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Geographical Gilbert and Surreal Sullivan


Until I went to live in the United States, every time I took a trans-Atlantic flight, like every other tourist, I was obliged to complete a 'Visa Waiver' form. The title amused me.

I have always felt frustrated by the man-made borders and boundaries with which we dissect our planet; our import and export formalities and regulations, and their duties and pertaining inconvenience. One can argue for the necessity of such things, but how wonderful it has been to see walls and frontiers crumble over the last dozen or so years!

The job of the composer is surely the most difficult in the musical world. How do they start? Where do they begin? 'Send us a recording with your score'. How many times must they hear that from a publisher, or an orchestra? The list of requirements, stipulations and barriers appears endless. Most of them will know years of refusal. Even in the case of important national figures such as Charles Ives, decades of rejection can lie ahead of their pen.

Unlike a painting or a sculpture that can be photographed, a play or a book that can be read, the composer is dependent upon the capacities of the person to whom he sends his work. All artists must rely upon the knowledge of those to whom they are promoting themselves. However, the composer more than any other artist, remains mute and unknown without either the active (as in performance), or the passive (as in listening or reading) participation of others. Having to pay musicians to record your work so that you can provide its illustration is not within the means of many.

Composers start out as the product of their town or city. With time and success, the scale becomes regional, and if they are lucky, national. Even then, are we to suppose that a household name in one country is as well known in another? Sadly, we cannot. At which point does a composer receive his visa waver? When does he cease to be a 'national' composer and earn his right to be classified as 'international'?

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Copyright © 15 February 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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