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This 49 message thread spans 4 pages: [1]  2   3   4  > >  
  Define Composer?  red5 at 15:12 on 22 October 2006

I was reading an interesting article on the internet yesterday about what constitutes a composer. The crux of the matter was if you can call yourself a composer if you only compose music for yourself to play! I'm divided on this, I can see it both ways. There is obviously a very strong tradition of performer/composers but the more significant ones are those that write/wrote for other mediums than their own instrument. The article also poses the question of can you label yourself a composer or must it be a word used by others to describe you? I thought this was a very interesting question considering the number and variety of people now calling themselves composers! Any thoughts...?

  Re: Define Composer?  Hugh Boyle at 10:10 on 24 October 2006

I do believe that it should be up to someone else to label you a composer and to gain merit as a composer you have to be recognised by others. However, as everyone knows it is very difficult to become recognised as a composer these days since there as so many around. And ok perhaps some of them shouldn’t label themselves as composers because of the nature of their creative process or whatever. Yet, since it is so hard to become recognised as a composer I think one has to take it upon one’s self to label yourself as a composer because if you don’t there’s a good chance that no one else will. With regards to the article which you were studying/reading; I don’t think one has to play one’s music to be recognised as a composer. When I do write for my principal instrument, the piano, I usually write music which is more difficult than I can possibly play. I think, perhaps, that this article, and its author, was focusing on the past tradition of composer/performers. Although I can’t really know because I didn’t read the article………………….

  Re: Define Composer?  red5 at 20:49 on 25 October 2006

Have a read for yourself...


I agree about writing for yourself, I'm a flautist myself and enjoy playing my flute pieces but I get much more pleasure from hearing other people play them or hearing pieces for other instruments performed.

  Re: Define Composer?  Hugh Boyle at 15:22 on 26 October 2006

Yes, it is much better to have your music performed by someone else and it is important to have ones music performed by someone else in order to become recognised by others, which brings us back to the article. I agree largely with the article in that I also believe that “you can't call yourself a composer; someone else has to identify you that way first” and that minute you try to make a hard and fast rule or definition, you're doomed. Wikipedia describes a composer as follows, “A composer is a person who writes music. The term refers particularly to someone who writes music in some type of musical notation, thus allowing others to perform the music. This distinguishes the composer from a musician who improvises or plays an instrument. However, a person may be called a composer without creating music in documentary form, since not all musical genres rely on written notation. In this context, the composer is the originator of the music, and usually its first performer.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composer
This would suggest that anyone who writes music is a composer and you don’t specifically have to perform your own music unless you haven’t created music in documentary form. This again brings us back to a question raised in the article which asks “…if no one else ever performs your own music except for you, are you a composer?” In a complex and confused world the answer to this is yes but no. Anyone who writes music is a composer to the extent that she/he is a creator of music yet if one’s music is not exhibited and recognised by others there is a chance that the only person referring to you as a composer will be yourself.

  Re: Define Composer?  piargno at 06:34 on 28 October 2006

If a tree falls down in the forrest . . .

It's all a matter of perception. There are multiple sides to everything. Whenever I'm asked the above, I always answer: to the tree, yes. To us, no. Same thing with the glass half empty/half full crap: when pouring, half full. When drinking, half empty. If no one hears what we've composed, but it was composed, then whomever composed it is a composer. I strongly feel that being a composer, like race, or sexuality, is something that one can not control, but one must discover and accept, and decide from there. I was told I was a composer by one person before I dropped piano and switched to composition. I was told. But the reason why I switched was because I discovered it and accepted it. And, hell. I may never do that much with composition, but I do know I will always compose.

  Re: Define Composer?  red5 at 14:38 on 29 October 2006

But if no-one hears what we compose, i.e. it's never played, then surely it's not a composition? Composing is organising sound (a simplistic definition I admit but...) not organising dots on a page.

  Re: Define Composer?  dunkinwedd at 12:43 on 30 October 2006

For me, if the possibility of a performance exists, then it's a composition. I would argue that if a score exists, and someone might one day perform it, then the author is/was a composer.

There are lots of works in the canon where great works were not performed in the composer's lifetime. If we die with all our works unperformed, but then someone discovers the scores and performs them, then we are a composer. Indeed we were a composer before we died. (Sorry - my grip on syntax is loosening...)

Having said that, in the visual arts it seems to be the case now that the definition of an artist is someone who says he's an artist - whether his work is carrying a ladder around East Anglia or whatever. So perhaps if you SAY you're a composer, then you are?

