Composing Thoughts

I seldom write about composition because it's such a personal thing to me and because, when I try to put my feelings and thoughts into words, they melt away. This is probably only natural because music itself is intangible; the transcribing of music is always left wanting when the composer is faced with interpreting what he or she hears within...

I believe music is the most mystical of the arts. With the exception of dance, it is the only one that takes place during the passage of time. A painting is a static thing. Someone paints it, then it hangs on a wall, is bought and sold and then hangs on another wall. It is a picture of what the artist saw, or imagined and does not change. It is not interpreted again and again. It does not require time to express itself. Without time, music could not exist.

Besides the mechanical physics of music, it is the art form that is most widely appreciated, even needed, by people. Music ties itself to our memories in much the same way smells do. We hear a tiny snip of some music that we liked when we were younger and we are magically transported. We hear the rest of the music in our head, down to the minutest detail and sometimes carry it with us for a while. Throughout human history music has been associated with our most significant moments: love, nationalism, religion, etc. We may remember a favorite painting, but we cannot recall every daub of color, every hue, every brush stroke. Nor does a painting get stuck in our head like a melody will. You will never witness the best painting being hoisted up at an athletic event in lieu of even the worst performance of The Star Spangled Banner. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not pitting music against painting, I'm merely drawing a comparison.

When I compose it is usually because something has gotten itself lodged in my mind. Often, I don't even realize that I'm humming the same tune and/or rhythm over and over again for days or even weeks on end. Suddenly, I'll discover that the music has taken more form, that it has developed harmonies and texture, and that it has grown too large to remain confined in my mind. If I don't sit down then and there to write it down, it will plague me, keeping me awake and bothering me until I have no choice but to transcribe it. It forces me to give it life and I really have no choice in the matter.

The first hour of composition is the hardest for me. Once I'm at the piano I'll think of a million things that need to be done. "I should take out the trash before I commit to this", or "I forgot to feed the fish", or "I think I'll change into something more comfortable." Once I exercise some self-control over this avoidance impulse for an hour, I'll sit there composing for hours. It's not uncommon for me to be lost in my work for 15-hour stretches.

I've been in a dry period for some time now. It's not a block, but something else that I could not name for a long time. After virtually flagellating myself over it I finally came to the conclusion that it's entirely hormonal. Think about it. The creative passions, whether they be the yearning to create a piece of art or a baby, originate in chemicals and hormones in the brain. I can trace this dry period clearly back to when I underwent a radical hysterectomy. As long as I took synthetic hormones I was fine, but as soon as I decided to stop, the decline was dramatic. And composing when one doesn't feel it is like making love when one's not in the mood: all work and no pleasure. What's the point? Then came this Hashimoto's Disease. That pretty much pronounced a death sentence over my former wildly fecund creativity.

I feel cut off from my soul. Like a caught fish, my creativity is trapped half in the water and half on the sand; too little water to thrive and too much to actually die. It's torturous and I'm considering talking to my doctor about the hormone issue. I still have many pieces of music inside me and I'd like to feel that passion again.

I cannot imagine a world without music. Most of us can't. I'm always horrified when I hear someone say they don't like music. My instinctual judgment is that there's something terribly wrong with them on a deeply spiritual level. They frighten me and I'll find any reason I can to extract myself from the conversation.

Happily, I've found myself pulled into the written word. For me, writing is more cerebral than music, but when one possesses the creative fire, it will find a release somehow. Like a torrent of water, it will carve a channel if none exists.