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Christchurch, March 2023

Reflection 9/10 - The (Com)-Poser Life

You'd think a few weeks away from the blog leaves plenty of time to come up with something good. It doesn't. Most of that time was elbow-deep in spreadsheets, wrangling data for what felt like 10 hours a day. I am lucky to have a contract that will still pay my usual hours even if I don't fill them - although the catch is that I have to balance things out by working extra hours other weeks. Initially, this seemed like a great arrangement however, once I had accumulated 40 hours in credit, I realized the feeling of this hanging over me was not one I enjoyed. The deal I made with myself was to start the blog again once I was in the clear. Thankfully a project came along and I have now finally caught up.

This contract has taught me a lot about being a composer. Learning first-hand from one of the country's most active practitioners gives you a pretty good sense of what it takes to maintain a career in this field. The most important lesson is how to approach time. You must be comfortable with extremely delayed gratification. It could be several years between starting a project and then seeing it realized. You must be comfortable with the feeling of being extremely busy and having very little to show for it. It is only over long periods, that you see the results of your hard work accumulate. And that is, finally, an effective and relevant segue to the topic of this week's blog.

It was a relatively trivial conversation that sparked this next series of events. As always, it begins in Nelson. I had just finished performing in the 2021 Composers Workshop closing concert, something admittedly a little out of my comfort zone. I was the benefactor of inclusivity-motivated programming. As an outwardly appearing straight, white, male from a middle-income background, this might seem usual. However, at the workshop, I was a minority. Well artistically at least. I attended as a Sonic Artist and Music Technologist - both terms I am not fond of but won't waste word count on - the only one in the cohort. This gave me the "privilege" of having my piece included in the final evening concert.

I can't say I was thrilled. Writing anything reliant on technology is stressful and anxiety-ridden. You never know if it will work; when it does, you are just waiting for it to stop, usually suddenly and with a loud bang. I was recovering from the angst of the rehearsal and workshop presentation earlier in the day at the pub when a text came through notifying me I'd need to do it again that night. This time for a public audience... how lovely. Slamming my laptop shut and eager to get off stage as soon as possible, I left the software I had built running, only realizing it a few days later when I next opened it.

Whilst in the green room, awaiting the end of the concert, I struck up a conservation with Mark Menzies. We chatted about my irrational fear of stringed instruments. After all, the lecture on violin was the one class I missed in undergrad and was the alleged root of my imposter syndrome. Mark simply said, "Well you should give it a go".

And so I did.

At the next Nelson, I mentioned that I took him up on his advice which was met with a blank stare, so I went on to explain. The realization that our small exchange generated a new piece of music was met with nothing but excitement. Mark exclaimed, "You must show me! I'd love to see it." We both had a jam-packed week and I have found that performers expressing interest in your work can sometimes just be a courtesy gesture. As the week progressed, I learnt this wasn't the case as Mark continued to remind me about sending it through after it would always slip my mind whilst putting out the next workshop-related fire. Eventually, as I was whittling away at some admin, he sat next to me at my computer not prepared to leave until I sent it to him.

And so I did.

Fast forward to 4 am March 2, 2023, and I am on my way to the airport bound for Christchurch and the premiere of this violin piece performed by Mark himself at the Arts Center Festival. Although with every early morning flight and the subsequent promise to myself to only book after midday, I still found my judgement corrupted by the cries of the cheapest seats on the first flight of the morning. Luckily I had planned my day with precision, something I had learnt from work. It went like this:

  • 4.55am - walk to bus stop

  • 5.20am - Catch Airport express bus at Stop 5506 Lambton Central - Stop B

  • 6:35 - Flight - Well to Chch

  • 7:40am - Arrive in Christchurch

  • 7:52 or 8:22 - catch bus to city

  • 8:30am - Get breakfast

  • 9:30am - Print Score at warehouse stationary

  • 10-2pm - John's APRA

  • 2:00pm - check in at Hotel Give

  • Afteroon Walk through Gardens/run

  • 5:00pm - Work with Mark

  • get dinner

  • 9-10am - check out of Hotel Give

I have realized that this was not a schedule nor a checklist. It was actually a reassurance and self-soothing activity. My anxiety is seldom about actually doing the things on my to-do list. Individually I know I can achieve them, however, when they accumulate it becomes overwhelming always thinking about what's next and what I have missed. I can have a moment of panic thinking I've missed my flight as I'm sitting on the bus on my way home from the airport. Writing it out just gives me peace of mind in the knowledge that it is indeed possible to fit it all in in the allotted time period.

It was quite a leisurely experience getting the piece ready for performance. It was composed during the latter half of 2021 during the extended lockdown and I had done my final revisions in June of 2022 for my portfolio submission. By the time it was performed, I had managed to get some distance from it and got to rediscover some of the details in the work. Unlike my big recording session in Auckland, which was fast-paced and stress-filled, preparing with Mark was cool, calm, and collected - a hangover from his time in LA.

At a recent beer with my brother, he was advising me on the importance of attending graduation ceremonies because it's one of the last times you get recognition for your achievements. He explains that it's perhaps your final big celebration before turning dirty thirty, getting engaged, or even having a child. I think his assessment is true. For most people, graduation is the climax, life seems to get less about you, the older you get. However, having a work in my portfolio premiered seems far more significant a recognition than the opportunity to walk across a stage after being handed a piece of paper.

I was lucky that my recently retired parents made the trip down, as did my brother. I quite enjoyed being the centre of attention and for the first time ever, the most prepared traveller of the group. Walking from the Nelson Airport taught me to always prioritize comfy shoes. We did all the family things - the gondola, brunch, the tram, and I didn't once have to wear a dressing gown or a funny hat. Moments like this make all the other times worth it.


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