The Five Stages of a Commission

The life of a composer is seldom the glamorous sort of affair that it’s made out to be in movies and novels. I thought it might be of interest to some of you to have a glimpse into the actual process from the composer’s view, and so with apologies to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, here are the five stages of a typical commission for a new piece of music.

  1. Acceptance – This is when you accept the commission. The validation inherent in being offered money to write music is so seductive, so affirming of your inmost being, that nothing the least bit negative is allowed to slip past your euphoria and intrude upon your consciousness. God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.
  2. Excitement – This is when your vision of the completed work and of the waves of adulation which will wash over you upon its premiere, successfully combine to invigorate you beyond natural limits. Your mind brims over with a myriad of brilliantly original and stunningly clever ideas, and you can barely wait to begin getting things down on paper. Sleep? Bah! What need have you of so mundane a thing? The thrill of creation will be sufficient to renew both body and soul! God is smiling down from His heaven and tossing small lumps of divine inspiration toward you from a little bag on His lap like Chicken McNuggets.
  3. Depression – This is when things begin to deviate from the course you thought you had programmed into the GPS. The ideas you once thought “original” begin to sound altogether too familiar and derivative, and the ones you thought “clever” begin to seem forced and contrived. The so-called “ideas” which are occurring to you by this point are limp and ineffective, and the stretch from here to the big double bar looks like a trek across the limitless desert sands carrying two large smelly camels and a huge canvas tent. If God remains within the borders of His heaven, His attention has surely been drawn away.
  4. Denial – This is when you cannot believe that you actually agreed to do this! Voluntarily. With apparently sincere enthusiasm. What on earth could you have been thinking? God has vanished completely from His heaven along with St. Peter, the Pearly Gates and the entire Chorus of Angels. No one up there can be reached for comment. Meanwhile, the Devil has escaped from his former position in the details, and is taking over the whole shebang.
  5. Panic – This is when you realize that the deadline is only ten days away and two-thirds of the piece is still unwritten. Your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration have all come to rest in the red zone of the meter, well beyond the manufacturer’s specifications. God has sent word that He will be attending the premiere of your new work and would like to meet with you immediately afterward for a chat about Judgment.

One Response to “The Five Stages of a Commission”

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  1. Ellie says:

    Ha! Very funny! Love it!

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