Taking a deep breath and starting over


In the spring I started working on my dissertation composition.  I had a plan mapped out for an orchestral piece in four movements, grand theories about how it would fit together, snippets of musical ideas, and even an entire movement sketched in short score.  There were themes that were going to be gradually transformed movement by movement, carefully crafted transitions, and forms and styles with various musicological allusions.

In September I threw it all out.

Perhaps the weight of the label “dissertation composition” had imbued my composing with a sense of academic complexity and a need to use the tools I have acquired through training.  Or maybe I just needed to really work with those first few ideas to discover that I felt no sense of personal investment in them.  But for now, I’ve banished my careful planning and theoretical notions and returned to reliance on my gut.

So much of what I’ve studied has been about systems, theories, and tools, but I always come back to instinct.  I’ve only been working with my current material for a month and already I have four minutes of fully orchestrated music.  Music that feels alive, that has potential.

My compositional toolbox has certainly grown in past years, and I hope my music reflects that; however, I never want to be just a union carpenter hammering away, I want to be a jack of all trades, a craftsman responsible for the whole work from start to finish.  The toolbox still comes out when I get stuck and need quick inspiration, and I find myself wearing analytical goggles more often as the piece progresses and I am more concerned with the form taking shape.  But at the end of the day, I remind myself to set all my training aside and ask myself the most basic question, “Do I like it?”.

Erica Ball