All-Nighters Can Be Fun – a Day in the Life of A Jazz Composer

December 1, 2015

The following post was written by Max Berlin BM ’18.  Thanks Max!  We hope you got some rest!

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MaxBerlinMany of my most intensely rewarding moments at Eastman occur in the quietest hours of the night.  Often around 4am—I’m wearing some stupid sweatshirt, making my way through a third cup of Earl Grey tea that went cold over an hour ago.  Believe me, it doesn’t look like much, but for an undergraduate jazz composition major like me, it’s nothing short of the Olympics.  My task is simple yet seems impossible to some, and maybe even insane to most:  complete a piece for Eastman Jazz Ensemble.  All I have to do is send one email to Donna Iannapollo in the Ensemble Library, attach a score and 17 parts, and title the email “Good Morning” with a smiley face at the end.  Little does Donna know, what may be a good morning for her has been the end of a caffeinated marathon for me.

Then again, it’s all in the fun of the job—as my title suggests.  When it comes to writing for large ensembles, pulling the all-nighter is all part of the ritual; even with a complete absence of procrastination or slow computers, the long night of score preparation marks the true weight of the composer’s labor.  When I was in high school, my dad would call it my “music school residency,” just like the doctors-in-training.  Although my insomniac schedule is not to save lives, I can’t help but feel the pressure and responsibility of my major looming over me as I silently edit my horn parts.  Sure, it’s not life or death, but the consequence of being unable to hear my work is all the motivation I need—as in—the motivation I need to meticulously type and click for 8+ hours, all in the same brightly lit computer lab with the same three other composers.

Ok, I guess when I put it like that, I can understand why the word insanity would come to mind.  The jazz composition degree takes a certain kind of musician, and is certainly not for everyone.  Nevertheless, it is these trials that make the resulting product all the more moving to me.  The ability to hear my own thoughts and expressions performed by top-tier musicians is one of the greatest gifts my musical career has given me.  It is a reward I would not give up for anything, not even sleep.  So yes, my eyes sometimes have bags and my hair can stick up like a mad scientist.  If it’s what the music takes, I’m game.