Sunday, December 18, 2005

I am a composer.

This post’s title is a difficult sentence for me to write out publicly for two reasons. First, it may come across as snooty or haughty. Second, I feel it presents a high bar that I now need to meet: If people find out I’m a composer, then they are going to expect me to write like Mozart or Handel. At least, that’s the type of discussion going on in my head. That’s probably why I’ve not yet written about it here.

I also never mentioned it when I was seeking my bachelor’s degree in music from a well-known conservatory. Stupid, really. A missed opportunity. I know: this is very self-denigrating behavior, and it is not something I like to do unless I’m just kidding around. But in my head, discussing my composition experiences involves putting a very near and dear part of my brain and heart “out there” for all to see. At that point in my life, I’m not sure that I would have handled criticism of my work, as constructive as it might have been, when I was in college. Still, in retrospect I regret not pursuing that line of my music career more at that time. Who knows what could have happened had I opened up that part of my brain to the rest of the world?

The fact is, I’ve been writing piano music ever since I can remember. While I did not solidify much of it till I was in high school, several melodies were floating around my head, and in my fingers (fellow pianists will understand about a melody being in one’s fingers), all the time. I continue to write a little bit today, and I still play several songs today that I wrote in high school. During my junior year, one of the pieces I wrote was choreographed for an annual spring modern dance concert. That experience still remains as one of the better performing arts experiences of my life: I played the piece solo in the orchestra pit while about 15 people danced to the music in costume, with full lighting design and the whole nine yards. I was 17 years old, and it felt like a pretty big deal at the time.

My reason for bringing all this up is that I’m making all sorts of connections between this notion of embracing my composition tendencies and coming into my own as a researcher, a writer, and therefore (dare I say it) a scholar. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah, if you will, to be able to promote my area of academic expertise and not feel (or sound) like I’m being snobbish or haughty. I’m really just expressing facts. I am a composer. I am developing an area of academic expertise. So why, then, do I have difficulty with self-promotion? Well, it’s probably because of that bar I feel I’ll need to meet when bringing up all of this stuff.

I suppose there is a balance between self-promotion of factual information on the one hand and blowing oneself up to be the best thing since the wheel or the printing press on the other. While I’m all for people being aware of their strengths and their career directions, I admit I get a bit skeptical when others present themselves as The Expert in an Area. I want to say, “Get real. Sure you study that stuff, but so do others and many of them are pretty good at it too.” Again, it’s in the balance. And I suppose it’s in the delivery of information as well.

What’s interesting about these thoughts is how closely related this sort of discussion is to my dissertation research. I guess doctoral students do bring a bit of themselves into their dissertations. After seriously considering about four different topics, it’s this fourth one that is cutting it pretty close to my heart. Part of me thinks I’m treading on some fragile ground here, that I may never deal with my own issues and find a way to muddle through this process. And yet a stronger part of me knows that without my heart right smack dab in the middle of the project, I’d probably never start writing the darn book in the first place.

I have a feeling the composition metaphor is going to be a frequent visitor to this blog from here on out. More and more I realize that my interest in writing this dissertation grows right out of my passion for creating music. It’s funny how life takes us in a big circle sometimes.

1 comment:

lemming said...

Yes, it is inevitable and, I would argue, normal to bring yourself and your own personality to a project as vast and all encompassing as a dissertation. (Now, some of my com. might disagree, but let's not get into that.)

Having an outlet away from the diss is more than healthy. At the moment I'm obsessed with reading biographies of stars from the "Golden Age" of films. Next month it will be Agatha Christie or Alton Brown or Jane Austen.