I’ve never had much faith in diets. Part of it is that I think I have an equilibrium default weight which, though slightly more than the American Medical Association’s accepted norm for my height, has been remarkably consistent for most of my adult life. The other—probably more honest—reason is that I enjoy food and drink so much that for me dieting is tantamount to starving.
I have a similar attitude toward music. I really, really enjoy discovering music all the time, and it seems like I can never get enough of it. Over the years I’ve been accused of “listening to too much music,” as if there was a quantifiable limit on how much music one should take in. But what if we could determine such an amount for music listening the way a dietician determines the proper daily calorie requirements for healthy living?
There are many composers I know who are very focused in their listening habits, only allotting a specific time and place for experiencing another composer’s music. Some people I know even go on musical “fasts,” abstaining from hearing someone else’s music for a significant time period before embarking on a new composition. While others voraciously consume everything ever written for the specific combination they are struggling with at the moment, e.g. cello and orchestra, or solo flute.
I prefer a somewhat counterintuitive approach of letting anything and everything in and then letting the ideas go as they inevitably must. The biggest inspiration for creating a piano trio, let’s say, might be listening to someone’s brass quintet or a rock band, or even looking at a painting or reading a novel. Then, once you’re at work, you’re on your own. While I know this might sound insensitive—or worse, a glorification of an eating disorder—the following seems like musical common sense: Absorb as many influences as you possibly can but purge them all once it’s time for your own voice to speak.