Nico Muhly - Advice for dealing with frustration

Brett Banducci: So what advice would you have for a young composer or even an older composer hitting that wall of frustration?

Nico Muhly: I feel like part of...there's a couple of things with composer specifically, I think I think part of it is recalibrating. Recalibrating what you think being successful is. I think there's a misunderstanding that there is a finite number of opportunities and that there's a...and that if you don't get this then you're ruined you know. Or if you don't...or that there's this hierarchy of opportunities.  And that you know a commission from this orchestra is much better from a commission from this Orchestra. And that having a you know a piece in this city...I think you know...Again for me, my model of success was always the Bach one, it was always the Byrd one, or the Tallis one  which is...and it sounds so stupid but it's like it's like...if you think about this, no one ever ever clapped for that music, right? No one wrote a review of that music. No one you know...it was music that existed as a part of the landscape of the culture of its time. In the church, In the court, in the you know in wherever was the chamber music was being made when presents the chamber. It was a totally different structure.

Brett: That didn't compromise its artistic...which is amazing.

Nico: And it didn't, they think it was music. And everyone got paid. And everyone had health insurance. Or everyone you know...and everyone had what sounds like not totally miserable lives. And if you can be happy with that, then you don't need to worry about like “oh well the San Francisco Symphony commissioned me for this weird new musical”...all that like all that crazy stuff, which I still suffer from like I you know...I'll tell you like even though I'm totally zenned about all this stuff, like I still have not ever had a piece played by the Bang on a Can crew, which is insane because I feel like every sentient being like even inanimate objects have had pieces...like the door has written like a concerto like this light has written…

Brett: Our cat just had a premier last week.

Nico: I was gonna say it. David Lang and the cat are doing a podcast this week. So you know it's one of those things like it still makes me completely insane. And then you're like...what you have to do is recalibrate and be like what do I need that for. I need that like I need a hole in the head, or whatever. Not true because that would be great but, you see what I'm saying. It's like if you can make yourself satisfied with making music for people you like in a community that you like in a context that, in a context when it's genuinely appreciated. And that can mean a lot of different things I think. You know and that can mean writing music for television. And that can mean writing music for you know for plays, or that can mean writing music for church.

Part of me thinks if I actually had my druthers like I would love to take like three years and only write church music. I almost...there was a year when I wrote a lot of choral music and it to me it's just so sad because it's so stripped of all that nonsense that as composers we’re trained to worry about. So I also...see that's one thing...just sort of calibrate the idea...the notion of what being successful means. And then the other thing is just to make your own everything and don't rely on these weird external kind of sources of validation.

Team Compassnico