Two weeks from today, I’ll have sat the Law Schools Admission Test. Many years ago, when I was the school-leaving dickhead who already drank too much and thought he was pretty damn’ impressive, I had a place in the Law School at the University of Melbourne that I deferred in case music didn’t work out. Having been accepted into the Improvisation stream in the School of Music at the Victorian College of the Arts – yes, all these things actually existed! – I was determined to play like Kenny Kirkland and probably tour the world knocking people out with my breathtaking musical sophistication, outrageous wit and world’s best practice hipness. Obviously participation at the VCA was the key that would open all these doors. The extent of my caution was to defer the Law place – somehow I’m amazed I even bothered to do that, being the cocksure shit that I was – but I went to the Veece and I flipped out. I was playing the piano! I was improvising! – and I was quite happy to permit a self-protecting arrogance to make up for however crap it may have sounded.
When you go to your first ensemble class and they’re putting bands together and they say ‘let’s just have a 12-bar blues,’ and you have to think hard to work out what a 12-bar blues actually is, you’re not exactly a front-runner. Although you’ve arrived with a performance diploma and all the regard that can be generated within a not-particularly-artsy school and a narrow field of sympathetic peers, there are people here who have had Chick Corea’s Elektric Band in their headphones for the last five years, or have been doing function gigs for the last ten, and it’s clear they’re setting the bar at a level that’s obviously far higher than you can jump. But you choose your own touchstones/s and proceed, buoyed by an idea that you can improve and comfortable within the global milieu you’ve appropriated. Pig-headedness helps as well, after a fashion, at least in the shorter term.
I mean I got through. I did okay. I had fun. And a couple of years later I went back for more, and that experience was even better for a number of reasons, not the least significant of which was that I’d grown up a bit. But the academy is cloistered, so if you front up at your Analysis class and, given you’re an improviser, trot out the ‘Precipitato’ from Prokofiev’s seventh sonata, and all your friends go ‘wow’, there’s a danger you might mistake this for some kind of Real Thing. The profile you’re developing as an improviser who also has some classical chops, belts out Le Sacre du Printemps in the four-hand version and all that, is only being noticed by anyone who’s standing close enough to notice. You may have all these beautiful principles, but they’re getting you only into the corner that you sometimes feel is protective – of yourself or your principles – but that remains, all the while, a corner.
Original music! has been my battle cry for a great many years now; it’s a principle, an ideal, a creed of sorts, but also it’s a plank to cling to in the heaving waters of musical activity, and it’s a shield. I am a reasonable composer and a rotten publicist. I can barely promote myself to the front of the queue at the butcher’s without an agonising exertion of will, and for me the act of writing favourably to promote my own music is profoundly distasteful, even when I happen to think the music’s quite good. (I mean I shouldn’t even say that such times exist, right? Actually, they don’t. My mistake.) Obviously because it’s original, and particularly if it happens to be any good at all, it should speak for itself. People should know. They just should. And the day will dawn when Life’s undertow simply can’t be found in the record shops any more, not because the remaining copies are in the cupboard in the hall – and no, not because record shops no longer exist, either – but because they’ve been flung to the desperate corners of the world, to slake the thirsts of the most discerning music lovers.
Clearly this is delusional. And my being who I am and my commitments being what they are I’m not about to abscond to a European tour lasting as long as the tyres on the kombi-van can support me. So what is to be done?
Again, in the short term: the LSAT. Now why would I do such a thing? Retraining is a big step for a boy like me. And am I going to go through with it? Because the LSAT is just step one in the grand procession of getting shit organised in case you think you might, come next February, like to be sitting in a room at the Law School finding out what reading a judgement is all about. And after that it’s at least three years.
But there’s this other thing: I am fearing depuis longtemps the day Lucy starts school. Look forward to it I do not. Miss her I shall. The JD would give me something else to focus on. Or should I write that symphony?