I’ve been in a serious funk this week. It hit hard as yet another indirect rejection letter from yet another competition/call-for-scores came the same day I learned some bad news about some students’ auditions (they hadn’t been studying with me long, but I was hopeful) and the same day I learned that an opportunity I thought I was going to have to play my original piano piece at an upcoming Christmas concert was NOT going to happen. Meanwhile, I was already dealing with the overwhelm of being peopled-out from a busy-yet-fun Thanksgiving weekend full of family and long drives to New York in thunderstorms, snow, and traffic. I wasn’t in a good place.
It’s been building up, though. I’ve sent in scores to fifteen-plus calls-for-scores and competitions since the beginning of July. I had one positive response (so far.) I am still anxiously (ANXIOUSLY) awaiting results from most, and I’ve had a few rejections. The impersonal ones that start with “Dear Composer” or “Dear All”. As soon as you read the first two words, you know the result. If I was chosen, I would have received a personal email addressing me by name. Unfortunately, the one positive result was a bit of a surprise – both good and bad. First, I found out just two days before the October conference of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers that my string quartet piece, White Apples, was going to be performed. I was so excited because the first and only time it had been performed, to that point, it was not executed well, to say the least. I was looking forward to hearing a performance that accurately reflected my ideas! Alas, forty-five minutes before the concert began I learned that only half of it was being performed. Though the group played the first two movements well, the second movement ends with a thunk and the piece really needs movements three and four to make sense. Oh, well.
In the meantime, two of our very old vehicles broke down in two weeks costing us $2,000 in repair. Our old van will not make it through the next inspection and one of the cars just worked on is so old it needs a new clutch. We are holding off as long as we can, but a good amount of car repair and replacement still awaits. And so do the college tuition bills for our kids.
Some days I really wonder if I should be spending hours in my tiny cramped hole-in-the-wall music room/office composing. I have made a grand total of…$47.50 so far, ever, with my composing. Let’s not talk about how much I have spent.
So, honestly, I am pretty discouraged. I finally lost it. The day I got that last “Dear Composer” email, I crumpled and cried for two days. I complained about not being able to play my piece for that church and get some credit for my efforts, and was gently reminded by a Christian composer I know that my work is for God’s glory and not my own. He is so right. But I am so discouraged. I tried explaining my discouragement on Facebook. It is hard for me to watch my visual artist friends and my writer friends get a lot of support, while I get very little feedback. I was reminded by someone else who, right again, reminded me that Facebook is a visual platform and I should know better than to expect people to pay attention to anything non-visual.
That may be correct, but I don’t think it is right. The truth is that all artists need support.
It is awfully hard to create art and expose your mind, heart, and soul and constantly face rejection and receive almost zero monetary reward for your creative work. I know I am not the only person who sometimes runs low on self-motivation, energy, confidence, and emotional resources. In fact, I would say that being creative can deplete them faster than other things. Plus, I am a pastor’s wife, which also takes a lot from those stores. So, sometimes – maybe a lot of times – I need some refill in the form of people telling me that what I do – what I CREATE – matters to them. Mostly I feel like I am wanted for what I can do – teach or play, and if I can’t do it someone else will replace me.
My art is ME. No one else can write the music I write, so no one can take my place. It is that which seems unappreciated. It hurts. It doesn’t hurt when groups reject me, although it can drain the positive feelings tank. It hurts when friends don’t seem to want to give encouragement or show they care. It hurts when I show pieces to musical friends and they don’t have anything to say. It hurts when I send a book of worship songs to a pastor I know personally and get no response. It hurts when Soundcloud tells me I one hundred thirty people “pressed play” (online I cannot know if anyone actually listens) but I only got two comments. It hurts when almost sixty people “pressed play” on a Youtube video of my piece, but the stats tell me that people quit listening halfway through. It makes me wonder if I put on a concert of my work if anyone would take the time out to come, if they can’t even listen to a five-minute piece.
Yet pictures get liked. I was told that maybe I should make a music video to go with my composition. I guess to many people, music just isn’t enough by itself. My work is deemed not as valuable as something that can be seen.
I am thankful those are not God’s thoughts. In fact, sound was the first thing created. God SAID “let there be light.” His voice began the reverberation of the universe that continues to this day. Before there was light and color and form there was sound. An entire book of the Bible, Psalms, is a book of songs, though all that remains is the text not the tunes. We know some were for choral groups. Others were accompanied by string instruments. Many Psalms encourage the use of percussion instruments and flutes. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to sing spiritual songs and hymns to one another.
I am not diminishing the role of other art. In the Old Testament, visual arts and textiles were very important in the making of the items for the Tabernacle, and the Bible contains detailed description of architecture. Additionally, dancing is mentioned several times as a natural response of joy. The poetry of the Psalms, and the fact that the Bible even exists at all testifies to the immense value of the written word.
I know Facebook, other social media, and the internet as a whole is a very “visually-oriented” space. In fact, the entire world is primarily visual. We can look around our houses and take snapshots with our eyes in a split second. Music requires us to stop, sit and experience it in the passage of time. Listening requires a level of commitment beyond a quick glance. That’s the way it is. But if God values music, maybe that tells us that we should stop and listen, too. We should give as much attention to the work of musical artists as we do to those who do visual or written art, despite that it is presented on a visually-oriented platform like life.