What is classical music? Even the most dedicated listeners have a hard time with an answer to that question.
A Julliard Professor recently worked with his classes to create this definition of CLASSICAL MUSIC: Music of the European tradition, written in advance by the composer, generally in full detail.
Composers should like that definition, for we can say that we write classical music, not that we write music that may one day be called classical.
Maybe we don't have just one or two dozen emotions. Maybe we feel thousands, or tens or hundreds of thousands of emotions, many of which we would only feel once or never in our lives. Obviously, we would have no words in our language to describe most of them, but we may go to great lengths to try and recapture some of them, especially ones from our youth.
When taking a class in stand-up comedy years ago, we were told that you could have what you think is the world's funniest joke, but if audiences are not laughing, you would need to make changes.
You could edit or expand it, move it to a different part of your routine, change the way you express or deliver it, etc. However, if they're still not laughing or responding, you finally need to cut the joke, no matter how much you love it.
There's a parallel in that for composers.
It's best to try out your music with multiple audiences before making changes, IF you think you have something truly wonderful to share with the world.
In my experience, chirpers (people who are at their best in the morning) generally seem to have a harder time understanding why us zonkers (people who are their best in the evening) can't transform into chirpers like them.
I had a job for 10 years where I had to be at work at 5 AM. It didn't turn me into a chirper, and I doubt anything will.
I like being a night owl, and that's better for a concertgoer. Besides, early to bed & early to rise... makes it harder to start you car in the winter.
My current choices for the greatest American composers:
1. JOHN WILLIAMS
2. GEORGE GERSHWIN
3. LEONARD BERNSTEIN
4. RICHARD RODGERS
5. SCOTT JOPLIN
6. JOHN PHILIP SOUSA
Some are surprised at my placing Williams, the only living composer on the list, at the top. They say things like "But he mainly writes for movies". Yes, and Shakespeare mainly wrote... plays.
It saddens me that some in the classical community are still not impressed by Williams' 51 (!) Oscar nominations, or the likely hundreds of hours of music he has written, including so many memorable themes. That is changing, though, because there are enough audiences who want to hear his scores played by live orchestras now, and that helps to bring new audiences into the concert hall.
It is unlikely that I will create hundreds of compositions. Plenty of the greatest composers have already done that, and enough of their works get regular performances around the world. Many other composers, in spite of their output, have ended up being "one-hit wonders".
With that in mind, I would rather write 10 really memorable pieces of music, instead of hundreds of works that end up being mostly forgotten. When one goes for the home run every time, there will obviously be some misses. Still, I think it's worth aiming for in this day and age.
I also hope some memorable and beautiful melodies will allow loyal classical audiences to feel better about the premieres of new music. In my case, it seems to have worked fairly well so far.