Recently a businessman I know was complaining that he worked very hard and didn’t seem to be making much money. I replied that I also worked hard and had never made much money as a musician. He said, yeah but you have more fun.
I’m finishing up The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde.
He addresses his topic at length. At the end of the book he finds that his original stance that artistic gift and market commodity are irreconcilable has softened.
I like it when an author changes his mind before you eyes in the act of writing a book.
“I still believe that a gift can be destroyed by the marketplace. But I no longer feel the poles of this dichotomy to be so strongly opposed.”
Lewis Hyde, The Gift
I have been thinking about my own gifts in music and people skills and how I have translated them into making a modest living.
Hyde suggests there are three ways artists “resolve the problem of their livelihood.”
1. Take a second job
2. patronage of one sort or another (includes grants)
3. place their works directly on the marketplace
If I consider how I have resolved this problem, it leads me to think about the nature of my art. Basically I think of myself of someone in love with making music. This includes making it up, either in improvisation or composition.
For most of my life I have held down a paying job as a church musician. Being inundated as a young person with church via my family (father was a minister, his father and his uncle were both ministers), I acquired the language and understanding of a religious community by osmosis.
As I gain a musical education, I find it helpful to know bible and liturgy, the former learned at my parent’s knee, the latter as a young bookseller/rock-n’-roller in Oscoda, Michigan in the late 70s.
Then as church music gradually chose me as a profession (sic), I thought of (rationalized?) my work as providing a room, instruments and personnel to make music with
as well as providing a livelihood to contribute to my nuclear family.
In the midst of this I never lost sight of myself as a bit of artsy type.
As a church music composer, I grappled with the market. Before this I had attempted to market my poetry. I learned that many rejections lead to occasional acceptance and that there was no money in poetry.
Church music I have written has turned out pretty much the same way. Over the years I have met publishers and “successful” church music composers. I learned that their understanding of their market was not my understanding.
I saw it (and still see it) as a way to share that Lewis Hyde gift-thing.
” … the artist who sells his own creations must develop a more subjective feel for the two economies and his own rituals for both keeping them apart and bringing them together. He must, on the one hand, be able to disengage from the work and think of it as a commodity. He must be able to reckon its value in terms of current fashions, know what the market will bear, demand fair value, and part with the work when someone pays the price.
And he must, on the other hand, be able to forget all that and turn to serve his gifts on their own terms.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift
I didn’t find many church music composers who fit this bill. The ones who did tended to be outside the church music market.
Someone who does fit this bill in larger musical world is Frank Zappa who insisted on making his art work in a commercial way.
I respect and admire this. Recently I listened to a vinyl of his wonderful “Sad Jane,” “Pedro’s Dowry,” and “Envelopes;” side A of his recording he made with London Symphony.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is vigorous strong creative writing (gift in Hyde’s terms).
“the artist who hopes to market work that is the realization of his gifts cannot begin with the market. He must create for himself that gift-sphere in which the work is made, and only when he knows the work to be the faithful realization of his gift should he turn to see if it has currency in that other economy. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t”
So I struggled to composer for the church music market. The few pieces I managed to get published fell within the publisher’s narrow idea of their market.
I am returning to considering marketing my work again. All of these years I have not ceased to write music. As I look at my work, I realize that my gifts are not solely that of a composer. I am a composer but also a church musician who thinks that church music is an art of sorts. And I continue to hone my abilities on the organ and piano and as a choral conductor and leader of congregational song.
So I’m thinking of trying to find markets for the kind of music I write. I sort of think they might be out there.
This is a long way to making the point that the compositions I made Tuesday represent an important part of my life and work to me. Functional music is not quite the same as music made for a market. Music cannot dominate in its role in church music, but neither can it turn away from the necessity of its own gratuitous nature if it is to be any good at all.
And I do have fun doing it.