Going back to the personal, piargno has the right of it as usual: when people ask me what makes me write music I reply that I have never learned how not to.

  Re: Define Composer?  piargno at 16:02 on 30 October 2006

red5 - why should the definition of composer fall in the hands of others beside the composer him/herself?

If someone took the paintings of elephants who are trained to paint and interpreted them musically, would that elephant be a composer? At the same time, do you think the elephant that is trained to paint is an artist?

  Re: Define Composer?  red5 at 18:09 on 30 October 2006

Piargno - The definition shouldn't necesarrily fall into someone elses hands (I don't think I actually said that anyway) but neither should one be able to describe oneself as anything they want. I am the Lord Jesus Christ - am I? Clearly I'm not, but why should someone else say I'm not? That's as absurd as your elephant point (i.e. I don't really see your point). Of course the elephant wouldn't be a composer, the elephant thought of it as art not music, a secondary source has translated it into sound so that person, if anyone, is the composer.

  Re: Define Composer?  dunkinwedd at 21:54 on 30 October 2006

OK - what about music composed by a computer? Is the computer a composer? The software programmer? IBM?

  Re: Define Composer?  piargno at 22:27 on 30 October 2006

red5 - I see your point in the idea that people aren't whatever they call themselves, but I was sort of implying some sort of limitation. I know I can't just call myself a composer and not have touched a lick of music in my life. At the same time, even though I perform all the time, I don't really consider myself a pianist. I'm not sure if that makes any type of sense to others, but I think I'm a composer that just happens to play the piano. In your example of you calling yourself Jesus, then you feel as though you're mislabeling yourself, and others would certainly see that.

But further on the Jesus point, isn't arguable that Jesus already came again, but no one believed him? Or why do so many people believe certain prophets that claim the end of world will happen on a specific day? In the first case, Jesus may not have proven himself well enough, and he might not have proven his messianic state to himself well enough. You indeed could be the Messiah, but if you don't discover that for yourself and accept it, how could anyone else possibly know? In the second case, one has used false logic to prove something completely bogus. (Check out the book "88 Reasons Why the World Will End in 1988" and his follow up book about why he was wrong...) My point is, anyone can say that they are anything, and anyone can prove almost anything if he or she is clever enough. In the end, when it comes to art, religion, and other non-standardized fields, few things are definite, and people will ultimately chose what they want to believe. I highly doubt that I can convince you to believe what I believe about this particular topic, but I still feel as though one should discover the composer in his or herself, and not have that talent depend on recognition by others. I'm also assuming that you don't accept the fact that certain people may be composers, even though they say they are. Can you provide an example of one of these people (not even a name, but perhaps just a description of their actions, or their compositions, and why they shouldn't be called compositions)?

As far as the whole computer thing, is it possible for a computer to compose music? I've never seen it done! I've programmed computers to generate random notes, but the computer isn't doing this out of its own free will. Show me a computer that sits down one day and composes something, and perhaps I will call that computer a composer! At any rate, I do strongly feel that people who use computers to compose pieces are composers.

  Re: Define Composer?  red5 at 10:25 on 04 November 2006

Piargno - Sorry for the delyed reply, I've been nusy working all week! Is your question a typo:

'I'm also assuming that you don't accept the fact that certain people may be composers, even though they say they are.'

Do you mean even though they say they aren't?

  Re: Define Composer?  mary at 21:16 on 04 November 2006

An interesting discussion. I think it doesn't matter what you are called, what you are in the eyes if the world. Personally, if I'm asked, I usually say "I write music." Art wants to communicate, and people who write music want to share it with others. But if a piece is not heard by anyone else, it doesn't negate what has been created (or the creator). Concern about what the world calls you--whether or not you gain the name of composer--is all a matter of self-reflection, which isn't really healthy. It seems to me that every creative act changes the creator--when you write music, you've expressed yourself in a new way, and I believe that flows out into the world, whether the piece is shared or not. If it is herad, so much the better. But as to whether I'm a composer or not, the world can puzzle that out, but it can't concern me.

  Re: Define Composer?  piargno at 02:57 on 05 November 2006

No! No type at all! Person A says, "I'm a composer." I'm wondering what type of things this person A does to make him not a composer in your mind. In your first post, you said something along the lines of "With all the people calling themselves composers these days." Well, from this, I'm gathering that you feel that some people who call themselves composers don't have the right to, and I'm wondering what these people do - how they act, how they compose, how they think - to merit your non-acceptance of them as a composer.

  Re: Define Composer?  dunkinwedd at 08:38 on 05 November 2006

Hear hear, Mary - I agree with your comments entirely.

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