Listening to Schostakovich’s Symphony 7 makes you think he’s writing about the war, and the threat of the KGB, but abstractly enough that it’s hard to pin him on it. It is one of the most emotionally charged pieces I have listened to, in particular that has no lyrics.
When I wrote the trombone quartet I will take care of you, I had put a lot of thought into the music drama that I based the songs on that turned into movements. They had characters, they had feelings, and there were problems they were trying to solve.
As I’m working on a piece today, I’m writing in what I feel like the desperate crying of grief after losing a loved one. I can only hope that those who hear it will recognize it, as I believe this can be cathartic. Most people get hit by grief or loss at some point in their lives, and music can be very soothing.
I’m reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. He talks about the importance of showing up, even when you don’t feel like it. You do it because it is a part of your identity, that you are a person that doesn’t miss (his example is workouts, but I’m applying it to writing music).
It’s been a day full of working on house chores, and I am looking at my list of things to do. I have a task called “Write music.” It does not quantify how much, because I know that these days come sometimes, when I feel like I don’t have much time, and maybe not a ton of ideas to write in the amount of time I can scrounge up anyway.
But I write in three phrases, and I consider it a non-zero day, a day which despite not yielding lots of new notes, has still been a day when I showed up to my computer. I opened my software notation program, and I wrote in some new notes. I put in a key change.
Next time I know I’ll need to add in more variations on the theme. It should be fun. But as I explained a few days ago, the piece came with a huge wave of grief attached to it, and it is kind of heavy working on it. I’ll go play some Bruch or Telemann or Hummel or maybe just Christmas tunes to brighten my spirit.
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.