Don’t Beat Yourself Up
While I was talking shop with a few other composers, the topic of conversation veered towards the difficulties that folks experience when they sit down to compose. The consensus was that composing is something of a struggle. Someone even suggested that if it’s not the hardest thing you do in your life, then you’re not taking it seriously enough. As usual, my take on the matter ran counter to popular opinion. Despite all of the problem solving and decision making that confront a composer at every step of the compositional process, I think the ordeal should be joyous rather than painful. Sure, adversity builds character, but so do a lot of other, less arduous things.
Despite the diatribes that dribble from my fingertips and onto this blog, I’m basically a non-confrontational guy. And, as someone with less time to compose than I’d like (okay, I guess a lot of people have the same issue), if my compositional process involved the hardships that others claim to encounter, I doubt I’d make any room in my already brimming schedule for any self-induced mental torture. No thanks. I’ll pass. Luckily, I find that my overtly conceptual approach to composition allows me some leeway when it comes to the hairier note-by-note decisions which others sometimes wrestle with for days, only to finally settle upon that first instinct they had last week. With an idea-driven extra-musical framework on which to build, I tend to rush these atomic-level decisions to the point of intuition, and I feel justified given the fact that I may think about a piece for a year before I ever managed to sit down and write it out.
Don’t infer, because of that last statement, that I’m one of those genius-types that have every detail planned before pen hits paper—I’m not. Good thing too, because I like my music a little messy, or, at the very least, messier than the idealized sounds and structures that pop into my head while I’m composing. Even if nothing specific comes to mind while I’m working, I rarely find it hard to find the next note, sonority, or texture. And I don’t buy the notion that pulling your hair out in order to make a decision contributes to the ultimate value of the finished product. Great music can be made the easy way or the hard way—both are valid in the end.