Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hey Jealousy: Learning from our perceived rivals

The Gin Blossoms, Black Crowes, and John Lennon have sung about it.  Ross and Rachel’s relationship on the popular 1990s TV show “Friends” was constantly thrown into turmoil over it.  Siblings struggle with it daily.  We have all experienced it, but often have a hard time acknowledging it – jealousy.  In the professional world, this occurs in a variety of manners, but can be more or less distilled into a single thought: why is he (or she) getting that opportunity instead of me?

I first experienced this thought when I came face-to-face with other young composers in college (it is easy to be a big fish in the “little pond” of high school when you’re the only composer in town… until you move to a much bigger pond).  On the surface, it looked to me like my peers weren’t doing anything different than what I was doing, and yet they and their music were getting a lot more attention.  I failed to realize two important points: 1. Those composers undoubtedly worked A LOT behind the scenes to promote their music; and 2. I could learn from these people and make their opportunities become mine too.

By the time I graduated from college, I had a strategy for getting past jealousy: research the composer who’s getting the opportunities.  Check out his biography.  Do you recognize all of the competitions he’s won?  Are there ensembles or musicians that you’ve not heard of?  Do you see any connections from one achievement to the next, such as a conductor who performed the piece with a few ensembles?  Try listening to the composer’s music.  Does it do something unique that you find interesting?  Then turn your research into action: do internet searches on anything you don’t know; enter all competitions you qualify for; find out if those ensembles program new music on a regular basis and might be open to getting materials from you.  Even try composing using musical parameters gleamed from the music and see if this leads you to compose in a new direction.

Like Ross repeatedly experienced on “Friends,” no good can come from jealousy.  I’d also suggest the same is true about passive behavior.  So try taking a proactive approach.  Congratulate your colleagues when they win a prestigious award or receive a notable commission. Then learn how they got the opportunity.  Ultimately, careers are a mixture of great composition skills, a strong business sense, a healthy amount of networking and concert-going, and research.  Jealousy has no place in this mix.