Last night I found some beautiful audio files of music I debuted nearly 20 Christmases ago with the “New England String Ensemble.” I wrote 2 Holiday suites to play with them, called “Season of Celebration,” all based on traditional Christmas and Chanuka tunes. (Listen here)
As a composer-performer, I’m always caught between how much time it takes to write the music and how much time it takes to actually develop the ability to play it well.
Especially when I’m writing for ensemble – like orchestra, or string ensemble – my playing always gets short shrift I’m a composer first, and a player second.
If I’m writing a piece for a premier that I’ll be premiering, I never have the amount of time to practice it the way a ‘real’ player would. At least, not the ‘real’ player I’m envisioning – the one who will one day bring me to tears with their playing.
So I’m nearly never happy with my performance – especially not for a premier — and going back to listen to a performance like this is a bitter-sweet experience. I love the music, I love the performances of the other players … and am wracked with frustration about my own playing.
As I fought with myself about this last night: “Do I share this music? My performance drives me crazy! Is it really so bad it’ll undermine people’s enjoyment of the music? My time is soooooo terrible! I’m rushing so badly in that section. I sound like I don’t know what I’m doing. Wait – I DON’T know what I’m doing! Will it sound that way to other people or does it just sound that way because I know what I want to be doing! Will it ruin my reputation? Wait … do I even have a reputation to ruin??”
And finally, I hit on it:
“Aha!” thinks me, “I’ve played it well enough that anyone hearing it can get a general idea of what I meant to do – and the pieces themselves are really fun – but…” and here’s where I marvel at my own diabolical genius, “I played badly enough that any great harpist will think, ‘I can play that much better than she did!’”
And those players who are still developing their chops will think, “Ha! I can definitely work to play at least that well – it’s certainly worth a try.”
Mwaaaaa-ha-ha!!!! That, thinks me, is my great snare!
And as a composer, there is no greater joy than to hear a performer bring life to my music – to play it in a way I never would, or never could – to add the alchemy to my invention.
So … listen … enjoy … and players who want to inspire me to publish this for others to play – please start bugging me now to publish this so that other harpists and other string ensembles can be playing this next Holiday season and making me think “Now, THAT’S the way it’s supposed to sound!”
By the way … my diabolical snare DOES work. I’ll be conducting two performances of my concerto “Soñando en Español” this year with brilliant UK harp soloist Eleanor Turner, and the photo above is of us performing my mini-concerto “996” a few years ago in Wales – me from the podium, she from the harp.