Accommodating Dissonance

“Isn’t that life, in a way: trying to accommodate dissonance?” —Ann Southam

Although I had never heard of Ann Southam until her recent death, reading this quote and her obituary (linked above) makes me wish that I had met her in person.

Recently I’ve been noticing an increase in communications from composer friends and colleagues that allude to being overwhelmed with seemingly insurmountable amounts of work, feeling stressed out, crushed by impending deadlines. It’s not clear whether this is a new pattern of the past year or so, or whether it is the same as always, except that people are sharing more about it! When exciting projects and opportunities present themselves, it is surprisingly easy to wind up with a schedule that verges on the unsustainable (at least for extended periods of time), and this happens to people often. I have most certainly been there on multiple occasions!

So what happens when a wrench is thrown into a schedule already stretched as tightly as a drum, that makes it impossible to sustain that level of productivity, or that may cause one’s activities to grind to a complete halt? Situations ranging from a bout of the flu, the needs of family members, or forces of nature can and do occur at totally unpredictable times, causing schedule snafus ranging from events being missed to having to push back composing deadlines. These are the ultimate forms of life dissonance.

Having experienced these sorts of events has served to make me more aware of actions that can be taken to maintain productivity, strength, and health (both physical and mental), so that when things return to “normal” I can hit the ground running. For instance, I switch out coffee for green tea (in stressful situations I prefer a less edgy buzz); if regular exercise isn’t possible, I at least perform a series of stretches every morning and try to take walks during the day (to keep the lymphatic system flowing, thus preventing getting sick), I simplify my diet to mostly proteins and vegetables (cutting out excess carbs and sugar) and I kick in a daily meditation routine (which I wholeheartedly admit should not only be reserved for special occasions!). Really the most important thing for me is to actively engage in music every day. That could mean actions as simple as singing, noodling on a keyboard, or writing even a single, thoughtfully placed note on a score.

Apparently Ann Southam continued composing daily, until just a few days before she succumbed to cancer. That is amazing to me, and I hope I could do the same if I were in a similar situation. How do you handle times like these? What do you do to keep working despite challenges to your time and attention? I hope you’ll share your ideas and thoughts in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Accommodating Dissonance

  1. davidwolfson

    Don’t forget that being underemployed and not having deadlines is itself a kind of dissonance.

    Of course, the same sort of health-restoring, centering exercises apply there too…

    And if stress=dissonance, then relaxation=consonance, no? Seems to me that life, like music, needs a balance of both.

    David Wolfson

    Reply
  2. Alexandra Gardner

    This is true
    @davidwolfson – good point, you are absolutely right, things can be very off-kilter when there isn’t a lot going on. Composer life certainly does move in cycles. Maintaining health and sanity is just as important in such times! Those periods can also be transformed into really great times of idea generation and future planning for when things pick up again.

    Reply

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