenge.
I’m curious: How do you “stay the course” in your own career and life?

Don’t Glom!

glom (slang):
v. glommed, glom•ming, gloms
To seize upon or latch onto someone, e.g. “The composer glommed onto the conductor and wouldn’t leave her alone until the conductor was completely sick of him!”

Composer Stacy Garrop and I are just now gearing up for the 2013 Fresh Inc Festival, where we’ll be working with members of Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble and a bunch of cool young performers and composers interested in honing their entrepreneurial skills. So as we prepare to talk to a whole lot of people about all the confusing aspects of navigating the professional world, I decided that I ought to share my number one networking tip. It flies in the face of much conventional wisdom, but it is also likely to come as good news to composers for whom “networking” remains a dirty word.

Some years ago, another composer and I (both peers) were attending rehearsals for the same music event, and by chance we had some limited contact with the conductor. My colleague became very excited by the tantalizing closeness of this “big fish” conductor and resolved to hound her every chance he got, to little avail. Meanwhile, I had kept polite and more or less quiet, until at the eleventh hour said conductor approached me and asked where I was off to next—a golden opportunity, as it turned out that I would be missing her performances in order to fly to a recording session with a group that the conductor really liked. I saw my pushier colleague’s jaw drop as the conductor handed me a note with her address, requesting that I send her a recording as soon as possible.

This incident, perhaps more than any other in my life, made clear to me that the conventional “pushy” tone of much networking and PR is rarely successful other than when dealing with mass media. In real, human, one-on-one relationships, people don’t want to perform/record/commission your music because they are trying to give you something you want; they decide to take action because doing those things becomes something that they want.

Taken by itself, this seems incredibly obvious. But almost all composer networking strategies I have seen—as practiced by actual composers, and as preached by many well-meaning service organizations—ignore this essential truth. That is why strategies involving asking (or worse, begging) people to help out your career hardly ever work: by preempting another person’s process of coming to know your music with a direct request, you cancel out your only chance of causing that person to “get it” for themselves.

Most people (and especially musical gatekeepers such as administrators and conductors) want to discover something new and exciting for themselves, rather than being told (or asked) to like something—just think, how many times have you tuned into a TV show or listened to an artist you knew nothing about, solely because someone said, “Hey, you should totally check out X, it’s great!” If you do think you have been moved by such a pitch, it’s likely because you were instead enticed by some reported or perceived detail of the new experience that made you want to jump onboard for a whirl. Once you create a sense of obligation in another person, you’re creating a situation where you’re causing that person to choose between what they want and what you want, and I don’t need to tell you how that usually plays out.

It’s much better to allow the other person to arrive at what you are hoping for as their own idea: this is how true interest and loyalty are born! Not every time, but it’s the only way that the possibility of strong and sincere interest remains open. In my above anecdote, my recipe for a successful encounter was: 1) don’t glom onto that poor beleaguered conductor; 2) wait until asked about my own activities; and (now here is the hardest part) 3) make sure to be busy and active, no matter the scale, so that when asked you have interesting and truthful things to report about yourself. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what those accomplishments and activities are, as long as you are sincerely invested in them.

I don’t want to knock letting people know what you want, as especially among closer acquaintances and friends one has to make people aware of what they can do to help—but only if they have already shown a predisposition to do so. Similarly, the quid pro quo is absolutely ubiquitous in the music world, especially in academia where there are resources available that are often considerable (at least for composers). But trading opportunities (while helpful at times) is just a business transaction born of convenience and need rather than true support and commitment. “Operator” types who overuse this particular move may seem to have everything going for them, but often they are cheating themselves by devoting too much energy to relationships that will cease to be fruitful once the institutional budget goes away.

So for all those composers who have always said, “I hate networking. I find it gross, and I am not suited for it!”, I feel for you. You’re on to something. It’s easy to get a little annoyed and more than a bit jealous when we are often surrounded by others so aggressively glad-handing, glomming onto anyone who could advance their careers with oppressive and transparent attention; and assuming the worst, we often grumble while feeling a combination of offense at boorish behavior along with a secret desire that if we could just be more like that, we’d enjoy more of whatever we currently lack. Above all, don’t glom! Don’t fall for it just because everyone else is doing it and because you are afraid of being passed up! This kind of fear warps personalities and exudes desperation; everyone can tell when they’re dealing with someone who speaks from a secure place.

