What brought you to your current career path? I am so excited to have Anthony answer this week’s prompt! You’ve heard a lot about him, but now I am excited to share his voice with you all. He’s an amazing writer as well as a musician. Visit his tumblr for some amazing poems, and his website to check out what he does for a living. ~ The prompt that Steph gave me for this post, “what brought you to your current career path?” is the kind of question that always provokes an internal freak-out for me because I honestly have no idea what the hell I’m doing. It’s a stretch to say that being an academic musician is a career path in any kind of conventional sense because “Artist” doesn’t, with a few small exceptions, exist as a job title. Study economics? Be an economist. Work with cars? Be a mechanic. Compose music? Teach. Drive a cab. Live with your parents. Openly sob into a bowl of ramen noodles. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with any of those things (well maybe one) and I love teaching but teaching is not composing and it’s not what I wanted to do when I decided to pursue a PhD in composition. But, I knew that when I signed up for this, so why did I do it? Because I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m fine with that. I think.
I’ve never been particularly career-minded and I don’t think about money that often (which is admittedly a middle-class white guy privilege), so my life choices never centered around those things. I didn’t consider much when I chose to study music aside from the fact that I wanted to make music. So, now cue existential freak-out number two: this big, weighty decision to do music was actually kind of arbitrary. I’m not really a composer at my core, I’m also a poet, a writer, a dancer, a performer, and a martial artist. I remember feeling crushing guilt in my undergrad when my professor would tell us that, “composers cannot help but compose” or that, “composition defines us”. I didn’t relate to that and I could not honestly tell myself that that was who I was. Art defines me. Communication and connection through art defines me. But not composition. I often choose composition as a means of expression, but not always. I find other forms of art to be equally gratifying. I’ve spent my life seeking out various outlets for self-expression. And what I always have to confront in questioning myself and my motives is that, actually, the act of composition itself- this particular mode of creative expression- is a choice for me. I’m not compelled to write music. I wish that I could say that there are melodies and soundscapes swirling around in my head, reverberating in my mind’s ear that I wake up in the night and feverishly put down on paper, but I can’t. It’s a struggle and a personal crisis each and every time I do it; an exhausting cycle between self-doubt and elation and everything in the middle.
So why did music take precedence in this life choice? What does it do for me that other art forms can’t? I find sound fascinating. I believe there is a level of abstraction that can be reached only through sound art. The veils of abstraction – the varying levels of distance one can create between artist and art consumer- is something that I find to be critical. It invites a wide range of interpretation; it forces a listener or reader to impose their own meaning, which is infinitely more interesting and personal than a direct, unambiguous communication from the artist. In, say, poetry or narrative writing, one can certainly achieve abstraction through the use of metaphor, analogy, or free association. The level of abstraction here is limited though. Words have direct meanings, they have a finite amount of definitions that are literally catalogued and listed. It’s impossible categorize sounds in this hard and fast way. It’s true that we have loose, culturally informed associations with certain sounds and frequency combinations but such sounds can be manipulated and deconstructed easily; they’re fragile and can be stripped of their meaning. In composition, the artist is forced to use units of expression which are inherently obscure. There is an unavoidable distance, a limit to how direct a composer can be with his or her audience. A sound artist can never just say exactly what they need to, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that your experience listening to my music will really have little to do with what I meant to say when I wrote it.
But this pure, profound love of art wasn’t the only driving force on this path to a… career? I also just had a bunch of friends in music. And I like my friends. And wouldn’t it be cool to hang out with my friends some more? I was in marching band and drum corps as a teenager and I always found that I effortlessly identified with the kind of community that music created. They understood me. My stupid ass sense of humor, my sometimes overly emotional reactions to things, my social views, my background, I could go on. Music has been at the core of many of my most important relationships. It provided a connection that I hadn’t found through anything else. And that’s a priority for me- connection. It trumps everything else in my life. I, often to a fault, put people ahead of everything else in my life so this was and remains a way to keep those people close. For ten years now I’ve been teaching and writing music for high school marching bands and the thing I love the most is seeing the kids form a family like I did. The fact that I get to be involved in that is more fulfilling than any other part of the job and it’s the reason I’ll keep doing it as long as they let me.
So I suppose what brought me here is a caution-to-the-wind sort of attitude, a real lack of pragmatism, and my love of people. And I still don’t know what I’m doing but I do know that I’ll keep doing it, because it’s provided me a life of happiness and love and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Umm, ya. I win the boyfriend lottery. I mean, the guy says “middle-class white guy privilege” without being prompted (I swear!).
Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did! Don’t forget, if you want to follow along and respond to prompts on your own, post the link to your response on your blog, Facebook, Tumblr, or whatever in the comments! We would love to read your writing, too!
Have a great week!