Doug Gibson November Newsletter

November Newsletter | Music Composition Lessons in New York City

Sandy:  November has been a tumultuous month for those of us living in the New York, Tri-State area. Tropical Storm Sandy had a more devastating impact than anyone expected. As a small way to give back I will be donating 10% of all music lesson proceeds for November and December  to the Red-Cross Hurricane relief effort.

Special Holiday Lesson Offer: Refer a friend and get two lessons free. When you refer a friend to sign up for lessons you both will get two lessons free (when purchasing a package of four) This is a great chance to give the gift of music and creativity. The new year is always a wonderful time to reflect on what is important to you, and set new goals. Make 2013 a creatively inspired one.

Recording Session and Composing News: I recently had the privilege of composing music for MAXLOVEPROJECT which is non-profit that supports research for fighting children’s cancer. The music was a lot of fun for me to compose. Great musicians, great cause. Additionally I found out I will be on the “cutting edge concert series” in April of 2013 composing a new work for contemporary music ensemble “Loadbang” at Symphony Space. I am very honored to be asked to be apart of this long running prestigious concert series and look forward to getting to work on the piece !

New York Orchestration meet-up group:  For those of you in New York City I have been a monthly lecture series on Orchestration. The meetings are held at my mid-town teaching studio (about 2 blocks from Carnegie Hall)

Student achievements: I am always inspired by the immense talent of my students. This month I would like to congratulation Tanya Young  who successfully placed her music in Revostock music library. Here is to Tanya’s success.

Music Tips:  What is creativity and how do we maintain it ?

This month instead of speaking on the craft of music composition I wanted to tackle ideas on staying fresh and being inspired by your work. What to do when the creative spark is gone ? It can happen to anyone, regardless  of how much technique or experience we have. I strongly advocate during my lessons having a workman like approach to the study of music. As composers the more our pencils are filling up pages, (or mouse clicks at the computer) the more we are growing. The word “Composer” rings truest to my ears when it is used as a verb. However there are certainly times when we fall back on our old tricks, solve new problems with quick answers learned from our past and rest squarely in the middle of our comfort zone. Here are some things I have used in my own composing practice.

First I would like to recommend a book I used that helped me through a 10 month writers block about a decade ago. The book is called “The Artist Way”  by Julia Cameron. The first two suggestions are taken directly form this book.

Keep a Journal: The idea behind this is to give yourself a space to write without judgement. Free associating is highly encouraged. The journal is not ever meant to be shown to anyone, and as a practice write 3 pages per day about anything you want. This can be about your work, or about anything on your mind that is taking up your mental energy. One of my favorite quotes is “As artist we need a blank canvas to create” and this is especially true with our own minds.

Go on an Artist Date: The second practice is to block out a chunk of time each week to do something for inspiring your creativity. This exercise is meant to be done by yourself, to give you alone time and contemplate your art work.  Some examples could be going to a concert, an art museum, reading a book. So many great composers have been influenced by artist of other domains. (poetry, visual art, filmmaking etc.) The important thing is this should not feel like work. This is not meant to be practice time. It is meant to be fun, stimulating,  and fill up the creative well.

Meditate/go for a walk: In my opinion being an artist and not meditating is like being an executive and not playing golf.

Converse with a trusted colleague or friend: One of the most helpful things I did to break out of my writers block was set up a bi-weekly coffee meetings with a violinist friend (now a popular classical radio announcer on KBAQ 89.5)  I find I often get my best ideas by talking them through. What really helped was that our meetings were purposeful. The whole point was to speak about our new projects (she was leaving the orchestra to pursue being a Irish fiddler) and talk openly about our thoughts and concerns of our new directions. We never got sidetracked into chit-chat. I always left inspired.

Positive Pressure:  One of the hardest the hardest things can be making choices in our work. Endless revisions or procrastination can mask a fear of completing a piece of work. I find having a mentor great for this. Someone who I have to hold myself accountable to. Also the constructive, no BS, feedback. My other favorite is collaborating with a performer. I am a big fan of “what if” questions. Some of my most enjoyable compositional processes have been working with a performer and starting work together with only a few bars. I feel like a director working with an actor and I compose the piece to bring out the best in them. (and myself) The other suggestion I have is at the end of every meeting create a next action step. This creates a timeline to move the piece froward, and to hold me to account. Also I find it helpful as it breaks down the larger task (writing piece XZY) into smaller action steps (by XYZ revise bars 12-32 of piece). As the saying goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Auto-suggestion and visualization: Being a musician has deeply instilled in me the value of practice and rehearsal. While very similar to meditation I find recording myself speaking about a composition, or project, and stating exactly how I would like it to turn out, to be of great value. Sometimes I speak about dream collaborations, or I talk through a timeline of a project and offer motivation. I then listen back to this when I go to sleep, or on the subways of NYC. If something is important to get right don’t leave until the deadline to give it your first shot. If I am going into the studio I am not printing up parts the night before (ideally speaking – I have taken on a few “mission impossible” deadlines with only 24 or 48 hours notice to start). I give myself a deadline a few days before and I walk through every aspect of the session with a checklist.  I treat it just like the real thing. I always feel calm, and confident after doing this. Most importantly I am able to give 100 % of my attention to the music in the session. Of course things can still go wrong, but it wasn’t due to a lack of preparation, or organization. I wanted to include this item on the list as I feel that we all have to manage anxiety while on creative endeavors. Procrastinating is a method of controlling anxiety, as it subconsciously communicates to us that it is less stressful in the moment to put our project off until later. Doing this helps me keep on moving forward.


Wishing you musical inspiration


Interested in music composition lessons in New York City, or online worldwide?

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Posted on November 14, 2012 in Music Composition

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About the Author

An award-winning composer, accomplished musician and sonic storyteller, Douglas Gibson resides in New York City, where he composes and gives music composition lessons locally and online worldwide.
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