Written by Jeffrey Nytch,
Director of The Entrepreneurship Center for Music, Univ of CO- Boulder
This past weekend I was back in Pittsburgh to help judge the biennial Harvey Gaul Composition Competition, sponsored by my former employer, The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. (I’m still on their Board, and PNME will be premiering a new commission of mine this summer.) In two days we reviewed over 150 submissions from all over the country, and a few things really jumped out at me as we proceeded through this mass of music. The first was that the technical quality of what we were reviewing was by far the highest it’s ever been (I’ve been involved with this competition for nearly 10 years now). Clearly the American system of educating young composers (most of our entrants are 35 or under) has made great strides. Submission after submission was technically solid writing.
And yet very few of these compositions caught our attention. And that’s the second thing that was very obvious to me, and it just confirms something I’ve said again and again (here and elsewhere): the most important thing you can do as an artist is to find your voice. Figure out what unique thing you have to say, and how you want to go about saying it. Technique is merely a tool – and before I incur the wrath of any of my teacher colleagues, it’s an absolutely critical tool that cannot be shortchanged: without technique, you won’t have the capacity to express your unique self at the highest level of artistic and expressive polish.
But the technique can’t be where it ends. In fact, it’s just the beginning. What comes out of that has to be an authentic expression of your very self – because only YOU can be uniquely YOU. Or, said another way, if you wish to say something unique then you have to start with who YOU are. That’s the foundation of everything.
This applies to all musicians, not just composers. If you’re wondering how to build success for yourself “out there in the world,” you have to begin with what it is you want to say, what it is that only YOU can share. It might be a composition, or it might be a novel idea for presenting concerts in a different way. Perhaps it’s a knack you have for connecting with your audience through speaking to them before and after pieces, or maybe you have a new vision for how video, lighting, or other media can be employed the enhance the concert experience. Maybe it’s a burning passion to figure out how to use music for social change. It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need to find out what it is for you.
Because ultimately, if you’re wanting to be a professional musician, you have to have a product that people are willing to pay for. And since you want them to pay YOU for your product, then your product has to be something they can’t get anywhere else. In other words, you are your greatest asset.
Think about that. How does that change the way you view your career options, and how you’ll go about exercising them?
About Jeffrey Nytch
Jeffrey Nytch comes to the Entrepreneurship Center for Music having built a diverse career as a composer, teacher, performer, and arts administrator. For 15 years he has continually created fresh ways to support and nurture that career, whether it be through developing commissioning opportunities, establishing residencies with community organizations, or building relationships with patrons. He has also run a small business, helped found a non-profit service organization in Houston, performed a wide range of repertoire as a vocalist, and served five years as Managing Director of The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (“PNME”), one of the nation’s premiere new music ensembles.