Sunday, January 4, 2009

There is no "team" in C-O-M-P-O-S-E-R

One of the things I've hardcore decided to work on in 2009 is having more teamwork in my life. Everything I've been doing lately (lecture-based classes, composing, assistant work, gymnastics) is pretty solitary and isolating. Don't get me wrong--I love all of that, but it makes life pretty unbalanced.

There are literally hundreds of writings from famous smart people on how they deal(t) with the inherent isolation of being a writer, from Virginia Woolf's classic essay "A Room of One's Own" to Stephen King's recent novel-length On Writing. What's interesting about Woolf's take is that, to her, the denial of the right of isolation to women is what kept women out of the profession. Isolation was a necessity, a prerequisite, to the creative act (so was money, but Hank Paulson hasn't been returning my calls), and so her acquisition of that isolation was an act of conscious rebellion. Right on! Right?

Except: everyone pretty much agrees that isolation is necessary to create, but what about the hours when I'm not composing? I realized recently that I've been living a one-sided existence, filled to the brim with solitary intellectual or athletic activities, but almost nothing else.

It sounds heretical to say, but my happiest times have never been composing or writing moments. Writing is a JOB, and it's hard. In On Writing, Stephen King said that "you must not come lightly to the blank page." That's largely been my experience of the creative process: long, sleepless nights, intense focus that stays with me even when I leave the page, keeping me from the rest of my life like blinders. Doesn't that sound exciting? It is, except for, say, getting lost on my way home from the train because I'm so caught up thinking about THE MUSIC that I forget to stop walking at my building's front stoop.

I did a ton of soul-searching about this towards the end of 2008, and a few days before New Years Eve it hit me: my happiest moments have all been on some sort of team. My high school marching band (yes, it was as much work as a sport: we marched Stravinsky, Khatchaturian, and Ives. Ives.), the crew team, stage crew, pit orchestras, the cast of Into the Woods (the one production I will ever act in--it's over, don't worry). In college, the Symphony Orchestra, the Wind Ensemble, the Brass Choir, the Choral Arts Society, the insane pit orchestra performances, including--I kid you not--playing poker with the timpanist of The Magic Flute, on the timpani, between cues. I played trombone in the world premiere of my first symphony, Metropolis, in 2007, and that was pretty much the zenith of what I imagine my ideal creative process would be. I wrote the piece for my friends, and played it with my friends.

So how exactly am I going to deal with my teamwork deficit? Someone recently suggested sort of offhand that I should join the Gotham Knights, New York's superamazing gay rugby team (!). I'm assured there are rugby positions for my body type (read: small), and I inch towards the Spring boot camp (boot camp?!) with an equal mix of excitement and, um, fear of giant owies.

There's also this thing I keep talking about with several of my Juilliard composer-classmates about, oh, you know, starting a band. But shh, that one's very hush hush.

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