NPR put out a list of public-recommended '100 Composers Under 40', and once again, the list reminded me just how strongly I desire to be considered among this community of people, and my uncertainty about my position in it.
I've been working on many creative projects, and sometimes I feel like I'm doing the right things and that I work with the resources available to me. Then sometimes I feel like an elusive 'fame' or 'recognition' or the lovely 'ability to pay the rent' is just beyond my grasp. And as to how people reach this upper echelon of supporters or recognition, this is elusive as well, and may be even somewhat of a mystery to the composers themselves.
Fame and fortune in a 'classical composer' sense is a tricky subject. There's rarely much money involved for most projects until you get bigger commissions or grants. Usually very little PR, and few star-studded red-carpet events. But there is a certain level of flexibility, of name recognition, that one can have, knowing that somewhere, people have heard of you (or ideally, have heard, and/or enjoyed) your music, and know who you are. Rue the day that an unknown 'fan' comes up to me and says, 'You're Nathan Hall, I love your work!', because you will probably get an unexpected hug, and then your picture will be taken, and then the picture will mailed to my parents with a note that says 'Hey mom! A stranger knows who I am!'.
In Iceland, I feel ever closer to being a part of the 'right' circle of people, who do similar things as me. While in Iceland, I have had the pleasure of meeting, five of the musicians on this NPR list! And hearing works by one other as well. Iceland seems to have an unusually high number of composers in the mix; two of them are in Sigur Rós and four of them are involved with a great music studio/label/company/think tank called Bedroom Community. I am completely am on the Nico Muhly/Daníel Bjarnasson/Kjartan Sveinsson cheer squad, or I don't think I'd be on this Fulbright in this wacky place called Reykjavík. I wanted to see why Iceland nurtures this kind (I'd like to think 'my' kind) of creativity. But usually I end up as the participant, the audience member, while others get the limelight. I wasn't born here, I don't speak fluently, and I haven't known anyone here longer than 8 months. Some events here have made me feel like I'm in fifth grade again, where I wasn't allowed to talk to the cool kids because I wasn't dressed appropriately or something (in this case, it was wearing dress shirts, suspenders, and ties, just like their dads. The 90's were weird like that).
It seems that half of the list lives in New York City. I've probably met five additional people on the list, all in NYC. And then one or two others I've met across the States. But I'm a little sad that New York still is THE place to make your big break. I thought the world was a little flatter by now. I love New York, but there are so many other amazing places for culture and landscape and ideas in the world!
Okay. Now I took a day away from this post and I've come back with a positive spin, rather than me just throwing a little pity party for myself.
1. I can hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is fast-approaching. I'm still creating interesting works and continuing to work, no matter where I am or for what media. Just keeping on doing work is the most important thing.
2. Some of these people on the list, well most of them, have such different life experiences than me. I can't expect to model my life after someone whose childhood, upbringing, education, location(s), was so different than mine.
3. This list was pared down from over 800 names! There are probably limitless talents out there that didn't make the cut either. Sometimes I wish the general listening public was more interested in breadth of knowledge, but it's hard in this keyword/tagging/twittery world to have good name recall like that. Even I find myself just flipping through to names of people I recognize, rather than checking out the people I don't know. This I should change!
4. There's no use being jealous of other people's fame when they're people you either really admire. Owen Pallett, I've never met you, I'd love to though, you were about 10 feet away from me at the Warhol Museum once in Pittsburgh but you had a cold and I didn't want your germs, sorry. But girl, you work so hard and tour yourself crazy, I could never play show after show like that. And so many concerts are probably for little to no money. I wish I had 10% of the cool opportunities you have, though; talent seems to flow forth from you! While still being humble and funny and extremely good-looking, too.
5. Daníel Bjarnasson, on this list in fact, told me that most of his big projects have all happened in his last five years. As he and many of these composers are a couple years older than me, I'm going to think that my big projects may be just beginning, that at 28 I'm still on the 'young' end of 'young(ish) composers', especially by classical music's standards. I think the more colleagues I meet and chat with, the more I'm strangely reassured that I've got a good thing going, and I'ma keep doin' it.