There is a quite a bit that can be said about making a life and career in music, and one of the happier consequences of our wired age is that on the whole, most composers seem increasingly well-versed in many entrepreneurial skills. However, it seems like the need to allow others the chance to form their own impression of your work is likely the most consistently overlooked facet of making connections in the music world. The majority of the time when networking isn’t working well and it feels gross and sketchy, it’s because it is gross and sketchy to pressure strangers for favors they have absolutely no reason to consider. But concentrate on being someone who is active and interested, and others will surely take note even if you haven’t pressed a soon-to-be-discarded CD into their hands.

Big Questions

Question Mark Graffiti by Bilal Kamoon
Often during our conversations with composers for NewMusicBox profiles, there are moments of insight and inspiration—more than once I have thought, “I so wish I had taken some lessons with this person when I was a student!” In some cases we have interviewed people with whom I have worked in the past at festivals and during residencies, and even then they can still surprise me with information or ideas we never touched upon during our previous time together. I love that!

One of the things I appreciate is when a composer is really tuned in to the big questions in life and has somehow integrated their answers into their work. For instance, Chou Wen-chung really honed in on those sorts of issues with a focused clarity that I found totally refreshing: “Who am I?” “Is this music something that I should do, given what I know about myself?” “How does my life experience define my music?” Similarly, this is what John Harbison was getting at when he spoke about the need for composers to get out into the world, take walks in the woods, and bring to light “what goes into their music besides what they know about music.” The composers whose music I value the most all have a solid handle on who they are and what they are doing. These same people also make brilliant teachers and mentors, because they have established that personal foundation and can guide students in creative directions to find their own solutions.

Questions like these are so important for composers to think about, because the way in which composers have been influenced by their background, various life events, and personality tend to show up in one form or another in their music. Chou Wen-chung spoke about playing a harmonium for the first time as a child, and how much he loved the volume swells that could be created with the pedals. He credits his extensive use of crescendo and diminuendo to that experience, which on the outside might seem like a fairly mundane thing, but he says, “I probably have used more crescendo-diminuendo than Debussy ever did. That’s purely because I got the pleasure of hearing the sound get louder and softer. I cannot resist the temptation, even right now when I’m almost 90!”

Obviously figuring this information out can be a big challenge for younger composers, who are still discovering who they are, both personally and musically, and of course the answers to the questions change over time. But periodically taking time to think about things and to find answers is a process that I believe is important to the quality of the music; it’s getting past technique and actually putting something of one’s self into a composition.

That said, it can be really challenging for any busy musician to tune into such universal issues. How can anyone think about that stuff when there are so many other smaller-yet-very-important things to consider—you know, counterpoint, orchestration, form, structure, oh yes and having things performed—in the creation of music? I was really intrigued by Isaac Schankler’s post about the two sides of Lou Harrison, and specifically the idea that the current atmosphere of extreme and ambitious careerism could be killing all kinds of creative acts before they ever hit daylight. I’m sure it is, more than anyone probably wants to admit.

So, who are you? What’s your story? (No, not your PR/marketing story, your real life story.) In what way do the bits of that story turn up in your music? How would someone describe you if they had never met you, and only heard your music? If you don’t have the answers just yet, then how will you figure them out?

Two Lou Harrisons

Last Friday I saw a screening of Lou Harrison: A World of Music, a remarkable new documentary about the American composer, artist, writer, and activist by Eva Soltes. I highly recommend this documentary to anyone who has a chance to see it—it’s a thoughtful and fairly comprehensive look at one of American music’s most fascinating figures.

One of the things that struck me about Harrison’s life is how easily it could be divided in two. There’s the period up until 1947, when he was incredibly active and involved in the American new music scene. And there’s the period after his nervous breakdown, when he retreated to the countryside to work mostly in isolation. (I say mostly because for several decades he was accompanied by his life partner and collaborator Bill Colvig.)

