Tchaikovsky Bites His Fingernails

Does this man look worried to you?
Does this man look worried to you?

It’s hard to imagine famed composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky fretting, chewing his fingernails and wondering what people would think about his work. It’s an especially silly thought now that we know his classic works such as the 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker Suite, Swan Lake, and much, much more of course.

But this is exactly what happened when he was premiering his opera Eugene Onegin in 1879.

He was quite worried about what several of his contemporaries would think about the work. At the time, the leading Russian musicians were Anton Rubenstein, the founder of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and his brother Nikolai, the founder of the Moscow Conservatory.

As it turns out, one loved it and one hated it. Of course history would bear out the opera’s popularity, but at the time, Tchaikovsky must have felt conflicted that one of them did not approve.

How often do we worry about what people will think of our art? What will they think of our songs, our paintings, or our little blogs?

Now we look back on Tchaikovsky’s output and place in music history and it seems silly he would worry about two men whose works are much lesser known.

WHY THIS MATTERS:

The fact is we all fret and lay awake wondering what people will think. We wonder if our latest work, or career move will be the one that makes us what we were intended to be.

There’s one sure way to ensure your work’s final effectiveness and popularity: Get to work making it and quit biting your fingernails!

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.” – J.S. Bach

Have a great week!
EC
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Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and worries about his place in history too. Do you worry about what people think of your art? Make sure to comment by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Smoke Signal. http://www.MusicHistoryMatters.org

Why You Are Like Bach, Mozart, or Schoenberg

I think the really amazing thing about studying music history for me has been the way it has shown the similarities between the masters, and myself and other artists I work with daily. While most musicologists focus on musical forms, genres, and theoretical tendencies, what interests me is how I am like Mozart, or Bach, or Miles.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not compare myself to them technically or musically. They would all laugh at my MIDI accomplishments and “producer” title. Bach would shake his head, Miles would turn his back, and Mozart would just giggle I imagine.
But comparing how they lived and worked, how they loved and dealt with daily life, that is where we can see who we are. Because we, as current artisans, are just reflections of those before us. They dealt with fame, work, and love (or the lack of them) just as we must.

So whom do you resemble? Let’s use a short list here and see if you fit in one of these three types:

1. Maybe you’re Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach was the equivalent of today’s modern church music director. If you have a steady music gig at a church or school, then you and Bach have lived similar lives.

Bach served as “Cantor” or music leader of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany from 1723 until his death in 1750. He was also musical director at the principal churches in town.

As you may know, his output was voluminous, but you would expect him to have written a lot when he had to have music ready for the week’s services for 27 years! Plus he had similar jobs back to 1708. Dude had a resume!

You may work on a lot of songs too every week, getting things ready for Sunday services or for classes. It may seem overwhelming, and it may seem somewhat under-appreciated.

But so was Bach. Although he was highly respected in Europe as an organist during his lifetime, he really didn’t become infamous as “Bach, the composer that defines the Baroque period we all know and love” until a revival of his music in the 19th century.

So take heart, Bach-ites. Maybe somewhere in 2123 is when your genius will be discovered and revered for all time.

(In the meantime, enjoy some Bach and get back to your planning…)

2. Maybe you’re Mozart.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was simply the Michael Jordan of music history. I mean yes, you have Bach, and Beethoven, and many that are masters without doubt. But Mozart was the natural. The prodigy that would never be denied even as a child or on his deathbed. His works are varied, and original, and striking.

But despite the unique and powerful works, his financial life and personal life were kinda iffy. Like many musicians, especially the really crazy gifted ones, he put way more emphasis on creating than he did a steady gig. Especially since that meant having to “be” what princes or other possible benefactors wanted from him. He taught piano to rich ladies, and wrote operas and other things on demand for folks, but truly just wanted to write songs to his own liking, not what others wanted.

You may fall into this kind of thinking sometimes. I know I do. My whole creative life has been about doing things my way. I skipped piano lessons, scoffed at a music degree, and never really embraced traditional music gigs or jobs. Instead I built a music business I could totally do my way.

But at what cost!

This kind of attitude, a decision that you want to live as a creative musician doing art your way has it downsides. And one downside is that money can slow to a trickle fast. It did for Mozart. He liked to live with his wife in a big fancy house with servants and buy pianos, but the truth was he went into debt doing it and was still trying to get out of debt at the time of his death.

Being like Mozart is a two-sided coin. You have a talent for music, but yet demand music fit into life the way you feel it should rather than more traditional means.

(Hide your bills, and enjoy some Mozart, and then write something amazing whether it sells or not…)

3. Maybe you’re Schoenberg.

Arnold Schoenberg probably isn’t as known to you, but he is a very important figure in the history of music, not that you’d probably care for his music. Well, maybe you’d feel comfortable with his early music, which just echoed and continued the tradition of Wagner and Brahms.

