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About music, and legacies

This is brought on partly by an article I saw today via ArtsJournal.com in the Chatter section of website NewMusicBox.com -- "Composer Identity Crisis" by editor Frank J. Oteri. Partly it comes from the thinking I was doing related to altivo's post yesterday which touched on legacies. And it partly comes from some thoughts I'd already been having over the last couple of weeks. Basically the theme is this: What is going to live on of my musical output after I'm no longer outputting music?

I've written over a hundred songs, although you'll probably get me to admit to only about 50 or so of them (there was a lot of juvenilia, shall we say). Of these I've recorded and formally released 23 on two CDs with maybe another dozen ready to be recorded when the equipment is up to it. These recordings don't get wide circulation -- yeah, a few songs have been available via Web sites, but most of the 150 or so copies of the two CDs have gone to people I met personally. It's not just that no one in Russia or Montana have heard of my music; there are, I'm sure, entire Detroit suburbs where my music is totally unknown. But that's not really unusual in my circles, I guess.

The fact that my performing career is, shall we say, off the big radar doesn't really bother me, and while it would be nice to sell or distribute more CDs, I'm not put out because there isn't a Charlie Monterey CD in every home. It's the songs, the lyrics I've written and the music I've composed, that I kind of worry about. I guess I've always counted the songs as the biggest part of my musical package, compared to the singing and playing and recording and performing.

So, how does one go about making sure the songs do not disappear?

Typically for me, my idea of "not disappear" is a little more than "Well, some of my friends have CDs and they play them." It's a little closer to, well, Mozart, or at least Stephen Foster or Irving Berlin or Lennon & McCartney. For a song to live, doesn't it need to be performed by others, especially after the creator no longer can? Would I be considered a "composer" if my songs just sit in a box until some descendent carts the box off to the landfill? I'm grateful that people like my music now, and maybe that's all I really need. That's a bit of self-examination in progress. But there's the kernel of me that wonders about this legacy thing. Should my art live on? Or is it just so much ephemera? There's an awful lot of art out there these days, y'know. Really good art. And it ain't all coming from studios in Los Angeles or publishing houses in New York. (Frankly, most of it isn't, in my opinion, but that's a rant for another day.)

The notion I wrote in Altivo's journal yesterday was that somehow, someone has to get interested in it and able to pass on the interest, independent of the creator who will at some point be irretrievably lost to the process. And you really can't control that sort of thing, especially if you're busy taking a dirt nap. The traditional way is to talk someone else into publishing and marketing the art, but even then you're hoping that it will stay in print or become part of libraries or museums or concert programmes. Still, a creation cannot stay in print or in libraries and museums if it's not really available to them.

Maybe this is just an long-winded way of me telling myself that I need to do some more work. Record the old songs, write some new ones, publish the songbook I've always wanted to publish. Maybe even send songs to a commercial publisher.

OK, I always figured that there are enough songs being written that people will be happy, even if they don't hear mine. But, y'know, why not mine, if they might make people happy?

(Am I just, like, nuts or something?)


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