I thought that since this is a blog about freelance composing, I would finally write about music (what a concept)! One of the key elements in writing music is coming up with ideas; and unfortunately, ideas don’t come out of a paper bag (unless there’s a princess in it). So finding inspiration is a key component of my work.
The first obvious choice is listening to music! Whether it’s a piece that I adore (eg. mvt II of Trio for Flute, Viola & Harpby R Murray Schafer), or branching out and listening to new music. I like to go on a rampage at the Saskatoon Public Library (and SILS – cause lets be honest, Regina Public Library has a great collection) and borrow anything and everything slightly related to what I’m working on. This collection in the photo is for my upcoming project with the Strata Festival!
Sometimes I’ll just randomly stumble on to a piece of music that spearheads my piece! Such as this video of Marie-Nicole Lemieux singing “Nel profondo”:
I mean, Lemieux is inspiring all on her own, but I also have a soft spot for Baroque music. The intense yet joyous feel of Lemieux’s performance was exactly what I wanted for the revamp of “The gods are mythology” (Orpheus & Eurydice...ish) The revamped melody was written within a few hours!
Another great source for composition inspiration is score study. This was suggested to me by Paul Suchan (thanks Paul!). This instance isn’t so much a study as I was doing a little sight-reading of some music theatre pieces from an anthology I borrowed from the library (that was collecting fines and needed to be returned asap). I naturally gravitated towards “All the Jazz” (and obviously anything by Kander & Ebb!), and I was amazed at how simply the song began – yet this song is so good! It stays on the I chord for the first 12 measures. That's right. The I chord. But the way in which Kander wrote that I chord was what makes this beginning so impactful: a really cool and laid pulsing of chords in the right hand, moved along and stopped by a little chromatic turn around in the bass. It could seriously just keep going and going. But, obviously, he moves on – and where does he move on to? You guessed it, the V chord – BUT he augments the fifth! Brilliant. It adds that perfect amount of stank you would expect from a seedy jazz club in the 1920’s.
This song's beginning is so simple yet so awesome. This was a great lesson in “it doesn’t really matter harmonies you pick; it’s just what you do with those harmonies that matters.” This is a consistently needed reminder for me.
Another great staple for inspiration is going for walks. Not only do I find this frees up my imagination and feeds my soul, it also gets me outside. It gets me exercise. Fresh air. It’s really important to remember to leave the house… and I may or may not often forget to do this… walking, folks. It’s good.
The last example of inspiration I have for you today is finding it in places you wouldn’t expect. Lately I’ve been getting inspiration from “The Great Interior Design Challenge.” Wait… what? Yes, that’s right. Interior design. But here’s the thing – other forms of art are just that – art. They have a process of creation just as music does, and learning from other disciplines can be greatly beneficial!
In this show, the judges keep mentioning how they want the designers to do something new and innovative. They don’t just want to see the same design schemes that other people have used before – even if they do work. They want to see the designers go beyond the scheme. This. Clicked. Something in my brain.
I love emulating other styles of music, but I still really struggle to take the music beyond that. So this may very seriously become my mantra for the next while in order to help me grow as a composer. It’s already helped in an orchestration reduction project I’m working on. I was quite stuck at one point, so after a little Interior Design Challenge, I found some inspiration! When the judges mentioned this idea of going beyond what you know and creating something a little different from what is already there, it just shifted the gears in my head and I applied that concept to my project. I then went on to try an orchestration solution I wouldn’t have otherwise used, and it worked.
So there you have it, folks! My inspiration comes from interior design! What sort of places do you find inspiration?