Post-breakdown Lou Harrison is the version that fans of his music would be most familiar with—the easy joy of his personality that shines through so clearly in his compositions, the abiding interest in Javanese gamelan music, the awesome beard. But I found pre-breakdown Harrison to be eerily familiar, too. Just before his breakdown, Harrison was living in New York City, the epicenter of American new music at the time. In addition to his composing, he was a music critic under the guidance of Virgil Thomson, sometimes racing to multiple concerts in the same evening. And he was preparing the music of Charles Ives for performance, translating Ives’s chicken scratch into something legible, even interpolating ideas of his own when the scores were incomplete or unclear. This culminated in the first public performance of Ives’s Symphony No. 3, which Harrison also conducted.
In other words, pre-breakdown Lou Harrison is like almost every young composer I know, taking gigs left and right to keep his career going. In fact, he had a career that many of my colleagues would probably kill for, working with nearly every significant figure in American music at the time…Ives, Thompson, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg…

But for Harrison, this environment was poisonous. Not only to his state of mind, but perhaps also to his creativity. We don’t remember Harrison for the imposing serialist works that he was writing while in New York. (“Not that there’s anything wrong with serialism,” I quickly add.) It seems that he needed to get away from all of that to become the Lou Harrison we know now. Sure, in retrospect we detect hints of it in some of his early percussion music, like the still-popular Double Music collaboration with Cage, but it makes me wonder: What kind of a composer would Harrison have been if he had never left New York?

This is an absurd hypothetical question by any measure. But I also wonder what kind of creativity the current climate of careerism is killing. One characteristic of being very busy is that it can leave little time for introspection, musical or otherwise. Certainly there’s an economic imperative at work here, and another very familiar aspect of Harrison’s life is the anxiety about financial insecurity that comes through in his letters.

But I also think there’s an element of self-fulfilling prophecy going on here. If you don’t stop to think now and then, you may not be able to even see what options are available to you. Personally, some of my most rewarding musical projects and experiences happened when I let go of what I felt I was supposed to do, and did what I wanted to instead. I only hope that every composer is able to allow themselves this luxury. Preferably without a breakdown.


I should also mention that the documentary was presented at REDCAT as a part of MicroFest, and was preceded by a great performance of Harrison’s Suite for Violin and American Gamelan, played by Mark Menzies and percussionists from CalArts. Old Granddad, the gamelan that Harrison and Colvig built, was brought down from Santa Cruz for the occasion, and it was a treat to hear this beautiful instrument in person!

Close Encounters of the Chamber Music Kind

Last week I attended the Chamber Music America conference for the first time; I was partially there representing NewMusicBox, and partially there to satisfy the curiosity of my composer self. I should preface this by stating that I am not a big conference person, but I’m really glad I went because it was great to connect with so many old friends and to meet lots of fellow musical travelers.

While other conferences have struck me as gigantic family reunions, this one seemed more like a gathering of inhabitants from the many moons orbiting a planet. A variety of musical worlds were represented, not to mention the different facets making those worlds tick—performers, artist managers, presenters, etc.—all with very specific agendas in tow. Networking was more like speed-dating. “Are you doing my thing? No? Okay. Here’s my card anyway. Nicetomeetyoubye!” As Ellen McSweeney has already pointed out, new music was not much represented, and although the keynote speaker was Tod Machover (who delivered a wonderful, airtight, inspiring speech), electronic music was basically absent from the landscape.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t difficult for anyone there to encounter like-minded folks of one sort or another. The various panels, meetings, and showcases ensured that classical would rub shoulders with jazz, the big presenters with smaller, and that the more seasoned, established attendees would come into contact with the newcomers. I think that both Angela Myles Beeching (if you haven’t read her book, do it now) and Steve Smith should receive awards for exemplary panel facilitation!

The conference also provided a glimpse into the workings of standard ensembles that play primarily standard repertoire. Faced with two piano trios who play Brahms equally well, how does a presenter choose? Will it be based upon the group’s photo? Or on the presenter’s relationship with the group’s manager? On the ensemble’s ability to attract an audience? I do not envy the sort of competition those ensembles, and performers of straight-up classical music in general, have to endure. Many of the panels were aimed at developing creative methods to address exactly those issues. Although I heard more than one panelist suggest that this model for presenting classical chamber music is fading away, last week it appeared healthy, strong, and eager to keep on trucking.
In the end, what I walked away with—in addition to a pile of business cards and CDs—was a head full of very small, yet very smart ideas for enhancing one’s musical life that are easy to implement but that could have a substantial impact. These ideas came primarily from conversations with individuals and less from group activities. Even if you’re not a conference person, it’s still a good plan to dive into the fray; you never know what will happen!

