The great thing about coming out to California is the chance to catch up with very dear friends. My wife & I lived on the Central Coast for over 15 years, so we've made some strong connections to the area. Along with those connections are people who are willing to be brutally honest and ask some really difficult question, just when we need a swift kick. These same friends also provide insight into who we are better than anyone else on Earth. If we ever succeed in our endeavors (for me: a working composer, for my wife: a published author) it will be in large part to the role our friends have played in keeping us honest, true to ourselves.
The other night I was engaged in a conversation about what it takes to make "my" music, music that I thrill to rather than just something that someone else wants and/or needs. Wow, difficult question. Initially my response was to say options in music are so vast some form of limitation is necessary or else projects just meander about and never accomplish anything. Planning, form and organization are all necessary aspects to creating a good piece of music. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that much of what I was taking on as limitation were all created by other's. I have a host of projects I'm working on right now, all of which I very much enjoy, but all of these projects are commissions for other's with a sense of what they want - and not so much of what I want. While there is always some aspect of the music I write created within my head, some part inspiration, what my friend wanted me to discover was what sort of music would I write if left completely to my own devices.
Some of my most prolific moments take place late at night or when I'm driving with the rest of the car sound asleep. I like humming to myself, partly to keep awake, but partly just to allow the constant stream of music in my head an outlet. After 20 mins or so the initial theme, which is generally based on someone else's music, has mutated into ideas new and fresh and nearly always some obtuse rhythm. If I'm smart I'll pull out my voice recorder and take down some of these ideas.
When I start working on a project (for someone else) I look at what they're asking and go through some of my existing ideas to see what fits. Of course, this tends to lead to some amalgamation of ideas/concepts that are part what was asked for and part something created in my head in the wee hours of the morning.
The next step is crafting the ideas into something cohesive. There is very little inspiration to this part of the process (IMHO). Taking themes and ideas through their variations into something that makes sense according the form is work - fun, but work none-the-less.
Getting back to the conversation from last night, my friend questioned how much of my recent compositions have been all me, rather than limitations from outside sources. Ultimately where my friend was leading me was an attempt to get me to write my own sound.
So, I've taken the past few days to go over what I've written in the last couple years to find "my sound." There are a couple of pieces which stand out as music written completely from within. The Violin Concerto is probably the best example as it not only is music I thrill to hear time and again, but there is an emotional attachment to what I wrote. The subtitle, "Living Through the Worst" comes from living through a difficult time in my life. The concerto captures the emotions I went through. While the music is not as difficult as I might write now with more knowledge of how to write a challenging violin piece, the music, with its complex rhythms, is very much me throughout. Thinking outside the "me box" I feel the music allows for the soloist to shine in ways not found in any other concerto (that I know of).
Another piece, written on the heals of the Violin Concerto, is my Trumpet Concerto. In some respects I think this is a better piece of music; it utilized the trumpet in three different forms much better than the Violin Concerto uses the violin. However, it falls down in the aspect of having no emotional thrust to guide me through the process. Still, I think the piece works and is certainly a demanding challenge for any trumpet player. Not only the the rhythms intense, but the final movement on the piccolo trumpet runs the full range, from very bottom of the instrument to the very top. The Trumpet Concerto isn't as long, but then it's already demanding enough without asking a trumpet players lips to hold out for 30 mins.
Oddly enough both of these pieces were written over two years ago. I don't have anything since that really captures who I am as a composer without also suffering the effects of outside influence. I think the next few months/years will be a rediscovery of that self.
Thanks to good friends for keeping me focused...