Ah, the writing process. Hours and hours of painstaking work all to be thrown out because inspiration strikes. New inspiration. Completely different inspiration. Not just a tangent – an entirely new avenue. Why did this inspiration wait until the eleventh hour to show up and not, you know, two months ago? Who knows.
So as I’ve been working on my “Trio Fantasy” for the Strata Festival of New Music, it seems that every bit of material I work on wants to wind up here:
Every. Time. Why??? It was like I was stuck in a time loop!
I maniacally cackled to myself at this prospect – turning my Trio Fantasy into a time loop! Ohhhh it would be so good. The protagonist's day keeps getting reset by that moving Perfect 5th motif, and they have to figure out how to get the music to NOT do that. I started thinking my way through what this would mean for the piece… oh… actually… this would be a lot of work… the deadline is in two weeks… maybe it’s not such a great idea. So I moved on. But the idea kept hitting me. Two days later I was reminded of a similar situation I had in university.
The year was 2014. I had to write a Music History paper, and being obsessed with the Symphonie Fantastique I had decided to track the idée fixe through Berlioz’ work (a musicologist had mentioned its presence in a chamber piece called “The death of Ophelia” - or the French equivalent). So weeks and weeks were spent researching and analyzing.
Then one evening I stumbled across a video of Stephen Sondheim at the piano talking through “Epiphany” (Sweeney Todd) hammering away at his variation of the Dies Irae. Wait - how had I never noticed this??
What if I wrote a paper looking at the uses of the Dies Irae in works characterized by insanity/mental breaks – i.e. “Epiphany” and “Dance of the Witches’ Sabbath" (Fantastique, mvt V). It was too good not to write!! (side realization – I write a lot of papers about insanity… I also wrote a paper tracking the coming insanity of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor… huh... I wonder what this means)
I looked at the calendar… the deadline was in a week. Pft! I can totally do this! I had a friend at Briercrest College who wrote a heretical paper from scratch in one evening. He would have had the best mark in the class had his paper not lost so many marks for being a week late. If he could do it in a night, I could do it in a week! I e-mailed my professor to get the okay and away I went! So worth it!
Remembering that story encouraged me to go for it – to completely change the direction of the piece. So on Monday (yesterday's yesterday), I started working my new angle of the time loop! I’ll be able to write this so much faster because I’m quite excited about the concept.
It’s definitely a huge mental challenge trying to turn a piece of music into the story of a time loop - trying to figure out how to make a musical version of time loop tropes, like "the conversation" the protagonist has every time they reset – spoiler alert, the protagonist is the contrabassoon! - but I’m having a blast. Also, I got to spend Sunday evening watching a whole bunch of time loop t.v. episodes for research purposes. Too good!
This is definitely not the first time I’ve reset my concept last minute (Carrot Sandwich at the 24 Hour Compose-a-thon), and it’s probably not the last. Wasn't it Gilbert & Sullivan who wrote an overture the night before the premiere? Classic.
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About the Blog
What's life like as a full-time freelance composer? I'm not quite sure - but I know over the next year I'm going to find out!