The Five Stages of Composition
After I finish a new composition, I am exhausted, punchy, and want a martini badly. Specifically, an espresso martini from a favorite café near my apartment. You cocktail purists out there can scoff at this flavor if you like, but I assure you that many endorse the healing properties of this delightful concoction! This little indulgence has become a ritual event signaling that the piece is finished and it’s time to take a deep breath and relax.
I think that for a lot of composers and other creative artists, there are definite stages that mark the road along the construction of a new work. Although I can clearly see the steps I go through with some perspective, in that I know basically what they are, at what point they are coming, and what they feel like, I still have to work through them in order to reach the end. This time it dawned on me that some of these points in the process feel vaguely familiar—not from a musical standpoint, but from the experience of other life events. What is that??
Bingo! It’s is sort of like The Five Stages of Grief.
With this model in mind, here are The Five Stages of Composition:
Stage 1 = Denial
Another commission! This piece is going to be awesome! I’m going to build it better, stronger, and faster!! It’s going to be easy! Right?
Stage 2 = Anger
Now how exactly do I compose music again?? Why do I remember nothing about how I wrote that last piece?! What do you mean I HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH??!!
Stage 3 = Bargaining
Oh man, if I can just figure out this (pick from one of the following):
b) harmonic scheme
….everything else will fall into place. Right?
Stage 4 = Depression
Okay, it’s official. It’s really bad. Seriously. I’m doomed, I tell you. DOOMED.
The first performance will surely go like this:
Stage 5 = Acceptance
Oh wait! You know, actually things have sorted themselves out and now it’s not half bad. I can totally live with this.
Obviously this is not the case for everyone—each composer has her/his own process, which may or may not involve these different phases. However, according to many composer friends and colleagues out there, the creative process can be a psychologically (and physically) charged beast, which we are destined to battle over and over with every new project.
Hence the need for that martini!!