Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things to Consider when Composing (8 of 9)

[From a 9-part handout for my introductory composition class.]
VIII. I think my idea has run its course. Now what?

     1. There are at least three models for how composers see their roles:

          (a) Master of the Universe model (AKA the "Control Freak"). Some composers see themselves as "masters" or "controllers" of everything they compose. They make a plan for the piece, and they use their skill and mastery to make the music follow the plan.

          (b) In Touch with the Universe model. Other composers adopt a more mystical approach; there are countless potential musical ideas floating around out there, waiting to be brought to life by a composer attuned to them. This kind of composer sees her role as the medium through which some of the infinite thematic possibilities can be given the spark of life.

          (c) Sometimes the Master, Sometimes the Mystic model. Well, this is probably where most composers fall. Sometimes a person may feel a sense of mastery over their craft, while other times they feel like they are caught up in something bigger, like riding a wave, hoping to go along with that wave for as long as they can.
          Interestingly, the same points of view can be found in different people's attitudes towards parenting; some people seemingly attempt to plan their babies' entire lives before they are even born, while others pay close attention to the growing child in order to try to learn what kind of person they were sent by the universe (or God, or Vishnu, or the Great Mother Goddess, etc.), and try to serve as facilitators who help the child become the person that s/he was meant to be.

     2.  (a) Basically, how you see your role as a composer determines how you proceed. If you see yourself as the Master of your music, you are likely to have made a plan before beginning; when your idea has run its course, you simply follow your plan and move to the next stage.

          (b) Those who adopt a more mystical model might choose to listen to the musical idea over and over to o determine where IT "wants" to go, or if it has said all it needs to say.

     3. I happen to think both approaches have merit. The value of starting with a plan, even a loose one, cannot be overstated. It is also a very good idea to listen repeatedly to the music at every step of the plan to see where it wants to go; you almost certainly will have to change the plan as you go.

     4. Sometimes (frequently, in my case!) we get stuck because our composition is not turning into the kind of piece we had in mind when we started. Perhaps we had intended to write a fanfare, and we discover we are actually writing something with a more subdued, soulful character. Or perhaps we were asked to write a short, relatively easy work for a friend, and what we end up writing is long-ish and rather challenging.
     There is no simple solution when this occurs; you could (a) stop the piece you are writing and begin again, (b) keep going with the piece you are writing until it is finished, and perhaps then begin a new composition that is more in keeping with the original plan, or (c) determine where your plan began to go awry, and 'fix it' from that point forwards. I have done all three, and your options often depend on other factors, such as an imminent deadline, how far along you are in your composition (if you're not very far into your piece, then option (a) would might be your best choice; if you're almost finished, then (b) would be more feasible, for example), the purpose your music is meant to have (if writing for film, for example, you don't have the luxury of option (b); you have to evoke the mood or character that would best fit the scene, and if that's not happening, then you have to keep at it until it does), etc.

     5. Getting stuck is common, so perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it is a normal part of the creative process, so try not to make too much of it when it happens!

     6. Sometimes, the solution(s) you come up with to being stuck end up being the the most inspired part of your composition.  It may sound corny, but it's true:  

Challenges = Opportunities for inspired solutions!

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