Fact 1: My word for the year is “Release”
Fact 2: I was on a phone chat with my coach this week and I asked her for a set of daily practices, kind of like a “Daily Get-Myself-Together Workout.”
But she turned the tables on me.
In essence she said: don’t ask me what’s going to work for you. What do you to do to be you? What 3 things can you DO to define what “release” looks like to YOU?
And the lightbulb flickered: I need a manual for being me.
Fact 3: One of the projects I’m working on is creating a harp-ensemble version of my solo harp piece “Baroque Flamenco” for the American Youth Harp Ensemble.
Forget the fact that I’m already way behind deadline, thus tossing me back into the ick of Junior High with a project long overdue – that pungent combination of shame and anxiety. (Blaaah … remind me to tell you about the Headless Venus sometime … one of my alltime worst school projects).
The problem isn’t that the project isn’t done — I mean that’s a big problem – but the real problem is the problem beneath the problem.
It’s not like I’ve been avoiding this project. The problem is – I’ve been trying to do it ‘the right way.’
Which – for me – is wrong.
The truth about me — I am now about to admit to myself — is that unlike Mozart, Schoenberg, Beethoven and all the other real composers who I am not (which feels sooo unfair!!!) … I can’t sit down and write music without playing it.
I mean, I can, but it doesn’t feel – or sound – like music to me.
My hands and my voice are my musical mind. Even when I write for orchestra, I sing each line, because each instrument exists as a character to me, a character who sings its lines.
And that’s something I know how to do.
But the harp. The harp is technically a percussion instrument – it’s pointalistic. Its singing is made up of points, and each point of sound is like a point of light, and each is ignited by a finger. Harp-playing is the purest song of fingers I can imagine – the original concept of digits made into music.
That’s harp music.
And this score I’m write is for harps.
Harps, harps, harps and harps. Lots of harps.
The point is, I can futz around with it for months and it will never perform the way I want it to … unless I play it into existence myself with my own fingers.
The form is already there. It’s essentially ‘playable’ as is, but it’s not … it’s not … what’s the word??? It won’t sing. It won’t fly to the fingers of the players and meet them there … the way music has to. … unless I my fingers actually write it in collaboration with the instrument – because it’s the act of playing that lets me know what to write. Composing, for me, is a physical and emotional act.
Which is not how the great composers were described in music school – their ability to conceive of music without even hearing it is legendary. They could sit down and write it like I’m writing these words now. As if it were their own written language.
And to me it’s not a written language. The translation from playing to writing is slow and painful, with many looks back at the dictionary.
And that’s me.
I’ve tried to fight this truth about me my whole life, tried to educate myself out of it, tried to shame myself out of it. Tried – my whole life – to compose as if I were someone else, instead of building a way of composing that works for the mind I have. A mind that needs to do it in order to know what to write it down.
So … step one. Build a world for the brain I have.
I took the score and sat down with my camera and metronome and became the three players who will play this.
And immediately I saw what I had to write, and I could hear what I had to change.
So now … finally … I can start releasing this piece. And finally it’s fun. It switched from being something I think I should know how to do into something I actually do know how to do.
Ohhhh … I see … so maybe the manual isn’t to guide me in what I don‘t know, but to guide me to what I do know.