Composing through the tears

On Friday I finally shipped off the score and parts of the newly completed The Unanswered. I birthed this baby for the National Arts Centre’s Composers Program, which will take place in late June.

The piece ended up being quite a struggle with a lot of hair pulling and cursing and moaning involved. It was one of those projects when you seem to be short on everything but complaints, a project that just makes you go “wah” and has you wallowing in the deepest anguish only an artist is capable of.

In addition to these artistic woes, our building was also undergoing a roof reno and having fiberoptic cables put in. For the last few weeks our halls and chambers have been steeped in the sweet fumes of boiling tar and echoing with the glorious song of concrete drills. And we’ve also been painting our living room (great timing). I’ve been feeling a little like a rat being fumigated out of my hiding hole.

So what did this experience teach me? Music is a very beautiful thing. Most of the time.

If you are trying to be a freelance composer, sometimes music is a job and it just needs to get done. If you want those opportunities to keep happening, you can’t rely on inspiration or your love for the art itself to get you to the finish line. Sometimes you hate it, but you lock yourself in that office and plough through, squinting through the tar-induced tears and doing your best to forget that you are not particularly enlightened that day.

There is a good side to this experience though. I usually discover that no matter how painful the composing process was, given some time and distance from the offending score, I usually end up liking the result when I actually hear it in performance.

Or at least I do a lot of growing. If the Muses are not blessing me with a torrent of ideas, I have to rely on skill and pure stubbornness to get me through that piece. I have to challenge myself to use every tool I have and try new methods of working. And sometimes, while fighting the beast that the piece becomes, I discover that I am actually more capable than I feel.

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