The rejections keep rolling in.
They have become a measure of how hard I have been working. I started sending in earnest scores to various competitions and calls for scores in August (prior to this, I had been sending in scores, just less frequently.) Since the start of October when the results started coming in, I have received a rejection email every week. Every single week. Well, except for the week of Christmas, how nice. Last week, I didn’t get one, but then I got three rejection emails in five days, so now I am more than caught up. I’m up to about twenty. That doesn’t include the competitions/calls for scores in which the organizers didn’t have the guts to tell me “no” themselves, and I just assumed I wasn’t selected because I never heard back.
There have been a couple of bright spots. My piece for string orchestra, Daughter of the Stars, was premiered in Manhattan by the North-South Consonance in May and performed in Massachusetts in August by the Great Woods Symphony. The first two movements of my string quartet were performed at the conference of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers in October. Surprisingly, Daughter of the Stars was selected as a semi-finalist in the orchestral pops division of the American Prize. (Also surprising is that it hasn’t yet resulted in any traffic to my website or to the video of the piece on Youtube. Maybe a month-and-a-half is not long enough to see a single hit?)
In the midst of all this, I have had some serious technological problems. One time, our internet connection failed on the provider end the day something was due. I was unable to avoid procrastinating because of other technological difficulties as well as having to drive my son back to school. I found myself rushing to my parent’s house at 11PM so I could get an internet connection and meet the midnight deadline.
My Finale program, which I upgraded in January 2019, stopped working every two months all year long, essentially halting my progress on polishing pieces for a week while I waited for customer support to “fix” it. At one point, I had to go to a friend’s house – the only local person I personally know who has a full version of Finale – and use her computer to work on a piece when my software stopped working the week I had to fix up something for North-South Consonance! She has a Mac and I have a PC, so in the process I was also having to orient myself to a different operating system. (If I hadn’t gotten that done, there would have been no premiere in Manhattan, no performance in Massachusetts, no selection for the American Prize!) The Finale “fixes” lasted another two months until the problem resurfaced again and the efforts to overcome the problem became more complicated and took longer. The problem was finally resolved when I bought a new computer.
However, setting up a new computer is not easy because I just don’t have time to do it. In the process of getting my files moved from my old computer I made a mistake in how I backed them up, accidentally moving them onto an external hard drive instead of copying them from the old computer. Then last week my hard drive, which contained ALL my pieces and publishing files and other professional materials in addition to lots of personal stuff, fell on the floor and stopped working. Thankfully, a local shop is able to retrieve my files for *only* $500.00. In the meantime, I’ve made use of some hard copies I have lying around so I can scan them and make new PDFs to send into competitions I probably won’t win. I am thankful White Out is still made since I had to remove my name.
Is it a coincidence that the hard drive problem happened the same week I had relief from email rejections? It seems whichever way I turn I am facing either more rejection or technology problems that are hampering my work. It’s a lot of painful frustration. And in my vulnerable state, the negative things people have said force themselves into my mind, things I fight so hard to keep out. I have wondered if I don’t have the personality to handle all the rejection and if I lack the technological prowess to manage the work. I have wondered if I should just quit composing.
I have had to ask myself: Why am I even doing this?
I talked about this with my husband, my best friend, my kids, and some of my composition colleagues in the CFAMC. They have all been very supportive and encouraging. My husband continually assures me that my investment in composition is not a problem (as much as I work at composition, many people put a great deal more time and money into their hobbies.) My kids assure me that the rejections don’t reflect on my ability as a composer (They are correct. It may be that a group didn’t like my ideas or style, or that someone else had *just the right piece* for that performance. My technique is good.) My colleagues assure me that these things happen to everyone, and suggest that if this is a calling, it is worth the sacrifice. The problem is that when everything goes wrong I wonder if it is a calling or if it is a sign to go do something else. My best friend asked, “but don’t you love it?”
I am thrilled hearing my pieces come to life in performance. But that is usually dependent on the willingness of others to help make that happen. If other people don’t want to perform the music I can’t perform myself, it just sits there, lifeless dots on lines that only sound in my imagination. That’s no fun. So my reason for composing has to be something unrelated to the willingness of others to participate with me in making music. The days when my ideas flow easily and I get a lot written are great, but the days when I am feeling grumpy or have to expend extra energy to fight negative thoughts are not. Composing is hard work, and sometimes I just don’t feel like doing hard work. (I have yet to meet a person who enjoys *every single day* of their work, regardless of how enjoyable it is overall.)
So what is it? Why should I continue composing? What is the fuel that will burn through hindrances which threaten to extinguish it? That is the question I have been contemplating for days. I figured out the answer by asking myself about each piece, “Self, why did you write that piece?”
But it’s not love for the process, not love for the finished product, not love for a performance, not love for accolades, all of which do not provide the sustaining power to continue to create. It is about love for the subject that inspired the piece. It is having so much love for that story, concept, person, folk song, piece of art, poem, sunrise, or instrument that it is worth the commitment and exertion to birth a piece of music and to seek its fulfillment in a performance. It is a love that cannot be expressed another way.
I knew my music needed to be born of love, but I lost my way in the midst of the trouble I had this year with all the technology problems and constant rejections. I wish they didn’t bother me, but they do because I am sensitive. I reject stoic philosophy, so that’s not likely to change. Besides, if I didn’t feel deeply, I doubt I would have enough passion to see a project through to the end; there are too many obstacles ready to kill the desire. Love must burn brighter and hotter, and I believe it is the only thing that can.