A few days ago, I wrapped up my time in Fort Wayne, Indiana working with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic as part of the Earshot Orchestra Readings. This program has been on my "Maybe Someday When I'm Good Enough I Could..." list for a long time so actually participating was very surreal. Why the hell would anyone want an interview about my orchestra piece I wrote my senior year of college? My interview is on the American Composers Orchestra website?! That kind of surreal stuff was both really kinda neat but also very humbling. Always feeling (and looking to some degree) the perpetual whippersnapper at these kinds of events, I constantly have this undercurrent of anxiety that my youth and inexperience will shine through in everything I do and prove to the members of the orchestra that this guy has no idea what he is doing. Was my introduction to the orchestra good enough? Is my string writing good enough? But alas, there wasn't a veteran oboist that stood up and yelled "Fraud!" in my direction. On the contrary, the members of the orchestra, the music director, the mentor composers, and the board were all incredibly kind and helpful during the whole process.
But as it usually happens after a program like this or a music festival, there comes a time shortly afterwards when I look back at the experience with a sense of melancholy. This experience was different. I didn't "miss" the program per say like a summer festival which, when you think of it, is a musical utopia complete with endless performances, practice time, etc. The Earshot experience, in a way, does the opposite. It pulls the curtain back to reveal the dreaded place graduate students hear all about...the "real" world. It is no longer about whether or not my piece is any good or if it works, it is now about why should someone invest in me as a composer? In a more broad sense, why should a regional orchestra invest in a young living composer? This harsh but necessary reality check put a mirror up to my face and made me think about what does my music actually "say"? My piece, Nijinsky Dances, is meant to essentially replace Stravinsky's Fireworks on a concert as the obligatory five minute concert opener to a Stravinsky ballet. But the question is why would someone replace Fireworks? Does my piece...I dare not say...add anything to the conversation or the concert experience that isn't already present in Fireworks? This question, in a way, isn't mine to answer especially given that Nijinsky Dances is written and finished. But this is a question to keep in mind next time I write, even though the question of what am I adding to the classical music conversation is a paralyzing thought.
Looking back on it all, I think the American Composers Orchestra has really done a fantastic job exposing a young composer (yours truly) to a real world orchestra with real world issues and plucking me out of the luxury of music festivals to reveal how a composer really functions in an orchestra. It has left me thinking a lot about myself and how I function in the orchestra world. I seem to be lying on my back, ripping petals off a daisy, asking "I like the orchestra world, I like it not; I like the orchestra world, I like it not?" Like everything, there are the pros and the cons with the orchestra. However, this experience with Earshot introduced me to the orchestral experience by letting me jump into the deep end with much needed water wings so that, maybe at some point, I might be able to jump into the orchestra world for real.