Investing in Karma

I’m sure there are small-minded, selfish, nasty composers in the world. I’m probably one of them more often than I realize! But lately I’ve benefitted from encounters with a number of composers whose considerable talents and accomplishments seem to be matched only by their warmth, kindness, and generosity. Naming names feels inappropriate, but here are a few snapshots:

  • The Chair of Composition at a major west-coast university, who made time to listen to my music and review my scores. He treated a stranger like a friend, provided constructive criticism, and was a terrific sounding board. Why? Just because I asked.
  • A retired distinguished professor of choral studies, who has spent several hours meticulously examining my recent choral pieces. He’s careful to ask questions that cause me to learn and intuit my own path forward, candid and straightforward, and deeply kind. I asked if I could pay him for lessons. “Pay it forward,” he said.
  • A busy, happening, young (i.e., my age!) L.A. composer who has made time on several occasions to provide advice and encouragement. He seems to assume that there’s enough opportunity in the world for everyone and is quick to offer connections and open doors. Why? Because he was grateful for breaks extended to him along the way.
  • A distinguished British composer who, at a recent convention, introduced me as a peer and made efforts to connect me to many of his colleagues and to his publisher. Why? Because he feels it’s part of his job as a composer to nurture others.

Perhaps being a little glib, I’ve printed the following notice in several of my album projects: “Unauthorized duplication, while convenient, isn’t very neighborly. Invest in art.”

Neighborliness cuts to the center of it, doesn’t it? In encounters large and small, I’ve met acquaintances who have treated me like friends, and now we’ve become “neighbors” in a creative community. I think that implies a certain kind of mutual necessity and a willingness to come to one another’s aid.

Investing in art—maybe that means “investing in karma” by paying forward small kindnesses when opportunities arise, and seeing a world that only grows bigger when we open doors for others.

I’m not sure artists can produce art in the long run without these boosts along the way.