As the son of a teacher (my mother has a degree in early childhood education) I believe teaching has a fundamental role in every society. Historically, composers have always imparted their knowledge to the younger generations therefore ensuring the continuation of tradition and enabling the creation of new masterpieces. I also believe that those who have taken on the task of imparting knowledge to others should be conscious of the enormous responsibility that weighs on their shoulders and their impact on society. Throughout my life I have met a few wonderful teachers but I have also encountered a number of forgettable ones. This is true of every profession (mediocrity makes its way to all walks of life), but due to the critical importance of teaching, I consider this topic worthy of discussion.
After graduating, composers face a few options depending on their individual skills. Some may choose to continue start a career as an instrumentalist or conductor, others might feel inclined to get into the film industry and even fewer may choose to live as free-lance composers. Most, however, will pursue an academic career and become a professor at a University or Conservatory. From my own conversations with several colleagues throughout the years, I gather that only very few of those who get into Academia are truly fond of teaching, which means that most see this life choice as a means of attaining financial stability. I am not here to judge anybody’s choices but I am entitled to an opinion.
Personally, I think that financial tranquility should not be a reason for anybody to get into teaching. I assume most composers become composers because they want to write music. Teachers, in turn, should become teachers out of an inner desire to share their knowledge with others. The teachers from whom I have truly learned something are those who were passionate about their work. Having said this, I acknowledge the difficulties of making a living solely out of writing music; in fact, I am facing this dilemma precisely at this point in my life. The issue is complex but it may come down to the basic economic model of supply and demand. Unfortunately for us, composers, there is very little demand for contemporary music, and this makes it possible for only a few of us to live out of commissions. But surrounding ourselves by the protective cocoon of Academia may further isolate us from society, further reducing our field of action.
It would be time for us composers to stop conforming ourselves with whatever choice is presented to us. More energy should be devoted toward expanding our base and reaching out toward our own communities. The average citizen knows very little about contemporary music, so we need to make a concerted effort toward gaining more exposure by organizing concerts and looking for alternative sources of funding. A plan has been laid out for us: we must study, apply for grants, take part in competitions and earn a decent living as teachers. I believe it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally deviate from this plan and indeed those with a certain degree of initiative have created their own chamber ensembles or have found their own place in other forms of interdisciplinary cooperation. By doing this we are also paving the way for future generations to grow up in a world where the contemporary composer is not anymore a rarity but a respected voice in the cultural scene. Ultimately the goal is to do what we most like: write music.