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Composers and playwrights

"The last person to get paid, if he gets paid at all, is the composer," said an American composer. "The technicians get paid first. Then the organisers and everyone else to do with the venue, the publicity, the drinks, etc. Musicians sometimes but not always get paid. And if there's any money left, the composers might get paid."

What a shock! Most people earn more and more as they get older and more senior in their professions. I am clearly moving in the opposite direction.

Is that why people prefer to play music of dead composers? They're already dead, and there's no way to pay them! Ha!

Tuesday evening, after the first harp concert in Utrecht, I met a young playwright and his actress fiancée. He told me that playwrights hardly ever get paid.

"It's worse than composers. Believe me. You'd be lucky to get your work performed once. And if it does get played, you won't even recognise it. The actors and directors change everything," he complained.

"That happened to me recently," I tried to soothe him. "I set a poem to music as a gift. But the singer changed it so much, adding new verses, changing the melody, everything, that I didn't even recognise it when I heard it. At first I was cross, but then I learned to let go."

"Indeed, you have to let go of your work the minute you finish it. It's not yours anymore. I don't even specify what the actors do, only the entries and exits. The actors and directors will always have their own ideas."

"Well, as a performer, I do have to interpret the composer's intentions and make decisions about how to play the passages," I said. "Sometimes they may go against the composer's wishes, but I certainly won't change it so drastically that the composer can't recognise it afterwards!"

The playwright's fiancée pointed out that musical compositions were more mathematical than plays. "You have a lot more structure in a composition, and performers rely on having things being defined for them."

Who says I'm not going to write a play someday? A novel. A play. A script for a movie. The world is my oyster. But darn! Why did I choose activities that don't pay?

Nonetheless, the conversation comforted me in the knowledge that composers are slightly better off than playwrights, in terms of getting compensated and recognised for their work.

With this in mind, I went to my second harp concert for the evening. What a luxury it is to go to concerts of different musical instruments, as a requirement of composers! I'm sure playwrights go to the theatre for the same reason.

20 May 2004 Thursday

Related entries:
Neil Fleming, playwright
Shock at midnight
Composing music to life
more articles on music by Anne Ku
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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