Monday, January 31, 2011

My Own Dharma

A few months ago I picked up a pencil and a sheet of paper with 4 staves. I sat on my bed, in a seemingly full cloud of inspiration, and tried to write a string quartet.
I soon learned that this was not—at least for me—the way to compose. First of all, I had never composed before in my fifteen years, and plopping down with a dry mind wasn’t a good starting point. I may have had ideas, but there was nothing apparent that inspired me, nothing that kindled a full-circle idea in my head.
Composing as a verb is such a desirable task for me, and composer as a noun is even more sought after. Each time I go to a concert I sit in the soft chair imagining that the piece flowing through my ears is mine. I look around at the faces of my fellow audience members and smile at their pleasure that was brought upon by my pen. I think of the after party I would have, people coming up to me saying, “I could just see the notes! What beautiful music!”  Or perhaps I would hear things like, “You’re the next Glass!” Or maybe Alan Gilbert would approach me, begging on his knees for a commissioned piece. But I have always thought of these as just pipe dreams.
What I needed was a lift-off point. I recently began reading Hallelujah Junction by John Adams, his biography and a look inside his brain. He talks about the inspiration of his pieces, but one that really stuck with me was the muse for The Dharma at Big Sur. The title gives some obvious cluing in, but reading his words opened a flood gate in my brain to a different kind of motivation for music.  Adams drove into California after being a native New Englander for his whole life, and the vast expanses of the canyons and oceans acted almost as a religious experience to him.
Big Sur

I returned from a cross-country skiing trip just a few days ago. I had never been before, and I was a bit nervous for being one of the only novices on the trip. But as soon as I got there, I experienced my own dharma. It certainly wasn’t the most beautiful landscape I had seen in my life, but with my mind being surrounded by Adam’s words and my ideas, it was like I was experiencing the outdoors for the first time. The cosmic-effect of the mountains covered gingerly with snow and scattered with pines was mesmerizing—all I could think of was French horns, for one reason or another.

So, yesterday, I began my first official composition. It’s a French horn quartet, and it doesn’t have a title or completed vision yet, but every day I twitch in my seat waiting to get back to the piece.  I’m not sure when I’ll finish it, but I think after one day of composing I’m about a quarter of the way through the first movement.
Wish me luck, and maybe one day instead of just reading about it you will get to listen.

Hopeful performers?

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