Blog

On inspiration.

Categories:  Composition/Songwriting, Inspiration, Music

I originally wrote this in 2010, for a now-dead blog page associated with an earlier incarnation of this website. I came across a printout of it and decided to clean it up a bit and repost today, since it’s still relevant.

Last night 60 Minutes did an updated profile of child prodigy Jay Greenberg, age 14, who can compose in his head entire full-length orchestral works in about the same amount of time it takes you or me to prepare, assemble, and eat a turkey & cran sauce sandwich.

BlueJay (as he signs his compositions) says he doesn’t know where the music is coming from, can’t turn it off as it flows through his imagination, and in fact hears multiple pieces “playing” at once. It’s a level of extreme giftedness that can make the merely super-talented blush and cower.

As unapproachable as BlueJay’s abilities are, I think many musicians and other artists would recognize some aspect of his inner world. Even someone like me, who’s only occasionally prolific, has experienced moments when an entire song seemed to appear out of nowhere, fully formed in my imagination, begging me to make my way to the piano and bring it into an objective, definitive state of being.

In fact, I went through a lucky period in the spring and summer of 2008 when I wrote a half-dozen songs in exactly this nirvana state of open-eared acceptance. As many others have noted before me, this type of productivity feels less like composition than transcription–just notating a music that existed before it happened to fall into my ear.

The mystically inclined will talk of God or the Muses, while other more scientific sorts will refer to the murky processes of the unconscious mind. Maybe those are just two different ways of saying the exact same thing. When it happens to you, it’s sheer bliss.

But it also sets up a potentially painful set of expectations. BlueJay hears the music all the time, more than he can transcribe. I recently read about another musician, a Nashville songwriter, who hears new songs so often that he can easily write one or two a day, and sometimes actually refuses to “go with” an idea that’s hounding him because he really needs a break to eat lunch or mow the lawn. Most of us, even if we’re lucky enough to experience that flow of creativity once in a while, are more likely to be found sitting at the piano bench with blank manuscript paper in front of us, waiting, waiting, waiting for hours or days or months, waiting for something beautiful to knock us in the head.

That 70s flow.

Categories:  Favorite Songs & Artists, Life, Memories

When I think back on my childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s, I am sometimes overwhelmed with synaesthetic memories of music, recalling not just a specific song or lyric or instrumental riff, but along with those elements, a whole embodiment of vibe and emotion Read the rest of this entry »

On the advantages of being Type A.

Categories:  Effectiveness, Inspiration, Life, Motivation, Music

I keep hearing that something called “project management” is a hot new field, one of the few growing occupations in our turbulent late-stage-capitalist economy. According to Wikipedia, “project management” is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing, and managing resources to achieve specific goals. Well, jeez Read the rest of this entry »

Constraints & creativity; music & motherhood.

Categories:  Effectiveness, Life, Music, Parenthood

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did. My first professional gigs as a jazz pianist/singer took place in the same year that I was raising our infant son. Read the rest of this entry »

Mentors are key.

Categories:  Inspiration, Life, Music, Uncategorized, Writing

I’m having lunch with an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. When I was still just a late-blooming music student/apprentice with a very unclear future, he was one of the very first full-fledged professionals who encouraged me to stick with my ambitions. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t fake it. Make it.

Categories:  Effectiveness, Goals, Inspiration, Life, Music, Public Performance

I’m slightly afraid to go public with this. If I say it out loud, it sort of obligates me to follow through…. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning by doing.

Categories:  Inspiration, Life, Memories, Motivation, Music, Public Performance

About fifteen years ago, driven by a mix of whimsy and ambition, I turned myself into a jazz pianist. I was already an adult with a full-blown career in journalism, but somehow, through sheer will and focused study, I created a second vocation for myself in music.

Already in my 30s, I was experiencing a dream-come-true just to land some private parties and wedding gigs. Read the rest of this entry »

Feel the love.

Categories:  Life, Music

Don’t let the toothy smile fool you. I am a brooder, a worrier. I can focus on the empty half of the glass like nobody’s business. Sometimes my darkness isn’t even enlivened by irony. Hell, just a few weeks ago I wrote a song entitled “Lament (For All Purposes)” with a refrain that goes, “Human beings break your heart.” I know! Absolutely piteously earnest. Read the rest of this entry »

New year? I’m already resolved.

Categories:  Effectiveness, Life, Music, Writing

Poof! There goes another year. The good news is that, at least for now, they’re still churning out subsequent ones every 365 day or so.

Almost nothing feels as good as landing upright in the first week of January and realizing I don’t need resolutions. I am thick in media res, living my dreams (well, some of them), enjoying myself, taking care of my family, knocking tasks off my list. Sure, I could choose to stress over all the unaddressed ambitions and incomplete projects (chaotic kitchen junk drawer, anyone?). Let’s just say I prefer to keep the Maybe I’ll get to it one day!?!? list over in a box in the corner, while imminent plans and projects are productively underway. Read the rest of this entry »