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Two articles adapted from broadcasts given by the writer on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) National Radio on the program MUSIC LINE in November 1987. (The style of these two articles are snappier than other items on this site, as they were written to be spoken.)


by Derek Strahan

Do composers have it easier in Australia today, than they did in Vienna yesterday ? By yesterday, I mean the Vienna of 200 hundred years ago, the time of Mozart and Beethoven, the time of the European settlement of Australia. It's an appropriate question to ask, with the Bicentennial looming. (This occurred in 1988) And the answer to the question, you may be surprised to hear, is definitely. No!

Composers do not have it easier today.. They have it harder. There is in Australia today institutional resistance to the idea of composing as a full-time profession.

Let's analyse the employment situation of the composer, by comparing Australia today with Vienna yesterday. We can take Mozart and Beethoven as reference points. Mozart was a very badly paid composer and he died young. Beethoven was much better paid and he survived for nearly a quarter of a century longer. Regular money makes a difference.

Mozart was never really a full-time composer. He was primarily a virtuoso performer and much of the music he wrote was to provide himself with repertoire, His first love was opera, but he had to fill in writing other stuff to make ends meet while he campaigned to get his opera commissions. He never had a properly paid permanent position. He churned music out at a frantic pace, always underpaid, trying to make ends meet.

Mozart may have been poisoned by Salieri. However, Beethoven, who revered Mozart, probably didn't think so because after Mozart's death he took lessons from Salieri. Beethoven, unlike Mozart, was a full-time composer, forced into dependence on composing as deafness made it impossible for him to continue his career as a concert pianist. Beethoven had excellent connection's in the aristocracy, through a complex of Masonic contacts dating from his youth in Bonn. He was a tough-minded negotiator, who drove hard bargains with patrons, publishers and concert managements. He did very well, and because he never seriously lacked for money, he was able to survive the other causes of stress in his life, His deafness, and his romantic disappointments.

Mozart was happily married. His wife was loyal and supportive. Yet his death at the age of 35 was probably caused by ilIness through stress and gross overwork. He was just about to mature as a composer. He was about to land his first proper job with Hungarian nobility. It came too late.

Beethoven never married. His emotional life was a mess. Yet he matured and survived. What made the difference ? Again I will tell you in one word. Money. Composing is a job. To be done properly, like any other job, it must be done full-time. And, like any other job, it must be properly paid. It is a job whose importance deserves proper social recognition. Mozart was underpaid, never achieved proper social recognition, and was buried in an anonymous pauper's grave. Beethoven did very well financially, was so well known during his lifetime that 20,000 Viennese attended his funeral.

And so to Australia today. Are Australians prepared to pay composers money to write concert music? Only with extreme reluctance, and only the basic minimum.

I'm not talking about fiIm or advertising music, where the music plays a secondary role as image enhancer. I'm not talking about pop music where the cult is of the image, the performer, not of the music. I'm talking about total music. Music for listening. Concert music. Any composer seeking to subsist off the proceeds from writing this kind of music in Australia today skids straight down to the poverty line.

For many years composers were not permitted to apply directly for government funding (except for a major Fellowship). The application for single commissions had to come from a third party. This gave performers the power to employ composers. It denied composers the power to employ performers. It is only since new procedures were introduced by the Australia Council in 1994, that composers have been apply to apply on their own behalf under new programs. This was only achieved after a prolonged public battle.

The private sector displays a similar suspicion of the individual artist. Here the composer encounters two forms of institutional resistance. Firstly the private sector is not aware that it has a role to play in encouraging new Australian concert music.

Consider this reaction 'from the PR person of a major bank reacting to a composer's approach for sponsorship: "Oh, I didn't know composers did this, I thought the government paid them or something."

Or this PR reaction from a well-known multi-national:

"Well, we have a problem dealing with you people.
It's part of our policy with sponsorships not to deal with individuals".

Never mind that the creative artist is, perforce, an individual. Organisations deal only with organisations. This explains why, in Australia, almost all support directed towards music has gone to performance organisations. As always, the performers are given the power and the right to employ the composer. The composer is denied the power and the right to employ the performers. And there's another related problem here. In the time of Mozart and Beethoven, the deal with sponsors was straightforward. The composer composed. The composer was paid. Either with a bag of coins or with a bauble which could be sold for money.

In Australia today the composer cannot compete on the sponsorship market place unless he or she is able to offer a tax deduction. I repeat, Mozart and Beethoven did not have this problem. Their sponsor did not say: "Hang on, why should I give money to you when I can get a tax deduction for supporting the opera or the ballet?"

