I have come to realize I have begun to associate the generic phrase “he/she is a talented composer” to actually mean, “I really don’t have anything specific to say about that person.”

Saying a profession composer is “talented” is faint praise. It is almost a given that someone who can compose music has some talent.

But to what degree?

Are they extremely talented? Uniquely talented? Breathtakingly talented?

Or are they just generically “talented”?

If so, that’s almost code for “not that special” in the way “he’s got a nice personality” frequently suggests “but he’s butt ugly.”

And just tossing off that a composer is “talented” begs the obvious question:


  • Compositional technique?
  • Taking a good meeting?
  • Programming?
  • Dramatic sensibility?
  • Working with live musicians?
  • Instilling confidence?
  • Under promising and over delivering?
  • Adapting pre-existing music?
  • Great communication?
  • Orchestrating?
  • Being responsible?
  • Creating interesting sounds?
  • Working on a limited budget?
  • Making a good pitch?
  • Recognizing an opportunity?
  • Being dependable?
  • Networking?
  • Coming up with creative solutions
  • Working on a tight deadline?
  • Writing for the bagpipe?

Etc. etc.

When I hear someone describe a composer as “talented” I often assume that advocate knows very little about the composer in question and is just reaching to say something noncommittal and nice.

Your Aunt Ruthie says “you’re talented” because she’s a good relative, and compared to her deadbeat son Trevor, you’re the next Mozart (not that Aunt Ruthie has ever listened to Mozart), but she knows you studied music somewhere at some expensive school and that you want to do well, not like that no-goodnick Trevor whose only talent is taking up space in the spare bedroom and emptying the fridge.

It is easy for Aunt Ruthie to give praise.

It’s VERY different to say something as specific and strong and informed as, “This is one of my favorite composers” or “Her music brings me to tears” or “I haven’t heard anything this innovative in years.”

To me, the use of “talented” especially feels like a meal of empty calories when applied with a wide ladle over a whole swatch of composers.

When I read someone say “I just met a group of talented young composers” I take it to mean, “I really don’t know much about most of them in any meaningful detail, but I wanted to lend some support to them by wagging this limp and generic noodle in their direction.”

In a world where “everyone gets a trophy” it has become equally true that “everyone is talented.”

And that ultimately ends up meaning nothing.

What are your thoughts on this?