Performers and Composers

The power dynamic between composers and performers in the classical music world fascinates me. Of course, people who make a living playing pre-written music need those scores or they won’t have any repertoire; however, many of these musicians feel that the heart of their repertoire lies smack dab in the middle of the classical era through the 19th century. We continue to schedule concerts filled with the glorious works of Mozart and Beethoven because those pieces endure as fascinating and beautiful, and many performers happily remain ensconced in the music of that era for their entire careers.

Meanwhile, every year thousands upon thousands of composers are inspired to create new pieces. A simple application of basic economic theory tells us that when the supply remains high despite reduced demand, the product loses value, and this exact situation challenges the new music community. Every few months, new competitions with arcane rules, inadequate prizes, and high entry fees are created. Some composers complain but many more enter in hopes of having a new award for their biography. One of my mantras in these situations has become: no one ever went broke underestimating the desperation of composers.

But even in these seemingly dire days, many performers want to advocate for the music of their time. Numerous avenues exist for those who want to commission new works but lack the immediate resources that would allow them to adequately compensate the composer, including grants, substituting guaranteed multiple performances at accredited venues for an up-front fee, and—in a process eloquently described by Dana Jessen—consortium commissions. Others exert their energy towards continuing vivification of preexisting works, using their concerts to advocate for those pieces that they know move them.

If you are among this latter group, first, thank you. Your work allows music to live beyond the premiere and to grow through multiple interpretations. You clearly are doing this because you love this repertoire, and your advocacy is essential to us. The good news is that most composers recognize this fact and want to work with you in order to make your experience, and that of the audience, as gratifying as possible.

With that in mind, the best thing you can do before you perform a piece by a living composer is to inform that composer of your plans. Even composers who appear to be too “important” or “famous” to care about your concert might be excited about your event for one of many reasons that wouldn’t immediately be apparent from a distance: it might be a favorite work of theirs that is rarely performed, they might be planning to visit your town on that date anyway, they might have an obscure tie to your community about which you are unaware but which would allow them to help draw audiences. Sometimes, the composer might be able to attend your concert or to coach you privately before the performance. Another benefit you might gain from attempting to contact the composer is that they might help you to obtain a score for a piece that you’re having difficulty tracking down.

After your concert, you can help by asking if the composers would like a copy of your program and a recording. The program itself can be extremely useful if your performance was held in a concert space registered with BMI or ASCAP, allowing the composers to collect appropriate royalty payments for the use of their music at the event. And the recording can be an essential tool for composers who want to get others excited about their music. If you gave a premiere, then you know that yours is likely the only recording of that piece in existence and is therefore the only way for the composer to share the piece with additional performers. Surprisingly, due to ambient noise, odd venues without dedicated recording devices, odd slip-ups, and other factors beyond everyone’s control, composers often lack adequate recordings of relatively old pieces with broad performance histories.

We appreciate the advocacy that you do on our behalf and understand that you don’t need to play new music in order to have a career. We want to work together with you in order to help spread the word about our music and your performances.

Fear Factor

Jared Meadors of Medusa Properties Houston skydiving over Lake Taupo in New Zealand

“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

Years ago I took this tidbit of self-improvement advice very much to heart, and I continue to remind myself on a regular basis that the thing that most scares my pants off is probably exactly the thing I should be doing. Tackling one scary thing a day is surprisingly easy to do! This is especially true if (like me) you are a shy person. When I first started pushing myself to deal with the things I found nerve-wracking, it usually had to do with introducing myself to strangers. At concerts, for instance, as much as I always wanted to talk to the musicians afterwards, the idea of walking up to meet them seemed terrifying. But I pushed myself to do just that over and over (*insert angst here*), and now it’s not scary at all. Same goes for public speaking—the first time I gave a presentation to a composition seminar, I thought I might very well pass out, but since then I have come to really enjoy the process. Who knew it could actually be fun?!

