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Back to Composing, Tinnitus and All

December 12, 2013

I was planning on writing about what it means to be a composer these days, specifically what it means to be someone who makes a living as a composer. (Short version: You usually can’t.) But I realized that for me at least composing is not just a job or even a career; it’s an imperative. A biological function if you will. Allow me to explain.

The last time I posted here was in July. A lot has happened since, mostly non-music issues. What didn’t happen from then until recently — actually from January until recently — has been composing. Not a note. Nada. Niente. Zilch. Bupkis. Between the now ever-present tinnitus and the stress of the other issues, I simply couldn’t write anything new, and not for lack of trying either. Sure, I was able to fix some arrangements I had already written; I was  able to concentrate enough to do that work justice. But something new? Nope. And because G*d has a sense of humor I happen to have not one but four commissions sitting on my desk awaiting completion. No pressure, right?

But something kicked in a few weeks ago. One of the most stressful non-music issues has begun to resolve itself in a very positive way. (My apologies to those who do not know the situation but I will not offer personal information here.) Coincidentally the tinnitus, while by no means gone (I wish!), has lessened in intensity slightly overall, just enough for me to be able to concentrate. I found myself not only with a desire to write music again but with ideas. I tested the metaphorical waters with a short, simple piece for string orchestra (based on a blues progression). I liked the result and asked a conductor friend to play through it with his student ensemble to make sure it works. He kindly agreed and afterward asked if his group could premiere it. Of course I said yes. (They are performing it tonight in fact, as I write this.)

Then I took a look at the first of the four commissions to write. Officially it’s overdue but the commissioning party is understanding. We agreed to postpone the due date. I played through what I had managed to squeeze out of my brain over the last six months, which wasn’t much, and declared it, well, scrap. But now I had a better sense of what I wanted/needed to write for it and started over completely. I’m already more than 20% into it and hope to be done by the end of January, just in time to write the second commissioned work on schedule.

In the meantime an idea for another work unconnected to a commission came unbidden; a concert march based on the American folk tune “Oh My Darling Clementine.” Yes, the original tune is a sort of waltz, but with slight adjustment works well in duple meter and is still recognizable as OMDC. In about two days I was able to write a two-line (piano-style) score, and when I have the time — that is, when I’ve finished at least the first two commissions — I will orchestrate the march for concert band.

I feel like I’m “back.” It’s like my being, both body and soul, had been on hold or in the healing process. Call it what you will, the results were the same; I couldn’t compose. I couldn’t arrange. It was worse than writer’s block (and I had a year-long bout of that some 30 years ago, which is another story). There was…nothing. And now it’s as if a flood gate is opening, ever so slowly but opening nevertheless. And it feels good.

Between that and the increasingly good news on the non-music front, this is a good ending to a basically bad year. That said, I wish all who read this a wonderful holiday season — happy belated Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, have a terrific Kwanzaa, and a lovely solstice — and may your best day of 2013 be the worst day of 2014. Good health and happiness to all.

One Comment
  1. David Wolfson permalink

    Welcome back, Steve!

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