Once upon a time, I wanted to be a film composer. Back in high school, flush from the first discovery of film music, I just knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe it’s the chilly, rainy weather of the last few days or the wet autumn leaves floating in my backyard, but I’ve been thinking lately a lot of what is, what could be, and what might have been.
My high school years were filled with the sounds of Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. With dreams of big-budget films, sweeping orchestral scores, and Oscars in my head, I went into my undergrad years of college with Composition as my major. That lasted only one semester.
What made me change my major? I certainly don’t remember the details 30 years later. But if later life decisions are any indication, I’d say fear was the prevailing factor.
FEAR #1: My abilities
I’d never composed a note in my life. What if I didn’t have any talent for it? As my later attempts at composing for musical theater indicate, I sincerely don’t think I have the talent for composition. I’m mediocre, at best. Would I have benefited from actual training and study? Sure. But knowing the prejudice in academia against film music, I would have had to move to Los Angeles to study it properly.
FEAR #2: The unknown
I paid for all my schooling on my own. So financially, the option of moving to California was not doable at the time. Plus, I’d never been there. (Still haven’t!) Some people thrive in the unknown. I usually don’t. I like to have a plan and know where I’m going. And that lack of spontaneity has probably kept me from some experiencing some truly wonderful things. Occasionally, I’ll have no problems striking out on my own, like when I packed up and moved from Austin to Boston or Boston to New York without a plan. I was fueled by adrenaline and the thrill of going against the conventional wisdom of friends and family. But more than that, I think it was a feeling of “I have to do this, I have to try.” Maybe it was the lack of that overriding sentiment that ultimately kept me from pursuing the dream of composing for film.
I try to not let regret play a major role in my life. But there are moments when I can’t help but wonder What if…
What if I’d moved to Los Angeles at age 18…
Would it have given me more confidence in myself? Did staying at home where I was comfortable stunt my personal growth in some way? Would I have traveled more than I have so far? At least I’d have gotten to the West Coast, which I still have yet to do.
What if I’d pursued a career in film music…
Would I still enjoy listening to it as I do now? Or would it be a job? My years working in theater certainly squelched my enjoyment of going to the theater, and I wonder if I’ll ever get that back. Passions for other subjects have kept me from pursuing work related to them for exactly that reason.
I’ve always been envious of people who know what they want and go for it with seemingly laser-like focus. My life has always felt like it was afflicted with a case of ADD. It has taken odd twists and turns that I never could have predicted, and many that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I always thought I’d be in a different place by this stage in my life. Not necessarily better (okay, maybe a little bit better), but different. I don’t want to go back in time and I doubt there’s much I’d change, even the awful stuff. But, wow, the internal dialogue can really mess with your head.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I don’t know if the road I took was less traveled, but Robert Frost was right–my decision not to pursue a career in writing for film has certainly made all the difference. It’s not the only road I’ve taken, but it was a decisive path. Not bad or good, but all mine.
Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, or maybe it’s simply the film music I have on in the background. But those are my thoughts on this chilly autumn Wednesday.