Killing Me Softly With My Song


 All of the music I wrote between 1993 and 2001. It's stacked as high as a Mexican Coke bottle and I know a few pieces are missing from the pile; it's also double-sided.

All of the music I wrote between 1993 and 2001. It's stacked as high as a Mexican Coke bottle and I know a few pieces are missing from the pile; it's also double-sided.

At one time in my life, I wrote a lot of music. So much so, that I worked on 2-3 projects all at once. Now, this was in the good ol’ days—between the ages of 14 and 24. Right now, I’m 36. It didn’t matter what I wrote, who I wrote it for, or how big or how small the piece was, or whether I finished it or not—I simply wrote it. Needless to say, I wrote a lot of fucking music in a period of 10 or so years. If you printed all of it, double-sided, and stacked it up, its about as tall as a Mexican Coke bottle. All in all, about 3,000 pages or several days worth of music.

I was prolific. At some point, I became obsessed with the idea that I could write any thing, in any period of time. Chamber music led to hours-long pieces, that led to bigger pieces: concerti and orchestra shit. A musical. A 74-minute long viola piece to a silent film. Endless ideas and endless opportunities. I found myself constantly trying to outdo myself.  Until one day, I did. I was never able to recover.

The winter of 2005. I was attempting to write, stage, direct and conduct an opera I was so desperately trying to finish. The opera, Beckett, envisions a future in which the composer Anton Webern was not shot by the hands of an American soldier in a post-war snafu, but instead flourished as a hipster composer in Williamsburg during the early part of the 21st century. (Aye, some dramatic license, I know.) In my opera, Anton Webern is murdered by his girlfriend, arresting his prolific and destined-for-greatness lifestyle. It is as if at the very moment where Webern is about to write his greatest work (in this case, his Sinfonie), he is killed off by a partner jealous of his megalomaniacal ambition.

 October 2003 — way earlier than the time period in question. This is a Polaroid selfie (retronymically) of me holding the first 100 pages of  Beckett.  This is in my apartment on Thayer St. in Rochester, NY.

October 2003 — way earlier than the time period in question. This is a Polaroid selfie (retronymically) of me holding the first 100 pages of Beckett. This is in my apartment on Thayer St. in Rochester, NY.

Somewhere in those months of endless composing, rehearsing and over-thinking, my brain reached this “does-not-compute” moment. I remember it so clearly: sitting at my drafting table, orchestrating out a song of love and rage on giant fucking staff paper. It was the middle of one of those snowy and cold Rochester nights, drinking an Old Vienna; I probably hadn’t showered in days. I was going through an awful breakup. I was poor. I wanted the opera to be finished. 

In that hour, I contemplated: "Who the fuck was I, a white-male-suburbanite composer, doing writing a work with its formal and dramatic tentacles in the past? I’m 23 years old—I have no connection to the 18th century". I had a flip phone—a new MySpace account—a car. I listen to Radiohead, Autechre, Patsy Cline. I saw the birth of Hip Hop, of Cable News, of the Internet. W is president. 9/11 is 2 years in the past. In this day and age, who fucking cares about chamber music? Who cares about piano music? Who cares about an opera? I liked music that had a regular pulse, was tonal/modal, was relevant. Opera is irrelevant. Chamber music is irrelevant. Art music is irrelevant. I am irrelevant".

"On the other hand, I've already spent 7 years in college (Bachelors and Masters). I've accrued considerable debt. I feel that I am destined for this career that a lot of people, including myself, pushed me to achieve. It is what I am meant to do".

In that moment, I was totally fucked.