192. solstice

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sisyphusMy breakfast this morning was two tumblers of whisky (neat), about three fingers each. This after getting up to feed and water the dogs I’m looking after for the month. No sense in them going hungry. I got an email last night from the University of Michigan at 11:10PM, which seems an odd hour to be sending emails. A bit like waiting until you know someone’s gone to leave a voicemail. The email read:

I regret to inform you that your application for admission to the Music Composition MA program at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance has not been approved. We are therefore unable to offer you the opportunity to audition. This decision is based on a careful review by the faculty committee of your pre-screening recording and your application materials. The staff of the Admissions Office and the Composition faculty are not able to provide individual feedback from student auditions because of the volume of candidates to consider. We ask your understanding and thank you in advance. As you continue your college search, I know that you will find another school at which to pursue your studies. We wish you continued success and every good wish for a career that will fully utilize your interests and abilities.

Basically, a “thanks for trying, now fuck off” email. This might not have been such a blow had my temp job not ended yesterday, a week and a half early than what I was planning on. It also might not be such a disappointment were I not single again for the holidays. Last year was the first time in a while that I’ve been employed during the Yule season, and the first time ever that I’ve been dating someone for a major holiday. Now I’m back to where I was in 2011, when I told my parents that I wanted nothing more to do with them for their bigotry, I was still reeling from heartbreak and my loss of faith, and I’d just been laid off from another temp job right after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. As in, thanks a lot. There are still two applications out there that might yield something, but I’m terrified now that the results will be the same there—that my work just isn’t good enough on its own to merit a place as a cohort in graduate school. A friend of mine tells me that it may have nothing to do with the quality of my application or compositions; that it’s more about finding a group of students that coalesce together. If that’s the case, I may never get into grad school as I’m really an oddball when it comes to music. And everything else. What I’m terrified over is the prospect of yet another year of living in purgatory. I’m tired of working these temp jobs that pay far below the skill level required for the work the client needs performed. I’m sick of being expendable. I’m sick of working with the 9-to-5ers, the workaday folk who go home after a long day at the office of doing something they ultimately don’t care about and aren’t invested in; who are planning to working long enough to cash in on their 401K pension and retire somewhere comfortable. This is not the world I belong in. Remember this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ofKJ6UFv60 Instead of a Shakespearean subtext, my inner voices have quite another Jungian game going on:

  • Id: Running back and forth, simultaneously trying to make ends meet and bash my head against a wall to get anything artistic done.
  • Ego: Uncertain about whether I’ve made the right career decision or whether my music is even good enough to pursue a career in, even though it’s pretty much the only thing I’m really good at and give a fuck about.
  • Superego: Those strident subconscious voices that are difficult to shake, like Christianity:
    • Every single rejection letter or person who has rejected my music, told me that it’s too difficult, or that it’s just not very good.
    • My lack of business sense and self-promotion; of knowing how to strategize, network, who to talk to, how to talk to people, etc.
    • Frustration over my dating life and singleness; over how I haven’t found a guy yet who ultimately doesn’t disappoint me (cf, Fiona Apple); how my current scheme is to find a like-minded guy at grad school; feeling anxiety over nearly being 31 and that I’m at the age where younger guys who are into “older guys” are interested in me but not interested in a relationship.

That bloodcurdling scream the girl playing Ophelia lets out at the end of that scene? That’s the sound in my head almost all the time these days. “Get thee to a nunnery” indeed. I’ve also grown weary of the Midwest and its seemingly provincial attitude toward sophisticated art and music. I once shared the recording of my senior composition recital with a supervisor of mine, and he called it “long-haired music,” a reference (I suppose) to graduate students of the 60s and 70s being somewhat shaggy in appearance. I’ve sent pieces of mine to ensembles all over the Twin Cities, hoping to get performances, or the very least readings. No bites. If I get feedback at all, it’s usually something to the effect of: It’s really not what we’re looking for. … thanks, now go fuck yourself. It’s difficult not to think that I’m the common denominator here. What’s more probable? That hundreds of people have had the same independent reaction to my music, or that my work just… sucks? The latter is what I’m afraid of. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks as I wait to see what happens with the Eastman School of Music and with the University of Southern California. I have a little hope, but not a lot. In the meantime, Christmas is in four days and I feel like drinking myself silly to forget that I’m single and miserable, and that my entire family is fundamentalist Christians.

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2 thoughts on “192. solstice

  1. What horrors, in that YouTube clip. Get thyself out of that sort of fractious squabblry.

    Your music’s too oddball? Good! Those are the people making art, not the Chenowethian white bread factories. Make more. Make it boldly. Fuck conformity.

    You’re not dating someone who holds you emotionally hostage? You’re not working behind the candyland helpline where New Yorkers can shout at you all day? GOOD! Those were stepping stones, just stopping points on your road forward. To say you’re back to where you were in 2011 is not just self-blindly false, but probably a cry for where you’d like to be – if you’re regressing, at least you know where you’re going. But you’re actually going forward, in fits and starts. If you didn’t have those experiences behind you, you’d never learn.

    As for cold-calling ensembles with your pieces, it’s not surprising that they didn’t know what to make of it. They need a human connection, a quirky face to go with the quirky music. A context – AND a chance for some give-and-take, to give you the feedback you need to be better. I prescribe endeavors, in early 2014, to where the music-makers are. Scour the places where introverted composer-and-ensemble types have to go out (performances, awards, other things I don’t yet know) and go there. Bring a charming friend-date (ahem) who has none of your anxieties about this, who can begin the cascading conversations that will lead to meeting people who appreciate your oddball music. Practice talking about yourself, to friends and then strangers. Say the same story/line/description until you don’t have to remember it anymore.

    And terror? Fuck fear! The results of the application will be what they will be — they’re out of your hands. And if those academics reject you, it’s just another indictment of academia, where conformity trumps creativity.

    Just getting to this point is a victory.

    • David

      To be fair, most of the New Yorkers who weren’t trying to bribe me were somewhat dottering old ladies who seemed more interesting in talking to another human being than necessarily ordering popcorn. (Although, admittedly, the lady from Canada who accused me of being part of a global conspiracy to kill people with sugar was amazing. And quite serious.)

      Unfortunately, the trouble with academics rejecting me is that it leaves me where I am–stuck with a lousy bachelor’s degree (which, all in all, is worth something in that is separates me from those without college degrees), and the (low-paying) jobs and opportunities that are open to me with a bachelor’s in music composition. I am closed off from the network of contacts and connections that are open to those in the academic world, and in my business, those contacts are a currency. You have to know musicians who are interested in performing your music, who can then recommend you to other musicians, and to their students, and to conductors and music directors.

      And yes, the trouble with my music is that one needs to actually meet me in order to best understand it. It’s like meeting my parents and me suddenly making perfect sense. Music is a native language for me. I’m not just arranging sounds. In a way, I’m sharing some of my most innermost thoughts when composing.

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