But Schoenberg developed the “twelve-tone” technique, which kind of put western music on its ear. The random sounding music can kind of sound a little like a horror movie score on acid. It purposely went away from the harmonics and tonality of the previous two centuries. A whole way of thinking (the Second Viennese School) with other composers following Schoenberg’s evolution came next, and the 20th century started out with a crash. At least that’s kind of what it sounded like.

How could this relate to you? I hear folks all the time declaring how music, or any genre, is stale and the same old, same old. So, they break away from what everyone else is doing, and try something radically different, often breaking the established rules of musical taste of the time. At first people may not like it, but sometimes new music has to cause a revolt before it becomes famous. (See Disco.)

Some of his early concerts of the new atonal stuff actually caused fights in the audience. Schoenberg himself tried to physically escort troublemakers out of the concert hall.

Now hopefully you won’t have to do this, but you may come up against criticism or haters when you are trying to do something different.

(Tune them out and listen to some Schoenberg. Or send it to them for torture…)

WHY THIS MATTERS:

Each of us can read the history of the lives of composer and find traits that reflect us today. That’s the beauty, and real value of studying music history. We learn from the masters, who were just real, frail, vulnerable people, like you.

Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and paid artist nurturer. Whether he’s right or not, he firmly believes the knowledge of music history can help musicians and artsy types in the present. Be part of the fun by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or…Telegram.

How Chopin Kicked My Butt

For forty-seven years I have scoffed. I have rolled my eyes and gone about my merry way. I have laughed directly in the face of my enemy and then demonstrated my own superiority.

But, alas, I am a fool.

Today, it happened. Something that’s been happening to musicians for hundreds of years.

I stumbled through Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor (Op. 28, No. 4), just trying to feel my way through it as I am not a reader (as we’ll get into). And about halfway through the second section, it hit me. This is beautiful, and I am playing what a master composer wrote, and…I am affected.

I am affected by playing some else’s music. Someone who wrote this 250 years ago!

To be quite honest I have been a complete skeptic of traditional music. For 35 years I have walked my own path. I snootily stuck my nose up at the music establishment and announced I did NOT need it. I built my own music world. Like my own music version of the Matrix. My own chords, my own songs, my own arrangements, my own ideas, my own art.

I had no need for the tragedy of what felt was the ‘man’ trying to tell me how to do music. God had given me this talent and I owed no one but Him my musical gifts.

I eschewed music training, music snobs, and traditional music methods. A college music degree? Pshaw!

I shook off the old-fashioned, antiquated ideas of my piano teacher mother and grandmother and went my own direction, incorporating jazz, pop, and rock into my own style. I have written hundreds of songs, with hundreds recorded and published by clients and others.

All of this done without nary a lesson on how to do it.

I never understood WHY I needed to learn any of that old crap they were selling me at school, church, or at home about why Chopin’s mastery (or Mozart, or Beethoven, or anyone else for that matter) made a shred of difference to the art I wanted to make.

But today, in probably culmination of the past few years of forced study (forced by me as an experiment), I believe I am finally starting to get it.

For years Chopin stared me right in the face – literally. My mom had a bust of Chopin on our piano where I wrote songs and learned to play (kind of in that order). My wife actually recently found a similar Chopin bust and he is here in my studio…staring at me (with those sad eyes.)

Maybe having him as the predominant musical figure in my youth is why, as I narrow my chosen field of music history study down to the 1800s, I have an interest in his life and works. Maybe it’s because I am a keyboardist and he almost exclusively focused on piano pieces. We even share some facial features.

But today, playing (and I use that term loosely, remember I turned my nose up at piano lessons) this piece by Chopin moved me AS I played it. Not as I listened, which has happened before, but while I was trying to recreate it.

Now some of you students and master pianists (and yes, even you Mom) are shrugging, thinking, “Duh. Happens to me all the time.”

In studying music history lately at a local college, and as a music producer at studios, I see an increasing number of new music school students: those studying to be part of the music industry. These folks are more like I was at their age. They want to do music, but not all that stupid theory stuff and recital nonsense.

But these students (who often must take music history, or at least choose it as an elective to get their degree) NEED to understand why Chopin matters in the life they are wanting to lead. I’m finally getting it. But I wish someone would have made me see a parallel from composers as far as Palestrina or even farther back in the 500s and 600s. Maybe that would have made me realize the world of music as a more cyclical, emotional landscape, and not just some playground for me to trample on with my ignorance.

So, yeah, Chopin kicked my butt today. And I’m a better man for it.

I just wish he’d quit glaring at me…gloating.

EC

Eric Copeland is a music producer in Nashville, and also a music student at Middle Tennessee State University.  To get more articles like this one, make sure and sign up for his blog at http://musichistorymatters.wordpress.com