A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
It's time to make a return; for how long? No clue. There are lots of topics to cover, including one that's been bubbling along for some time -- art and geography. It's a topic that pricks a few nerves, so I'll definitely talk about it over the next few weeks. And about my upcoming book, Vermont's Historic Country Stores: A History and Guide, on the shelves on September 1. And some WAAM followup, plus recent performances that were really good.
For a start, though, something entirely venal. I've been wondering why people don't answer. There's a typical to-do clipboard on my desk, but there's also a list of correspondence that looks for responses -- everything from grant applications to general correspondence, even some client bills (I'm terrible at billing, so tend not to remember either to do it or even if I've done it; not good for the bank account).
There are orphaned pieces of correspondence that bother me ... not the scores that I used to send out in hopes of a performance, but rather correspondence to which I'd reasonably anticipate a response.
Here are a few.
Last year, my wife Stevie and I applied to a place called Appelboom/La Pommerie for a residency, making advance inquiries (yes, to be respectful, in French) about whether they accepted applications from Americans. Yes, they did. It seemed like the perfect followup to our residency last year at the marvelous binaural media to pursue our Birth Song Project. The postal package went unacknowledged, so I emailed. Yes, it had arrived ("Nous avons bien reçu votre dossier, nous vous tiendrons informé de notre sélection début février"). Good enough. The time came and went; I was busy with the country stores book, but by the end of February it seemed odd that we hadn't heard from them. I visited their website and lo and behold there was a 2008 residency lineup. Could this be the full list, or were we waiting for more announcements? I waited another week, then emailed again in mid-March. The terse reply came: "Notre programmation pour 2008 est désormais établie. Votre candidature n'a pas été retenu mais nous vous remercions d'avoir participer à notre appel à projets." What's this? Not a single announcement note to their applications? Did they forget? Is it just rudeness? Are we dastardly Americans? Were we (shudder) just too old?
Here's another. There are several archives that are tended in our house: the Vermont Composers Consortium, the complete music of the late Gilles Yves Bonneau, the entire archive of the important post-Fluxus Trans/Media arts coop, and our own heaps of stuff. For now I've given up on either Bonneau or the Vermont Composers getting housed in Vermont's universities; there was no interest, no money, no cachet. The rest? At least why not approach Rutgers University, my own alma mater, about taking both the archive of my life's work as well as Trans/Media's collection (as Trans/Media was headquartered in New Jersey)? I emailed first. No response. And again. Then I wrote a letter. And another. But Dr. Robert G. Sewell, the collection development honcho, never bothered to reply or even acknowledge my queries.
And so it goes. A detailed letter to Ron Raup, CEO of MakeMusic, about the Finale program. No acknowledgment or answer. Three letters to the director of the Tenerife Symphony, an orchestra that had scheduled a premiere of one of my pieces and then canceled it. No acknowledgment or answer. Another letter to the director of a small string orchestra in Newport News that had done the same. No acknowledgment or answer. A letter sent three times to British Air about horrendous cabin conditions. Two letters to an ensemble called Tubalaté that had requested some music. Another to a performer who had asked for a piece to be re-arranged for him. Twice to MSNBC for info about an interview in which I had appeared. No acknowledgments or answers. To a European cell phone company about a $1,000 overbill (until we sicced Consumers Union on them, anyway, that got the charges refunded). And, most surprising, individual musicians who commissioned pieces who are no longer available as correspondents.
Of course I don't expect answers from some people -- particularly musicians to whom I've sent music, even if they knew it might be coming. Nor do I expect a response from long-lost friends whom I've occasionally tried to reach -- one for a picture of the clavichord I built and sold during one of my desperate money crises, the other for a lost early composition.
I'm not innocent. I answer all my postal mail (sometimes very late when I'm overwhelmed; yes, Mary Lou, Street Angel Diaries is a wonderful creation) but I don't respond to every email -- mostly the hundreds of notes from people visiting my Bathory opera website who don't bother to read the FAQ or who prefer to hurl insults. And I rarely respond to promotional packets sent to our erstwhile radio show. But gosh, a letter (electronic or postal) that has clearly taken effort to frame, prepare and send? Certainly that's not going to be ignored.
So why don't people answer -- especially professionals (I assume residency coordinators, collection librarians, orchestra directors, and CEOs are professionals) in the course of their business? "Thank you for your letter" would even do.
Okay, enough. Just had to complain about that.
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Not long ago I had an interesting experience giving a short seminar at Hartt College. The invitation was to talk about the "We Are All Mozart" project. I brought along scores and CDs to give away, and prepared my lecture-improvisation (that is, set up the parameters, know the material, and invent the talk on the spot).
Now admittedly my own sensibility was forged as a child in the 1950s coming of age in the 1960s -- not always, shall we say, a practical generation of artists. Successive generations have increasingly shifted the balance from art to career. (My remarkable colleague Alex Shapiro seems to be the composer in perfect balance.)
This is also the first natively on-line generation of students. Few took either scores or CDs; they can download what they want. The surprise was how interested they were in the money. Absolutely no one had ever asked how much money I made from "We Are All Mozart" until that day (curious? it was $17,400 for 100 commissions and 12 hours of music; some still hasn't been paid). Until that class, no one had ever suggested my price per measure-part should have been $.99 or $1.88 or $1.99 rather than one boring dollar. No one had inquired about how my publisher or distributor handled fiscal arrangements. And when I was a student, they were questions I would never have asked. I still don't. Silly me.
The music? The composition faculty had some questions, but most of the student attention was money-honey career-oriented. Can I start again please? Like, be age 19?
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