Today I had a chance to meet Jake Heggie, composer and pianist. He informally spoke to several KU composition students and faculty about composing for the voice (among other topics). Here are a few nuggets of wisdom that he bestowed upon us:
When considering setting music to text, one has to feel good about the text and believe in it or else the project is doomed to failure. If you’re offered $25,000 to set some poems, but it doesn’t feel right, it won’t be musically worthwhile.
If you have aspirations of composing an opera, bear in mind that the theatrical, dramatic elements are at least as important as the musical elements. Make sure to collaborate with people who have a strong understanding of this. When the proverbial curtain opens for your show, the first thing the general audience member will do is try to understand the language (if the libretto is in English). Then he/she will try to understand how the characters relate to one another. Then he/she might look at the costumes. The last element that the general audience member will notice is the music. Keep that in mind.
Supporting your colleagues is of utmost importance. Even if you don’t particularly care for the music, it’s important to show one’s support for others’ works. There’s no room for professional jealousy; it is exclusively a destructive force. If you show your support for someone else’s work, you’re increasing your own chance for success. If a colleague’s concert/recital/opera fails, an entire audience loses interest in new music, and that harms *your* chance for success. Root for your colleagues. Visit them backstage after the show. We’re all a musical family, after all.
I enjoyed meeting him, and I wish him continued success.