Because the whole point (in my experience, at least) of engaging in things that one finds scary is to grow and stretch as a person, I also make every effort to kick it directly into my music making. Of course we all have plans in mind for musical projects and for the direction we want our musical lives to go, and opportunities arise that we may or may not, for whatever reasons, take advantage of. For me, the projects that have fallen outside of what I originally envisioned doing musically have actually turned out to be some of the most successful, in terms of being rewarding experiences, and they have led to other fruitful opportunities which I never could have foreseen. When projects such as these come up, if my first internal reaction is, “Oh, I’m not sure that’s for me,” I always end up engaging in the following internal conversation:

“Wait, why do I think that? Does it seem interesting?”


“Okay. Does it make sense for me to do that?”

“Maybe not…”

“Why not?”

“It’s not on my list of stuff I want to do AND/OR it’s completely impractical for a million reasons.”

“So what? Might it still be awesome?


“Okay. So what exactly is the problem?”

“The problem is that I don’t know how to AND/OR whether I can deal with (*insert problematic element here*).”

“So basically I’m scared.”

“Uh, yeah. I am going to write this piece, aren’t I?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

Over time, the “problematic elements,” which could include anything from instrumentation to production-related challenges or deadline issues have changed, but no matter what thing originally gave me pause, I have never regretted taking on a musical project that required the above conversation. Once it’s under way, the fear tends to subside pretty quickly (since it is generally not based in reality anyway). And even if it doesn’t, the energy it provides serves as a forceful impetus to work hard, figure things out, and make it happen.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”— Friedrich Nietzsche.

Lucky or Fortunate?

A recent New York Times Magazine profile of the excellent actor Peter Dinklage ends with him considering how happy he feels that he has been able to form a career playing complex characters in interesting projects. Dinklage has a very specific look and, like many different types of film and theater hopefuls, found that Hollywood wanted to typecast him into demeaning roles. He refused all of these parts, despite their alluring promise of making quick cash while working in his chosen field. In thinking about how far he has come, he said:

“I feel really lucky, although I hate that word—‘lucky.’ It cheapens a lot of hard work. […] Living in Brooklyn in an apartment without any heat and paying for dinner at the bodega with dimes—I don’t think I felt myself lucky back then. Doing plays for 50 bucks and trying to be true to myself as an”—here he put on a faux snooty voice—“artist and turning down commercials where they wanted a leprechaun. Saying I was lucky negates the hard work I put in and spits on that guy who’s freezing his ass off back in Brooklyn. So I won’t say I’m lucky. I’m fortunate enough to find or attract very talented people. For some reason I found them, and they found me.

I am struck by his formulation of the distinction between being blithely lucky as opposed to toiling at great cost and persevering through the great difficulty until finally being fortunate enough to find similarly minded people who recognize your talent. He recognizes that he owes his success to the kindness of others. He understands without those people, who have faith in him and in his vision, that he never would have been able to pursue the sorts of projects that interest him. And yet he also refuses to diminish the risks he took and the hardship he endured in order to maintain his artistic vision.

Since music is at heart a performance art, any degree of success in composition generally necessitates engendering excitement among possible supporters. For the most part, we need to inspire faith in performers and concert presenters in order to be able to present our pieces to the wider world. The act of bringing our music to life is essentially an act of collaborative artistry, but put to the service of projects that we conceive and create in hermetic solitude as part of a singular vision. Thus, music composition remains an essentially oxymoronic art form—it is inherently both collaborative and soloistic. Without an individual vision our music remains uninspiring, but without the assistance of others our music remains inanimate.

Budding composers who read Dinklage’s quote should take note of the two paths he proposes for artistic hopefuls. The path of least resistance would entail accepting the usual offers, whether or not they hold interest for you and even if you find them repellant or abhorrent. Those who chose this path might be guaranteed a measure of initial success and might find their ability to live comfortably while pursuing their art form helps them to continue in the field. The more difficult path involves remaining true to yourself despite society’s resistance, following your internal compass even as the greater world offers you enticing opportunities to deviate from your chosen course.

Those of you who follow the second path might eventually reap the fruits of your labors. Doing so would require a great deal of fortune, but would not mean that you are simply lucky.