Category Archives: Poetry

Keep writing

At some point in grade school or junior high, I was invited to start writing poetry for some language arts assignment. I loved the medium, and when I was in high school, I started keeping a notebook with me to write down my thoughts in that form.

A few times I thought that the poetry was musical enough that it worked to set it to music. But mostly, it was just a way for me to put down my thoughts and feelings in a short form.

I had the idea when I was nineteen or twenty to try some improvisations with another musician, and I think I made a flyer that I posted at my former high school, to see if there were any students that wanted to collaborate. That was how I met Erik Hamrefors. He played the cello and the viola, and we got together a few times and made a lot of recordings of me singing and he playing. You can find some of my favorite pieces that we recorded here.

When I relocated to Germany, I met Anke Ames, who played the accordion, and we did a few improvisations as well. We used some other poetry which we hadn’t written, and I found it was harder to relate. It’s not like the poetry was bad – it’s just that it wasn’t ours.

A few weeks ago, I had an experience where I needed some words to guide my next composition. Late at night, poetry started flooding my thoughts, and I wrote it down in my notebook.

I was pretty pleased with how the music turned out, and since then I have been thinking that it would be good if I had some more words to help guide my next compositions.

Digging from within seems to work the best, so I jotted down some of my most anguished thoughts in my notebook last night. It’s maybe best not to publish them right now, but I feel like it’s helpful to me, like it’s helping me process my most desperate feelings.

There is this one poem I wrote back in high school which I still have a copy of at home. Basically, it is a description of the frantic search for the key to inspiration. “Where is the key?” I sometimes still feel this way!

Writing on this blog has helped me stay focused. Despite all the other things going on in my life, I try to create something every day, and it helps me be happier. It’s unlikely that everything I create will be great, but I figure that as I keep refining my craft, I will still be pleased with many of my creations.

Finishing another piece

I’ve reached kind of a benchmark for the solo piece I’m working on. Today I write in the poetry so that it’s visible to the performer right after the cover page, and right before the notes of music start. It’s my intention that the performer should read it out loud before performing the piece.

I know I’ve gotten the ending phrase at least mostly the way I like it. I think more about the dynamics in the piece and write in all my hairpins, sforzandos, pianos, pianissimos, fortes, fortissimos, etc. that needed to be added and I’m tweaking a note or two. I add in another little phrase to extend and hopefully improve that key modulation I was working on yesterday, and let it rest a little.

I’m going to take tomorrow off and hit it fresh again after the holiday to see if there are other things I want to tweak before calling it done.

Are you jealous of what someone else has accomplished?

As I’m writing my book today, I confess that there have been a few times when I felt jealous of other composers having their original operas performed. But when it comes to Mozart or Puccini I just feel kind of intimidated by the sheer volume of their output.

I’m still reading James Clear’s Atomic habits, and the quote I stick with today is this: “What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else? What do the really successful people do that most don’t?” Mr Clear is interviewing an elite coach, who mentions factors you might expect: genetics, luck, talent. “But then he said something I wasn’t expecting: ‘At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.'” (p. 233)

Expect it to get boring sometimes, and plan for it to be ok anyway. Just keep going.

I again failed to bring my notebook to the gym where I’m working today, so I decide to just start a new score for a string quartet that doesn’t require my notes from the other day. I’ll think more about what I want to do with the piece, but I’ve written in an opening phrase for the two violins, and I have some ideas of rhythms, melodies, harmonies expressed in just those few measures. As I talked about the other day, really successful music pretty much always features lots of repetition, lots of themes with variations, and some development of ideas. Creating an idea isn’t that hard, it’s the rest that is the craft.

Hoping next week I’ll be able to get some more time into the two pieces I now have open for editing, but at least I plan on showing up, even if it’s just for a little bit. If I can find the time and energy, I’d like to write some more poetry to feed my music.

Poetry attacks in the night

Have you ever been just about to go to sleep, but then you get the first two lines of your next song? It’s almost physical, the words just come to you.

You grab your notebook that you keep for such occasions and a pencil and try to keep up as the words just keep flowing to you.

You know the title of the song, and you have a draft of the lyrics, when you start thinking of a melodic line to start out with. But it doesn’t stop there. You get the next four lines, and you don’t have staff paper or a computer with you so you just write down pitches, ideas that is a kind of shorthand that will help you know what you’re thinking when you get to the computer after the weekend.

You write in the chorus, the repeats, and through it all, you weep because you know the song has several depths and you have a hunch it will work well both for an instrumental solo or possibly a song if you choose to make it that way sometime. No, you weep because it’s your grief pouring out of you at the same time as the song is taking shape.

Well, I had one of those experiences Saturday. I haven’t had a lot of time to write down the music in my software yet, but my notes have been extremely helpful, for when I had a few moments to start on it.

The grief kept attacking me Sunday, and I could hear new rhythms that needed to be included. Because I like to take sabbath, I just wrote in a shorthand note to be able to retain the idea until later.