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.
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.