This is especially apparent in my storage locker – where I’ve stashed things that I’ve felt the need to “archive” over the years. There are boxes in the back of my locker that I literally haven’t looked inside since I abandoned them there in 1990. Often, I don’t know what’s in them until I open them.
And one box provided quite a surprise: it was a collection of compositions I wrote in my student days at the University of Western Ontario, back in the 1980s.
What a trove of absolute drivel! What pathetic and puerile attempts at composition! This is music that would “stink in the ear” (to borrow a phrase from the critic Eduard Hanslick), if it were ever performed.
But fear not, gentle reader – no such thing will ever happen. Faced with this God-awful outpouring of juvenilia, I did the honourable thing: I chucked whole box in the garbage. And with this bold and decisive act, I believe I made the world a better place. (Have you noticed the weather improving? Have strangers suddenly become kind and helpful? Did you recently win the lottery? It’s probably because I destroyed my early attempts at composition.)
Later that evening, as I raised a glass to congratulate myself on my humanitarian gesture, I had a sudden realization: It’s actually a good thing that young people can be so naïve, self-absorbed and vain that they can spew forth utter stupidity and sincerely believe they’re creating something brilliant. Because this is how many young people learn and develop – free from the nagging urge to pack it all in because their early efforts so clearly suck swamp-water. Obliviousness can be a virtue.
A flood of recollections followed in the wake of my epiphany. I remembered a cynical professor at Western, who was not above amusing himself at his students’ expense. “Some of you suffer from ETD,” he once announced to a classroom full of young musicians – going on to explain that “ETD” stood for “Ego-Talent Discrepancy.” I laughed. It never crossed my mind that he might be talking about me.
I was also reminded of a story that the much-celebrated Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer told me about his attempts, as a serious young composer, to get his music published. He sent his scores to a publisher, and then visited the man’s offices to find out when he could expect to see his works in print. The publisher, smiled, handed Schafer back his manuscripts, and said, “The good thing about young composers is that they tend to get better.” I myself was a serious young composer when Schafer told this story – and, at the time, I took it as a tale of cruel injustice. Now I see things differently.
So here’s to young composers everywhere: The greater your self-delusions, and your “Ego-Talent Discrepancy,” the greater your chances of making to the top of the learning curve, so you’ll have the tools and experience to someday produce something worthwhile. Keep up the hard work, kids!
© Colin Eatock 2021