Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summer Job

Back when I was in high school, and spring would roll around, an annual event  - as dependable as the vernal equinox itself – occurred in my house. My father would one day casually ask me from behind his newspaper, “So, what have you got lined up for the summer?” Of course, he meant a summer job and of course, I hadn’t even begun thinking about looking for work when the question was posed. I’d make some vague list of plans that I thought would placate him for the moment and then begin to earnestly look for work. In my house, there was no hanging out during the summer with nothing to do. Over the years, I took many summer jobs: yard man for the neighborhood, clerk at a record store (remember those?), waiter and a ride operator at Six Flags amusement park among many other day gigs.

Now, of course, the job has changed for me, but one thing has remained constant: there is a pressing need to “line something up” for the summer. On the surface, this need is necessitated by a professor’s nine-month contract. There is no income during the summer so those of us in the academy are used to the notion of lining up summer work. Often, this means teaching summer school and/or receiving grants for summer research. For the composer working within the academy, the summer also is an unparalleled opportunity for writing. Many pressures of the academic year are removed and there is finally time to think. Within a university, my “research” is writing music. So it is appropriate and beneficial to apply for summer research funding to compose. It’s also one of the increasingly few “perks” of working in higher education. Knowing that summer must be filled, spurs me to develop projects throughout the year with the expectation that the bulk of composing will take place in the relatively calm summer months. I don’t write exclusively in the summer – but it is a time that a significant amount of work is accomplished. This summer is no different than others gone by except for one thing: everything has panned out.

Like many composers, I don’t have the luxury of sifting through myriads of commissions that have fallen before me like manna from heaven. To be sure, there are a few. However, part of lining up summer work entails me pitching projects to performers or ensembles. Some proposals work out, many do not. Therefore, like any good salesman, I toss a lot of ideas against the wall and hope that some will stick. This summer, almost every proposal has met with success and this – coupled with several legit commissions out of the blue – have me a bit nervous.

It’s only May and the summer – like an inviting country road – beckons; full of promise. Yet there are a fistful of chamber works, a double concerto and a film score to complete before September. I do write quickly… but even so – I’m a bit apprehensive. Yet, I must confess that I’m also more than a bit excited. I’m one of those people who thrive on impending deadlines and self-inflicted pressure. I also take solace in a quote attributed to Leonard Bernstein that I often share with my students: “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” Only history will judge if what I write this summer will be “great.” However, I do have a plan and I definitely don’t have enough time. I’m halfway there!