How to begin
Last weekend I had a wonderful musical experience. I received a note from Sam Adler, who is head of composition at Juilliard, that one of my compositions was being performed in a concert on Super Bowl Sunday at The Juilliard School. Without me having to do any rehearsing I simply showed up and listened as the stunning young virtuoso Cellist Sarina Zhang played my piece to near perfection. After the concert Cellist YuJeong Lee who was in the audience and a concerto soloist came up to me proclaiming how much she liked it, and what a copy so she could play it. The piece has now been performed in Berlin, Ann Arbor Michigan, and New York City.
Hopefully it will be played many more times.
However I assure you this was not the case 8 months ago when I began to write the piece. I recall endless hours starring at a blank page. Starring at my ceiling. Reading a book instead of writing. Cleaning my apartment instead of writing. Not being able to sleep because I thought I was a lousy composer who “totally sucks”
This week I have been reflecting on how if I listened to any of those “Siren Calls” to the point of not completing the work on time (Only had 2 weeks), and at high level of detail, then I would have robbed myself of the inspiring concert experience I just had.
With this is mind I have written some ideas I use for getting the creative process going.
How do you actually start:
One of the biggest things you have to overcome is the desire to procrastinate. In fact some composers have an addiction to needing the point when the pressure of the deadline overwhelms their tendency to procrastinate. Some thrive on this and cannot write without the pressure, while others can clamp up. Often times it is our inner demons (I’m not good enough, I don’t have any ideas etc.) that keeps us from getting to work rather than general laziness. The common downside to procrastinating is it can lead to letting mistakes go by, due to inadequate time editing and checking for errors.
Here are some things I do to trick myself to just begin.
Try to verbalize what you want to do. Sing. Record yourself singing. Record yourself improvising for 10 minutes at the piano (or your instrument). The goal is nothing other than to complete the 10 minutes of sitting and playing. Letting the music flow through you. Flow is a practice or rather a muscle .tTe more in shape it is the more ideas just appear. When I have writers block for language (as opposed to music) I use the same technique. I grab a hand recorder and just start talking. I do this as I find the paper can stay blank much longer
Keep a journal: A great book for my own Creativity was “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron. From this book I spent 10 weeks of writing 3 pages a day in my journal. I had never kept a journal prior to this time, and found it a revelation to my art work. There is something magical about writing down my thoughts. I found myself thinking in new and resourceful ways. Additionally at this time I was just starting out with my first job as a music teacher (1998) I was still unsure on how I would make a living as a musician and keeping a journal became a therapeutic outlet and gave me a heightened sense of optimism and trusting the journey.
Meditate on a regular basis
Develop a cookbook: I don’t mean we should all become Martha Stuart. I remember hearing a quote “Good Writers read a lot”. That always stuck with me. Often times our creativity is founded on drawing and synthesizing from different sources and when it becomes filtered through our own psyche it transforms into something we connect with. Great composers all had a tremendous knowledge of works. In fact I recommend you write out by hand some of your favorite music passages. By writing down on paper you will get new ideas, or they will be even stringer in your sub-conscience
Turn something old into something new: Why not rework an compositional idea that you have used int the past and rework it in new ways. Often we can get so hung up on “the notes”. In fact sometimes by coming back and reworking with a fresh new approach I can develop the idea to a higher degree of development. It is said a composition is never finished, it is simply abandoned.
Time: They say 90% of success is just showing up. A common trap for myself is wanting long period of uninterrupted time to write before I begin, or telling myself “I have no time”. What works for me is to tell myself spend just 15 minutes on “XYX”. Once I have spent 15 minutes writing I often naturally want to keep on writing, and soon before I know it 90 minutes may have gone by. This is just like having the disciple to go to the gym. If you say “I only need to spend 5 minutes on the bench press then no matter what I will feel good about myself.” Well once you show up and do the 5 minutes you will want to keep on going.
I know I am inspired to take on writing a music everyday this week. I hope you will do the same, and that you find much joy and inspiration in your writing.
If you would like to have a copy of the score I mentioned above it can be downloaded for free by clicking here. FULL SCORE
Wishing you a wonderful week of musical inspiration