Having just finished two projects – one that took six months, another that took a couple of days, I’m thinking of how to start the next few projects. I guess it’s easier to have several running at once, so that if inspiration is low on one piece, you can always work on a different piece.
I resolve to just start a score, and I’m met with numerous choices. I’d decided on what instruments to include, so that was easy. Next, time signature, ok I decide on 3/4 because I worked in 4/4 last and I want some variety – key signature (I often pick atonal because I like to work with accidentals independent of the regular tonal modes) – title! Yikes, I don’t know what to call my piece. I think I’ll go help my son with his math and get back to figure out what to call my new piece a little later.
I go back to the computer, and my mind is blank. I find an article online that talks about how to choose a song title. And I see that Espie Estrella among many other things suggests turning to books that inspire you. I guess I’m listening to Return of the King, and decide to go for a working title, even though I have no lyrics. I have no idea what the piece will be yet. I’ll go watch the boys climb for a few hours and see if my mind churns up any ideas.
While they climb, I open up my Orchestration book (Samuel Adler, I’ve kept this one from my studies – it’s a treasure!) and I’m thinking of reading about the brass, as I want to write some brass pieces again soon. However, I am drawn to a section that talks more about scoring for orchestra, and transcribing one setting to a different one. I see an example on Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet, and I decide I want to listen to the piece. I keep listening to a few different piano quintets, and I am thinking about how a piece really doesn’t need much to get started. A simple theme that can be varied in so many ways is enough. It’s the variation that is the most interesting part of the craft, although a compelling melody helps.
As I reflect on this process, it strikes me that writing a piece of music can be kind of like a hunt. You’re looking for a spot that’s a little warmer than complete blank. One thing leads to another, and eventually you find something that helps you continue creating. Last night, I made a playlist for the music my orchestra is playing for our next concert. I’m excited about the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves, because he seems to favor the violas, and I guess I kind of do too. This is not necessarily leading to anything tangible for my composition (this time I’m not including any violas), but I’m hoping I’ll be better prepared for rehearsal on Thursday.
I turn to scripture, a reliable source for inspiration. Return of the King is obviously a work of fantasy, but some of the images invoked in the story remind me of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I decide to do a search for scriptures about the return of the Lord, and I feel like I’ve struck gold. I listen to a conference talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson and I put some of the scriptures quoted into a document to prepare for making the song I want to write.
Back at the computer, I start working on an intro. I’m hoping that I can play out a melody to the lyrics I’ve started putting together, maybe tonight.