A few weeks ago, I put the finishing touches on one of my pieces, “First Takes #4- Extended”, and I realize now that it was a massive milestone. This is the first piece that I’ve written that I truly enjoy listening to and playing. I can be crazy guilty of working on my productivity as a means of being productive, but I learned quite a lesson from finishing a piece that I like so much!
I have been struggling to write for the past 6 months. Some of that may be pandemic, but as I crest the hill of #4, I’m realizing that I found composing to be so difficult because I simply didn’t like what I was writing. Sure, some of it was cool, but I didn’t actually really like it. So, my advice for musicians, photographers, and other artists is this: “Write/Play/Do What You Like”.
It’s funny that I’m coming to this conclusion now- when I was studying at the University of Maryland, I was working for the performing arts center and managing visiting artists. Sometimes I got opportunities to ask them for advice. An amazing brass quartet called The Westerlies performed shortly before I was going to take an audition. I asked one of their players for any words of advice, and he said simply, “Go play what you like”. It sounded like reasonable advice, sure, but the audition mindset didn’t really give me an opportunity to take it fully.
Now that I am working my way through a composer journey, I am finding new mileage in his advice- go write what you like! As I’m moving forward I’m asking myself “What will make me like this piece better?” It sounds crazy simple, but as I’m going forward and making things that I like, I’m finding sitting down to write music much easier. I’m so looking forward to incorporating this into my horn playing, photography, composing, cooking, and other activities!
How do you focus on what you like? Sometimes, as a horn player or photographer, it can be difficult if you’re being hired to do something that isn’t very exciting to your artistic mission or drive. This is when it may be possible to do some creative problem solving to break down what you are doing and find elements of what you like in it. When I was performing in the military, I sometimes didn’t like the rep selection. I loved performing with my friends though! I would try to focus on a single one of them and see if I could get them to interact with me on a new level. I found that I enjoyed the playing a lot more, and it raised the level of the whole ensemble.
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