Don't let me give you the impression, however, that the fault is all with "society". The other side of the coin has to do with the ineptitude of composers in devising programs and schemes which will appeal to the private sector; and in cultivating any kind of image which appeals to the media. Composers are as much to blame as anyone for the neglect into which their profession has fallen in this country. An exhaustive survey of TV talk shows reveals a uniform attitude of total indifference. Such shows assume a responsibility to reflect community consensus, and that consensus is that composers are not good entertainment value.

Consider this comment from a PR person on a TV talk show: "Look, we think composers and artists are boring people and we don't want them on our show." From the PR person of another talk show, a slightly more helpful response: "The problem with your industry is that you people don't supply us with video clips". At last, some intelligent feed-back. It's true. Composers don't think in terms of video clips. And they should. But perhaps it's beneath their dignity. Video clips are pop music.

Could the explanation for this blind spot be that most composers have chickened out of being fully professional composers? Most composers hide away in academic institutions, earning their keep from teaching instead of from composing - except for the occasional government funded grant or residency. If composers persist in ignoring the real world, they can't complain if the real world ignores them.

At the time of writing this article, in 1987, my company was listed with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT), giving me the right to approach the private sector offering a tax benefit in return for support. (The system has now changed, and I can no longer do this. For an account of the demise of the AETT, (please see THE VULTURES DESCEND). In 1987, armed with this capability I made an organised attempt to approaching the private sector for sponsorship. I found to my amazement, that I was blazing a trail - a solitary pioneer ! This was ridiculous !

It really is time for composers to become active about earning a living from composing. Australia of all countries has a militant tradition of providing proper pay for a job done. It's time community consensus accepted that composing is a job!

You would be surprised how many people, when asked, express the view that composing is somehow - well, not a "proper job". lt's something that should be fitted in alongside a "proper job". It's as though, because you're able to do something as "lovely" as composing music, you should therefore do it, just for the love of it, without expecting payment. Try telling a doctor to heal for the love of it.

In the perspective of history, the myth has arisen that composers are inherently unstable people who are to blame for their own misfortunes. Doctors, on the other hand, are thought of as pillars of stability and respectability. Could it be that the stability of doctors is a function of their income, and that, conversely, the instability of composers is a function of their poverty?

And yet music is a healing art, which is also a science, requiring as much skill and precision as surgery. It should be as well rewarded as medicine. Perhaps there is a case, in Australia, for an alliance of doctors and composers. Composers need income. Doctors need a tax write-off.

I' m not joking. That is a serious suggestion, I've got nothing against doctors. Some of my best friends are doctors.



by Derek Strahan

In a previous article I looked at the practical difficulties facing a composer trying to earn a living from composing concert music in Australia today. I detailed the facts about social attitudes to the composer. The institutional resistance to accepting composing as a profession worthy of support and encouragement. The entrenched preference to favour the performing arts. To give power to performers to employ the composer. To deny the composer the right, the power, the economic means to employ the performer. The suspicious attitude the corporate sector displays in its dealings with that awkward customer, the individual. Allied to this is the popular myth that composers are unstable, unreliable people.

The popular view that because music is fun to listen to, it must also be fun to write. And that therefore composing should be done for fun, and not for money. There is no doubt that this attitude is widespread, though largely unconscious. It derives from the puritanical notion that work should not be fun. Work should be earnest, Serious. Work should be hard, not easy. Ease is associated with leisure. If work is enjoyable, it must, by definition be a form of recreation. You don't pay people for having fun. Composing is fun. Therefore, composers should not be paid for composing,

The fact is, of course, that composing is hard and exacting work. It is only skill which makes it easy. In almost any other profession you can think of , people are paid more for having skill. Hence the term, margin for skill. Government funding in Australia officially favours what are called community arts. In practise, this means that amateurs are at the head of the queue. Skilled composers at the back of the queue.

Is there an element of jealousy in this attitude towards the composer? Very probably. And I suggest that the jealousy, the hostility goes even deeper than merely a resentment towards the arts of self-expression. The very particular resentment which society reserves for the composer of music, has a very particular cause.

The cause may be found in the fact that the composer of music has the power to create beauty. I pass over the fact that much contemporary music eschews beauty of sound, because what I am concerned with here is prevailing attitudes toward the composer formed by the experience of concert music of the last four centuries, most of which is very beautiful indeed.

