Why Am I Doing this??? Thoughts at the end of a rough day.

One of my teachers, Donald Erb, and I used to talk about this sort of thing – how difficult it was to be heard as a composer; even someone like Vaughan Williams, when asked what being a composer was like, could only reply, “It’s a rum go!” “Rum” in this case meant “unfair”. And I’m sure he wasn’t the only one to think so, even amongst the famous and successful.

I don’t know where I got this expression from, but it’s been a mantra of mine for a long time: we as artists must have the souls of angels, but the skin of a rhinoceros. (I may even have made that up!). We will always be belted down by someone. You can rest assured that even the favourites of the people who have just rejected your application, audition or submitted work will have a day when someone with work to give out sees them in and out of the invisible revolving door so quickly it makes their parents’ heads spin as well. And the same questions will arise in their minds as they do in ours.

“Why am I doing this?”

“Why does it bother me so much that the arts is such an unfair place?”

I cannot claim to have the definitive answers, only the ones that keep me going when the latest grant proposal for this fantastic concerto I’m going to write sinks like a stone into the depths of the Might Have Been pond, or the audition didn’t work out that I would have been perfect for (such as being rejected by the ABC at every conducting audition I’ve had with them for over 30 years, and yet I’ve held one of the top four conducting jobs in Sydney!).

“We can do no other,” as Martin Luther may have said. It is us. We are not just doing a job, we are living a life. This is more than a calling. It is wrapped around our DNA so tightly that to try to free ourselves from it would make us choke. And it’s the same talent, drive and pure desire to be at the centre of the performance rite that leads us to care so much about our place in it, how much we are suited to it and how much we and the art desire one another. Art is a lover than can never be satisfied; a strict and heavy-handed teacher that can never be fully pleased; the only thing that makes sense in a senseless world.

And the fact that we care is what makes us suited to the art that drives us and in whose pocket we live.

I am part of an artistic family – I’m a composer/conductor/actor with a writer/performance poet wife and an actor/musician/writer daughter (she got both barrels!). It can be a frustrating existence when we all flounder amidst the latest round of rejections and failures; yet wouldn’t you know it? When the next gig arrives, the next performance begins or the new project gets funded, we will forgive everything that’s happened to us for that one, thrilling feeling of belonging again.

I hope that happens to you tomorrow.


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