Several years ago, I read “Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” a book by David Bayles and Ted Orland (The Image Continuum, 1993). The authors intended this book for artists “grappling with the daily problems of making art in the real world.”
It explores the feelings that one experiences sitting in a studio/practice room when trying to decide what to do next in the process of creating art. When we hear an inspiring performance of a musical masterpiece, in the moment we sometimes forget that the performance is result of a lot of work.
Composing music, just like any other process of creating a work of art, is work. Perseverance in creating art doesn’t always produce great results. More often, the work we do reveals our problems, and those problems reveal the gap between where our art-work is and where we want it to be.
Much of the work we do functions as the practice/training for the few results that turn out to be truly great. And it is not just the substance of the artwork itself — composers must also learn how to use notation and other instructions to communicate most effectively with the performers who will interpret their musical art.
Then there is the performance, where musicians strive to balance the technical requirements and their personal feelings about the music with the composer’s intentions and an aesthetic understanding of the time and circumstances of composition.
In our musical training, our teachers try to instill in us a sense of responsibility and self-discipline that often results in a feeling that we are never done studying, practicing, thinking, searching for more information about the person who wrote the music, the time in which it was written, the cultural context of the music (what was valued and expected in expressive performance, what instruments or techniques were involved at the time), and then developing ourselves to empathize with all of these factors, looking for meaning within ourselves to communicate the piece of music with integrity and with feeling.
Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Or does it sound intimidating?
This is where fear comes in. What if we do not execute the necessary technique for the piece we are performing? What if we are not fully engaged emotionally in the piece itself? What if we have misunderstood the composer’s intentions or misinterpreted the aesthetics of the time? What if the audience doesn’t get it? What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like my own performance?
And yet, the same perseverance required for composing — to learn more by doing and being willing to put yourself out there — must also take place for performers. By making art we learn more about making art.
This summer, I am working on the artworks that are part of our next Yakima Symphony Orchestra season, and several represent truly great musical art. I am looking forward to sharing them with you—but now I need to get back to work!
• Jeffrey Snedeker is principal horn for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.