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.