I suggest that the public attitude towards the composer is deeply ambivalent. On the one hand, the composer is expected to write beautiful music. On the other hand, the composer is resented for having the power to do so. Why ? To understand this, we must understand the attitude of the human race towards beauty. The fact. is, beauty traumatises. Beauty invokes desire. Beauty enslaves the will. Beauty mortgages the soul . The human love of beauty is deep, irrational and compulsive. Consider our attitude to gold. Gold has no great industrial value. Its value is in its appearance. Its sheen, its lustre. Gold reflects the sun. Gold imparts beauty to ordinary objects, when they are fashioned from it. And so how does the human race handle gold, this gift of the gods? The human race digs it up out of the ground, from where it is hidden, and promptly re-buries it in closely guarded vaults, where it is again hidden! For centuries gold was the basis of our currency only because it is beautiful to look at. And yet we hide it.

Even when owned in the form of jewellery or objects, it is only rarely shown. For most of the time, gold is hidden away. Why? The practical answer is that it is hidden away and guarded so that it won't be stolen. But that answer begs the question.

The real answer lies in human character; and in the fact that the deepest human need is for self-esteem. Religions try to cloud this fact by teaching us not to be selfish, not to have pride, to be humble. But this is a blind, a futile attempt to suppress the deepest and most profound need of each human being. To think well of oneself . The quickest and easiest route to self-esteem, or self-worth, or self-value, is to acquire and own more objects of value than anyone else.

Now value is a relative concept. The value of an object is related to its scarcity. Objects in plentiful supply are regarded as having no great value because they are common - that is commonly found, common to everyone. Now we see clearly the reason why gold is hidden away, is used as the basis for currency. It is managed in this manner in order to make it scarce. The scarcity is artificial. Gold is manipulated in this fashion, so that it thereby becomes a symbol of privilege. Privilege is a function of scarcity.

Consider now, the phenomenon of human beauty. Depending on sexual preference, we could be referring to male or female beauty, but let us, without prejudice make particular reference to female beauty, because this is more notably celebrated in the literature of the human race, and the historical treatment of women provides a vivid analogy to the historical treatment of gold.

The problem with female beauty is that it exists as phenomenon independent of the individual who displays it. This is why beautiful women have great duality. Because they are desired for their beauty, they often feel that they are not desired for themselves. The concept of the love "object" has a profound basis in human experience, because of the phenomenon of beauty.

The solution to this problem, as practised by generations of males desiring female beauty is well documented ,and may be seen in its extreme form in the Muslim treatment of women. They are desired for their beauty, and because of their beauty are required to wear veils to hide it. The beauty may only be shown to the male who possesses it. In less extreme form, this attitude of possession and restriction is practised by all males towards women. It is a deeply ingrained, involuntary attitude, which has Its prime cause in, firstly, the need to maintain self-esteem, and secondly, in the value of beauty as a measure of self-esteem. (It also evolved as a means of protecting paternity, which only reinforces the link with the male need for self-esteem.)

ln the case of both gold and female beauty, the object of desire, once possessed, is hidden away. It is the fact of ownership which conveys worth on the owner. The object owned does not have to be displayed, except on special ceremonial occasions.

Now consider the case of the composer of music., The compose is endowed through a gift of the gods, by the intercession of the Muse, with the power to create beauty. By the very nature of music, this beauty, once created becomes the common property of everyone. In thus making beauty freely available without reserve, and without concealment, the composer is contravening one of the deepest and most basic restrictive practises of human society.

The value of music is in its beauty. It does not have to be artificially restricted, concealed and hidden away to acquire value. Everyone can possess the beauty of music. The beauty of music is common property. Such is the nature of music that its beauty is only manifest by being openly displayed. Music only exists in performance, unlike, for example, a painting which exists as an object. (A painting is usually bought, possessed, and hidden away in the home. When it is "lent out" its display enhances the self-esteem of the owner. The enhancement is in direct proportion to the monetary value of the painting).

In the light of these disclosures it may be seen that the very act of writing music is an act of defiance. The composer defies one of the most ancient taboos of the human race, THOU SHALT NOT MAKE BEAUTY FREELY AVAILABLE.

Beauty is only for the privileged. Beauty is reserved only for those who can afford to pay for it. Society punishes the composer for breaking this taboo in a typically callous manner - a form of vengeful eye for eye justice. The upstart who dares to make beauty freely available, shall not be paid for committing this act of rebellion. The composer shall not be paid. The composer must perform the allotted task in poverty, without status, without recognition, without reward. The composer shall toil, suffer and die young.

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