Just as there is no way to will oneself to sleep, there is no way to acquire more valued human qualities through some trick or shortcut, because qualities like spontaneity and sincerity seem to exist as byproducts of other decisions or actions. Yet it may be possible to cultivate other habits that make it possible for spontaneity to arise.
With the return of AMC’s critically-acclaimed television drama Mad Men upon us, it might be timely to explore one of the ideas that the show has grappled with since its very first episode: the link between creativity and dishonesty, or (put another way) the thin line between the gifted storyteller and manipulative liar.
Last weekend I was in Minneapolis for a premiere, in which I gave a somewhat slapdash and intermittently relevant concert talk which still ended up being a lot of fun. One audience question in particular threw me off balance, as loaded questions and statements-disguised-as-questions so often do. Only half-jokingly, someone asked: “How to you manage to compose contemporary music without percussion?”
In non-improvised music, it’s infinitely easier to replace instrumentalists than it is to replace singers, whose “instruments” are infinitely more personal in nature. But the show must go on, and it’s always amazing to see everyone pull together around a common goal, especially in the classical concert world where composers, performers, and presenters often work in relative isolation.
This past week, I’ve been listening to some old favorites by Mozart and Beethoven and also looking at the composers’ own sketches whenever possible. Sketches in a composer’s hand are always revealing, and it’s difficult to give either composer’s sketches a cursory glance without being struck by how deeply each composer’s sketching habits express their own musical personalities.
There is such a thing as reaching for the next rung of the career ladder too early. Yet there comes a time for every composer when one must either expand or else stifle development. Composers would do well to stay attentive to their own needs right now, and not what their peers, friends, and competitors are doing.