“What do you play?”
I played the violin for years. Yes, I was quite good. No, I don’t play anymore. No, this isn’t sad, because I hated every minute of it. I’m much happier being a composer, thank you very much. No, it isn’t a shame. Did you miss the part where I said I hated playing the violin? Orchestra rehearsals bore me to tears, even if it’s my piece being rehearsed. Fortunately, you’re only given 20 minutes, if you’re lucky.
“Do you play the piano?”
Only when I had to in order to pass piano proficiency exams.
“But then how do you compose?”
I open up vim and start typing. You didn’t think I actually use pencil and paper anymore, did you? Thanks to the industry domination of Finale and Sibelius, it’s expected that you produce some sort of computer-generated score, no matter how good a hand you have. I use lilypond. For computer music, I use csound and LISP. A conventional musical instrument would do me no good, anyway, since I haven’t used equal temperament in at least ten years.
Okay, look, the Holywood notion of the tortured genius slaving away with a quill pen, ink, and a piano is a myth. I guarantee if you’re doing anything with ink, much less an actual quill pen, you want a good, flat surface, like a table. If I’m copying music by hand, I’m using tech pens and a drafting board.
“Don’t you need to hear what you write?”
Generally. That’s why they teach score reading and ear training. You don’t need to read aloud to read something, do you?
“Do you write for movies?”
Hell no. It’s a different kind of skillset, and I’m no good at the kind of schmoozing and networking those guys do like breathing. Nor do I want to ghost-compose for the big names for a few decades until people get the idea I can write music. If I’m going to work my ass off and be poor for a decade or so, it’s going to be promoting the stuff I write, not for the latest Jerry Bruckheimer flick.
I understand that music education in this country is sorely lacking and that many people think American Idol is actually how the music business works. (Would you believe that most orchestra auditions happen behind a screen and on carpet so people can’t determine if the shoes people are wearing have high heels or hard soles, like women’s shoes do?) Most people think Mr. Holland’s Opus is how things are in music. Truth be told, American Pie got one thing right.