Tag Archives: New project

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.

Adding a title

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.