Snapshot: “A Day in the Life of a Composer,” or “Why I Don’t Write Much Music”

There are no doubt plenty of professionals who can identify with the following statement:

“I could get so much done, if only I didn’t have to _________!”

At most I produce one or two works per year. That’s not very much music, but then again, I have never been able to churn it out. At various times in my life I have beat myself up about this fact. Ringing in my ears are two quotes from past teachers:

“A composer composes.” (Ned Rorem)

“I can’t make you write music––you have to want to be a composer!” (John Corigliano)

And those came while I was still a student! If I wasn’t cranking out the music then, WHAT WAS I DOING?

Still, I don’t want this to sound like a complaint; it isn’t. Along the way from school to real life, certain things presented themselves: a job, a marriage, another job, some children. And the fact of the matter is I am pretty lucky to be (so far) gainfully employed in this day and age. But if you had told me in 1996 that in 2012, a typical day for me would look like the following, I think I would’ve jumped ship, maybe tried to get this guy’s job.

Here’s one day’s agenda:


0400: Rise to coffee already made; retreat to studio upstairs; poke around on computer for about 30 mins.; try to compose until something good finally starts to present itself around 0600.

0615: Child #1 awakes, comes to find me in studio; requests a cup of dry Cheerios, feigns interest in Daddy’s music; composing effectively drowned out by sounds of cartoons.

0630: Morning ritual begins in earnest; Child #2 now a part of the equation.

0830: Child #1 delivered to school; Child #2 sufficiently entertained with Star Wars Legos (the good guys won).

0911: Depart for Job #1.

1000: Observe colleague’s class at Job #1; write report of said observation.

1115: Collect thoughts.

1130: Teach Classes #1 and #2.

1400: Lunch alone in office; 90 mins. of mindless paperwork and correspondence (no composing).

1530: Arrive at Job #2.

1600: Teach Class #3.

1700: Dinner alone.

1715: Weekly departmental meeting for Job #2.

1745: Excuse self early from meeting.

1800: Class #4––conduct orchestral reading of student orchestrations.

2200: Reading concluded; orchestral studio picked up and in order; students happy.

2249: Train home from Penn Station.

2315: Arrive home; pretty much beat but oddly energized.

0010: Pass out.

0400 (Day 2): Rise . . . .

Again, this is not an “I’m soooo busy!” post. Especially in light of this recent article making the rounds. Rather, it’s an illustration of what I think many, many artists deal with day to day. We take jobs, occasionally outside of our preferred fields, to sustain life. We have families. We do all these things that are required of us (and we should do them joyfully, I believe, or else, what’s the point?). And the essential often gets lost in the mix.

Still, somehow I managed in the past 24 months to compose a 30-min. string quartet, a 4-min. septet, and I’m wrapping up work on a 15-min. piano duo. (I’m now about to embark on a 25-min. ballet score.) But if my catalog strikes anyone as a little lean, that’s okay with me.

After all, that’s my blood on those pages.

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