Cray Cray

from Sunday, October20th of the year2013.

Just in case you forgot, I have an opera opening on Monday. Do you know what’s been absolutely crazy is the last three weeks. I knew it was going to be crazy — I’ve learnt to read ahead in the calendar and see potential moments of high tension and stress. I did a funny thing yesterday which was a Reddit “Ask Me Anything.” Some people asked questions which I wish I had had the time to answer more in-depth, so I’ll do it here.

Somebody asked: What is it like working with the Met on Two Boys? They have been hyping it so much, it must be great to be in the center of it all. Do you have any sense of having “made it” with this opera?

I wrote:

The thing about this is — and this is important — the hype is the one thing about this opera of which I am not the author. I can’t control how people talk about it in the press, or what people say online. The only thing I can do is make the piece as great as I can. So I’m focused right now on getting the orchestration crystal clear, the singers’ emotions in good relationship to their technique, etc. What I can tell you, though, is that the met is on top of their shit in a way that very few other arts organizations are. If you think their PR is impressive, you should see the stage management team, or the stagehands, or the carpenters, or the set painters. These are all people who take enormous pride in what they do, and they are the best at it. It’s humbling to come into rehearsal and realize that the crew has been there since before dawn, zhooshing the muslin on the set and simultaneously doing this to four other operas. It is literally amazing.

To follow up: it’s a real mistake to confuse a commission with having written a great piece. The two things are entirely different. It’s a further mistake to confuse “an article in the paper” with having written a good piece. I always get anxious when I get a commission — it’s not a celebration — because I know it’s going to represent a huge amount of work. An article appearing is great, kind of, but it opens up the doors for random crazies to come and write mean and hateful things. So all of these things are secondary and tertiary to actually having made an okay thing and having had that thing go well (whatever that means).

Somebody else asked about John Adams’ bizarre showing here, about which I wrote:

It felt like I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky.
But also can I just add that we should all leave him alone. He stepped in it, but remember that it’s the paper and the paper is lies, or like, decontextualized things, and also that if anybody really thinks that way, that they have to wake up every day thinking that way, which must be REALLY exhausting. Plus whatever. I love him the most. I was looking at the ceiling & then I saw, like, Klinghoffer, Shaker Loops, El Niño, Naïve and Sentimental Music, and a whole constellation of glorious music.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Another question — and this is something I get asked about a ton so I thought it would be good to go more into depth…

whats the best way to make it into the industry? I go to a tiny little school with honestly not much of a music program, what would be the best way for me to find internships/entry level jobs in the industry because I doubt I will get many from my school. I offered:

What you should do is write for your friends. If you’re in a tiny little school in the middle of nowhere, there will still be an awesome violist or clarinet player and you should be her best friend and write endless things for her. that relationship will be the most important one, and way more important than worrying about “the industry,” which itself doesn’t exist. “The industry” is really a collection of people who are deeply invested in music. If you want to do film scoring, the best thing is to score one, though! Even if it’s your sister’s child birthing tape or something, you will learn a lot.

I want to add here that this is a really hard question to answer because it’s really seventeen questions at once. There is a way in which classical music is a really specifically closed castle, and unless you have the right secret knocks or whatever, you can’t come in. Or at least there is a perception of that. But the trick actually is that “the industry” really is made up of very nice individual human beings who are working very, very hard to make the world a better place through the arts. I’m always inspired — and sometimes really blown away by — the people who run arts organizations in what can seem like random towns: Kennesaw, GA, and Columbus, GA being two great examples. Austin, TX has a lady who is going to take over the world someday who used to work in Richmond, VA: none of these places is New York or London. In fact, it’s a dude who runs that performing arts center in Kennesaw who is like a really intense cross between Jeremy Geffen from Carnegie and, like, Peter O’Toole. I can think of a few people who worked in Minneapolis or even stranger places who ended up being quite influential in the mysterious world of “The Industry.” I know that I had it relatively easy by starting off right in New York, but for many years it was me writing for friends and performing in weird places — in fact, it’s kind of still that. As classical music, whatever that is, becomes less centralized, it’s going to be more possible for high schoolers to share their music online and start feeling more included in a larger community of likeminded people. I’m seeing this happen even with people in my online penumbra suddenly becoming IRL friends and writing for one another etc.

Other projects are strangely landing all around at the same time. BU did a production of Dark Sisters, my chamber opera; I couldn’t go to a single rehearsal or performance or anything. The Philadelphia Orchestra & Westminster College Choir, under the delicious and bite-sized Yannick N-S, commissioned and performed an orchestrated version of Bright Mass with Canons to open their season. A film I scored, Kill Your Darlings opened in New York and a few other cities. It’s a thick time, a busy time, and an anxious and exciting time.


  • <3 Yannick.

  • […] There’s a neat behind-the-scenes article about the development of the piece since ENO.  It also mentions some of the outside-the-box promotion the Met’s been doing (TV spots during Catfish seem appropriate), including an “Ask me Anything” session with Muhly on Reddit!  Strangely engrossing…   He elaborated on some of the questions on his own site too. […]

  • Hey Nico- Was just reading the Reddit thread, and wanted to leap out of my goddamn fucking chair when you mentioned Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ as required reading. I’m a composer myself, and reading that novel is one of the more powerful musical experiences I’ve had. Glad to hear another composer dug it!