Andrew Batson shares a story from composer Steve Reich’s new book Conversations, about his teacher Hall Overton, who was one of the first musicians to take both jazz European traditions seriously. Reich thought very highly of Overton as a human being and a musician, and Batson was struck by this anecdote about his lessons:
Steve Reich: I remember the very first day Hall gave me a compositional exercise to do. He said, “I want you to write some melodies,” and he went into my music notebook and drew it in pencil: “Write a melody that goes like this, down, another that goes up, and a third that goes straight.”
I looked at him, because this was the very, very beginning, and I said, “Hall, I don’t think I have enough technique.” And he looked me right in the eye and said, “You’ll never have enough technique. Get to work.”
David Lang: (laughs) Oh, that’s such a great lesson.
SR: Isn’t that wonderful? I mean, it’s still true.
DL: It’s still true.
SR: I’m gonna die and think, “Ugh, I was just getting started.”
DL: That’s like every composer’s great fear, you know? “There are things I wish I could do, but I’ll never be good enough to be able to do them.”
SR: So, best to do what you can do and get on with it. Because you’ll do that well, and who knows, you could get better.
— Andrew Batson,