The Magic Moment

August 12, 2018

     For me, the most difficult part of composing is when it's not done yet.

 

     Well, duh. Once it's finished, there's no more work to be done. But that's not exactly what I mean. There are two big components to the above statement that really challenge me as a composer, and they both boil down to a few words: it's not done, and yet.

 

     It's Not Done: Perhaps the more obvious of the two. Empty measures, several haphazard draft files, big spaces between sections that haven't been connected, etcetera. There's plenty of work yet to do. Some composers start with a big formal plan and zoom in until all the notes are filled in, while others (myself included) find formal plans to be a bit dull and meaningless until there's music on the page. Once I've figured out what the material is and how it can be worked out, sections start to grow organically; then it's a matter of what puzzle pieces go where.

 

     Computers make this bit particularly easy, removing the need for dozens of papers mixed every which way. But this puzzle is often my biggest obstacle. Sometimes the puzzle pieces I like the most just don't fit with the rest of the material, forcing me to change that section drastically or toss several other pieces instead. It gets pretty disheartening when a lot of them don't fit together, but once it all does, there's a really special magic moment that tells me "this is it."

 

     It's difficult to describe what transpires in that moment, but I imagine it's a lot like a sculptor who imagines the finished sculpture while looking at a stone slab. Perhaps they've made some initial cuts to trace out the form, or had to restart several times, as evidenced by half-finished rocks lying about. But suddenly inspiration is caught and tamed, and a magnificent creation emerges out of the rock. Instead of stone clutter, "Copy of Copy of Orchestra draft NEW 08.08.2018.musx" clog my folders. Large, semi-orchestrated phrases stand in for a few broad cuts of stone. And finally, the puzzle pieces fit together as the work emerges from a blank canvas.

 

     Yet: Or does it? When is a work finished? Is this phrase long enough? Short enough? I like it, but is it boring to someone else? Oh this would work great if—but that changes the structure... Why did I write that? Why did I write that?? Does this even sound good to me still?

 

     These and so many other questions plague me during this puzzle process, and they're not even silly or bad questions. They all just keep prolonging the finished product, and hours slip by while making tiny adjustments to the string parts in that one section. At some point it just has to be done, regardless of deadlines. I think I've gotten to that point with my current project, an orchestra piece entitled Of Love and DistanceThere's still a ton of orchestration to do and parts to create, but I'm finally happy with how it looks and feels. I'm really looking forward to how it will sound live!

 

—BJH

 

     

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