The day after the last blog I got some news, changes are happening. I like change. The composing has been shelved during the last seven days, as there has been no time to play or experiment. As John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” My week has been taken up with meetings and discussions, looking at the many consequences of decisions out of my influence and considering how they could work for my present colleagues and future colleagues. With a routine or plan of action in place, how many times does this get disrupted by events at work or by family demands or life’s interruptions? This week’s blog attempts to put the creative life into some perspective by looking at historical precedents and future ways of working.
The title of this week’s blog is based on W.S. Gilbert’s lyrics for the very successful operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” with the music of composer A. Sullivan. Sullivan was a very successful composer (both in popularity and financially) but was also regarded by the English musical cognoscenti of the time as having wasted his talent in favour of commercial gain. This all took place during the reign of Queen Victoria but practices put in place at his time have influenced the relationship between composers, media, institutions and audiences ever since. The composer that enjoyed a great deal of royal patronage during this period was the German, Felix Mendelssohn. It is evident that there is an English fascination (or lack of conviction) in valuing talent from abroad rather than nurturing and supporting the abilities of these islands’ inhabitants. Just look at the many examples in sport, music, art, design, fashion, film…. There are successful indigenous exponents in all these creative areas but I am concerned that the aspirations of our youth are being lessened by the perception that the majority of the accolades go to imported celebrities. This year’s Olympics have started to alter these impressions in some sports but the Olympics are one of the few competitions that have the “Team GB” brand.
In the arts, the lack of direction for creative subjects because of the over-emphasis on maths, English and science education in schools has had the effect of stifling creativity in many pupils. The goal of a good (or very good) exam pass, with a school being measured and judged on these pass results, has the effect of relegating the difficult to assess curriculum subjects such as creativity, composition, design and entrepreneurship to one or two hours per week. How can young people have the time to be inspired, and how can the teaching staff set stimulating projects, if all work is tested at frequent intervals during the term to make sure everyone is “on target”? With this rigid assessment framework in place (usually projects only last between 6 and 8 weeks) it is very difficult to implement projects that need the time to work through a creative cycle of preparation, imagination, development and implementation before achieving a meaningful result.
In the UK there has been limited patronage for composers; those that were not in favour with the few have had to take on other work and employment to survive, often to the detriment of their work. Many promising composers from the late 19th and 20th Centuries are regarded as having “suffered under the burden of academic administration” with their innovative ideas stifled by a career in education. Towards the end of the 20th Century through to the present, more accessible technology (in price and size) has meant that many more composers are working in their own production studios providing material for the many media outlets that need their work. The universities have become more supportive of composers, especially if they can bring in some research income, but the balance between academic responsibilities and creative thinking can be unpredictable. The Internet has given the ability to present, exhibit, display, promote, value and sell to a worldwide audience, but it has given everyone this capability and there is enormous global competition.
The “Lot” is not a pessimistic one, but neither a happy one. It has many opportunities and openings for passionate and enthusiastic composers. I count myself as one of these and I hope you can relate to this as well.