Single Minded

When I was younger, I held the self-deluded belief that I was an expert in multitasking. I prided myself on my ability to see multiple projects simultaneously through to successful completion. During my stint working as a production editor at an educational music publisher, I began to understand that my self-regard was, to put it mildly, less than accurate. I found much greater comfort during the periods when I could focus on a single publication than during those times when I would need to juggle multiple deadlines.

I greatly admire those composers who can mediate between multiple pieces and a day job and all the other tasks that go into a composition career; however, I find that I fail when I attempt to enact this paradigm. When it’s time to grade papers, I need to sit down and grade until they are done. When I send off materials, I like to send to many places at once. When I compose, I give all my attention to a single piece. Meanwhile, compositional ideas percolate in the back of my mind, rarely bubbling toward consciousness as they begin to form. Ideally, this planning allows me to complete each project with alacrity.

When multiple tasks command attention, I invariably find that some fall by the wayside while I focus on the most pressing need. This can become problematic when it entails keeping up with my day job and composing at the same time. When I am neck-deep in composing, I tend to go into what I call “hermit mode.” Emails go unanswered. Phone calls unreturned. Friends sometimes wonder whether I’m safe. Like any good Gemini, I exit these periods with an insatiable thirst for human interaction, leading immediately into my next term of sequestration.

Over the past two weeks, I researched video editing software, purchased an appropriate program, taught myself how to use this program, and began creating a video accompaniment for a piece that will be premiered by the bassoon supergroup Dark in the Song at the upcoming International Double Reed Society national conference. As the piece nears completion, I am proud of my first attempt to pair my music with original video while simultaneously realizing how far I still need to journey in order to achieve real artistry with my video work. Meanwhile, my garden is overgrown with weeds (literally—this is not a metaphor).

I cannot wait to reach the end of this project, to poke my head above ground and to say hi again. And to launch back to my desk to create some music. That viola piece isn’t going to write itself!

4 thoughts on “Single Minded

  1. Armando

    Oh man, as a fellow gemini I totally get where you’re coming from (in fact, I find I understand myself a little bit better, as I’m coming out of finishing a piece and feel a deep desire for human companionship…but everyone else is too busy. Oh no!). And yet, I can’t put off composing too long. Waiting till summer break to compose is just something I’ve never been able to do. Too long between pieces, and I start getting very, very cranky. So it’ll be back to hermit mode soon over here too.

    Reply
  2. ChristianBCarey

    Good column David and timely too! There’s a lot being written about the seductive dangers of technology and multi-tasking of late. They suggest that not only are we addicted to our gadgets – we get a burst of dopamine every time we reply to an “urgent” email request or phone call – but that we get less accomplished, are more stressed, and less able to concentrate as a result. All deadly byproducts for composers.

    I’m thinking a lot about how to balance the many tasks I endeavor to accomplish, the amount of plugged in time they require, and my own interest in technological platforms for music-making!

    Reply
  3. smooke

    Armando and Christian:
    Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment. You are models of success in your ability to keep multiple projects afloat simultaneously. Honestly, when I see all of Christian’s reviews and Armando’s organizing (not to mention your teaching and other endeavors), I wonder how you are able to find any time to produce beautiful music. And yet you continue to find an excellent balance.

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  4. mclaren

    In fact, scientific studies show that multitasking is actually less efficient than concentrating on a single task at once. Moreover, constant prolonged multitasking has been implicated in short-term memory loss.

    See the article New Studies Show Pitfalls of Doing Too Much At Once”:

    A growing body of scientific research shows one of jugglers’ favorite time-saving techniques, multitasking, can actually make you less efficient and, well, stupider. Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task.

    “There’s scientific evidence that multitasking is extremely hard for somebody to do, and sometimes impossible,” says David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Chronic high-stress multitasking also is linked to short-term memory loss.

    See also Multitasking Hurts Brain’s Ability To Focus, Scientists Say from the Seattle Times.

    Reply

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