Friday, February 18, 2011

Translation: from "the" to "music" and back

                The first word of this sentence was “the.” Well, yes, of course it was, you’re thinking. It seems like the obvious choice for a sentence of that sort, right? But the thing is, I thought about that sentence, that one sentence, for a while before I thought of where this post would take me. If I hadn’t, this could have started out very differently. When I was thinking about it, I could see where this bit of writing would go vaguely but wholly—like a panorama shot of a landscape, I could get the general sense of the words I would spend the next few moments writing. But now I sit here, with my fingers placed over ASDF, JKL;, and I have to stop and think before the next sentence is written. That’s how brains, at least my brain, work. Although the word “the” was already in my mind, this paragraph was not written start-to-finish nonstop. The idea is there—now all I have to do is shape it.
                This process, I have come to realize, is almost identical to music composition. We hear pieces everyday, but rarely do we think of the first action taken by the composer to come to the finish line, the performance-ready piece. Did they just simply begin to write, or did they spend months in solitude, mulling over the notes to come? This process is one I've begun to discover in myself, even if it's only to the smallest degree. 
                Ever since the realistic idea of “Elena composing” came into focus, my mind has been overflowing with ideas for symphonic and chamber works. I was looking out the window of a plane yesterday when a metaphorical idea for a three-movement symphony suddenly appeared clearly before my eyes—I had to pull out a notebook and feverishly write it down—, and now it’s all I can think about. This was one of the most exciting moments in my recent life of thoughts. It opened a large, very heavy door in my brain to a wave of creativity that I didn’t know I had any access to. The skill I need to improve on now is the action of pen-to-paper; translating these ideas into legible languages. It’s a skill I’ve learned in other mediums, like the one that these words fit into, but it will take a bit of time before I’m fluent in idea-to-note translation.
            I was never one of those children who had their path set for them when they were born. My parents didn't permanently tattoo the word "Musician" on my forehead when I was young, and in someways I'm glad for this. It allowed me to find my way through the thickets; after initial impetus, I was able to begin my own passions with little to no help from anyone else. I've weaved my way through multiple paths (pianist, critic, chef, artist...), but recently have only been able to concentrate on the language of music itself. 
Growing up I always thought composing was for the prodigies, the ones who could compose multiple-exposition fugues in their sleep. The effect was not unlike the one I got from watching Olympic gymnastics (I’m one of the least flexible people you will meet). But this stereotype was broken when I began to immerse myself in the (accessible) world of modern music and learn of composers from all walks of life. It shattered when I printed out pages of blank sheet music, disintegrated when my French horn quartet grew from two notes to seven pages. No, I’m certainly no "composer" yet. I don’t have piles of work to show people, ready for musicians to pick up and sight read, and I’m haven’t touched, say, 99% of musical forms. But the point is I’m no longer a bystander. My sketches of themes and passages are multiplying daily, and all I want to read about is counterpoint. These ideas are simmering in the depths of my consciousness. I can feel them coming to a boil. Today I spent almost an hour working solely on four measures of a viola/cello duet… I could literally feel the wheels turning in my head, and I didn’t care if it was at an abnormally slow pace. It filled a formerly-empty space in me that I was dying to occupy.
                This is why music is better than any medicine. Whether it applies to a world-renowned, 6-hour-a-day practicing virtuoso or a child from a small town, it invades and changes us like food coloring in water.  So, I know I am nowhere near calling myself an “official” composer, because that title brings to mind the position that I am not at yet. But I, and hopefully many others, am certainly composing things—and it’s not necessarily always music. 

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