That’s how this is happening. One. Note. At.
As I get something down, I will at least have something to edit and chew on. But it’s just slow and painful. It amazes me how I can barf out 32 measures of something truly wonderful in one stinking night, with no indication when I sat down at the piano that anything was even percolating, and then months and months later, I’m still working on the rest of it. I have to remember to just play the left hand by itself, and make sure it stands on its own as pretty and fun to play. (This particular piece has a lot of melody in the left hand, and a lot of ping-pong between the hands as well. I didn’t plan that, but I’m very happy with it.)
I recall Jeff Schmidt, a favorite musician of mine, remarking that a lot of musical ideas were better off as shorts rather than people trying to pad them up into larger ideas. I’m not sure I agree with him — most things can be expanded nicely into larger ideas, and few truly great pieces of music are 32 measures long. It’s just that expanding an idea takes a hell of a lot more work than people want to admit. They came up with that great kernel of an idea quickly, and they want to rush through to the end in two weeks. Of course it ends up sounding like a great idea in a big box full of foam peanuts. Truly doing it justice would have taken possibly the better part of a year, which no one has the patience for.
I think of writing music as hunting up pretty shells and stones at the shore. You can find one gorgeous thing very quickly — and it’s fabulous. Wonderful. Prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. Now, you have to dig up a few things that go with it … and that’s when it slows way down. Because now, you’re not just looking for something pretty. It’s got to be pretty, and it’s got to go with what you found first. Suddenly, you have a filter in place — stuff that you dig up that would have been fantastic had you found it first now gets tossed because it doesn’t go with what you did find first.
Of course it slows down at that point! You are no longer looking for anything — you’re looking for something in particular. You just have to keep going. Maybe write down the other stuff you dig up in the meantime, because it might be a nice kernel for something else in the future. But for now … just keep digging.
And it can be scary, because — which I’m feeling right now — sometimes you dig up something that’s so jaw-droppingly stunning that you haven’t a clue how some chucklehead like
you me can do it justice. Then, you I freak out and psyche yourmyself out. Very annoying.
This is a big part of why I’m happy to do this as a hobby and not a day job. I cannot imagine doing this full time. I love having the ability to take my time and get it just right, allowing just my own native obsessiveness to motivate me instead of a fear of not making rent. Not only is my own bullheadedness fairly powerful compared to most other people’s fear, but fear tends to destroy any creativity I have. When I fear for my financial stability, I accomplish nothing whatsoever except the production of sweat and bad dreams. I’d encourage just about any musician or composer anywhere — any artist actually — to do something else for a living. Maybe it can be related to what you do creatively — no reason for it not to be. If you’re a painter, go ahead and design websites for a living or work in advertising. You’re still doing bright, colorful stuff related to your creative love, plus you have health insurance and can make rent. And you have the rest of your day and weekends to do what you love, and the time and security to really get it right.