August 31, 2006

Ariettes oubliées

I finished a piece last night—a short song cycle on a few of Sandburg's "Chicago Poems"—and already this morning my peripatetic brain has moved on to greener pastures. I find this happening to me all the time: as soon as a project is done, the next project immediately moves in and evicts all trace of the previous tenant.

I guess a certain amount of creative restlessness is a good thing, but I wonder if other composers/writers/creative types have this problem. And it is a problem, particularly for a composer. We're supposed to be out there, self-promoting, getting performers interested in our work, etc., etc., but as soon as the work's on paper, it takes a fair amount of effort for me to remain interested in it. How am I supposed to get other people excited about a piece that I hardly think about? (Just last night, this blog's muse and better half happened to mention a string quartet I wrote seven or eight years ago. Nice piece, I think—she reminded me that I should send it around to a few groups. Which I might have done, had a single conscious awareness of its existence crossed my mind since the last time I chanced upon a copy.) It's a contradiction: the composer side of me has to be dissatisfied enough to always be pushing ahead, while the career side of me needs to, in effect, wallow in alleged past glories. (I err on the former side, which the state of my career can attest to.)

In fact, as I was proofreading this latest piece, I realized that, in looking at the first song I wrote, I've already forgotten where a fair share of those notes came from, compositionally speaking. This is partially due to the habit I have of using fairly schematic methods to jump-start a piece, and then, once I have a critical mass of sounds I like, letting intuition take over. But one of my greatest fears (I suppose it's not all that objectively great; I'm pretty foolhardy) is that someone will ask me to talk about a piece of mine from a theoretical/craft point of view, and I'll have nothing to say. (And the few times I've set a piece aside and then come back to it a few months later? An awful lot of rope-pulling to get that mower started again.) Maybe I should do like that guy in "Memento"—I can end up with matrices and key relationships and generating motives tattooed all over myself.

(By the way, if all you know of Carl Sandburg are the same four poems that are anthologized everywhere, you're missing out on one of the greats. Quality work avoidance begins here.)

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