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Reflection 6/10 - A Well-Executed Intermission

I'm now at the stage where I have posted all of my prewritten blogs and need to write some more. I was hoping that by starting with a big batch, I'd then get to write the next five throughout the month at a leisurely pace. But that wasn't to be. When I was younger, I'd often start things and never finish them: Lego cities, short films, competitive triathlons and full-size dinosaur puppets. I think the only thing that I ever actually finished was my "croc pit" - an enclosure for my 1 meter-long crocodile toy called Monty. Those were the days.

It takes a lot of discipline and resilience to slog through the middle phases of a project. Once the initial momentum and excitement have worn off, you face the reality of what is ahead. I was always a top-order batsman. If you are lucky, and keep hacking away at it, the piece may bleed and you get a new source of momentum. Nevertheless, I have countless unfinished projects gathering digital dust somewhere on my drive. Occasionally I'll dig them out. Usually, I like how raw the material is. But when I start refining it, it feels like I'm sterilizing it. The music has often already done what I needed it to do too. I use writing as a way to process. Typically the processing is complete long before the piece ever is. This leads to the sometimes inevitable mid-project disengagement.

This reminds me of a project that I started a few years ago: Absent Friends - named after a toast my gran would make before meals. I drafted up a title page and brainstormed a bunch of piece names. I even took some composer-aesthetic photos of sheet music and posted them on my Instagram. I had already written one piece and saw the potential to expand it into a larger project. Three years ago last week, my beloved Uncle Daisy died after a very short encounter with cancer. True to his character, he didn't muck around. After the news, I gave myself one day off uni to grieve as I was four weeks out from finishing my degree. I needed to write a piano piece for my composition class, so the next day I sat down and wrote Daisy (2020) start to finish in a singular afternoon.

The piece didn't have a lot of thought behind it but it had feeling. It captured a moment. It's not particularly sad or mournful. It's not a portrait of somebody. It is reflective, but not of the person, but rather by offering a moment of stillness to reflect. It doesn't have a clear trajectory, yet it feels like it goes somewhere whilst staying completely still. It's a piece that I keep coming back to. I'd love to write one for all those who are now absent friends. And I have tried. Many times. But the key distinction is that Daisy was reactive and not reflective. I didn't sit down to write with any intention.

The same thing happened earlier this month. I've been feeling a bit guilty about my lack of composing recently. Allegedly I have all day to write, but I rarely find that this is the case. Anyway, my cousin Suzy, Daisy's daughter, has just had a baby and on hearing the news, I had this incredible feeling of excitement. It was 9 or 10pm and sleep was not coming any time soon. Instead, I pulled up a session and started writing. I set up the one-note pedal tone and started improvising over the top. I then went back and made some refinements, did one more pass and then exported it as is. I didn't see the need to spend hours agonizing over a piece that was reactive, itself a photograph of the moment.

Now that I listen to them side by side, I realize how similar they are yet also incredibly different. The reason I never made any progress on my Absent Friends project was because I totally misread the vibe. The pieces needed to be raw. They needed to be authentic. They needed to be reactive to the moment. I didn't expect to write Daisy's sister piece three years down the track, but it just happened. Perhaps I will continue the Absent Friends project with this knowledge. Writing a collection of small, floaty, and ambient solo piano pieces seemed like a manageable task, hence why I thought I could easily expand it. At least I realized that it wasn't coming and didn't push too hard or feel too guilty about starting and not finishing.

This story offers an insight into what's happening with my blog. I'm not disengaged with this project - that's not why I haven't been writing, I'll get to that later. Whilst the blogs are reflective, they're intentionally raw and I don't spend too much time trying to make them "perfect". In the first half, I wrote drafts with outlines of things to touch on. Then, a day or so before their release (sometimes only a few hours) I would rewrite the whole thing. Usually, the time between drafting and getting things ready to post was enough to offer a new perspective on what I wanted to say.

The main reason I've not been writing these last few weeks is because I'm now writing a lot for work. I started this project because I didn't have a lot of work at the time, and I was getting frustrated with my lack of creative expression. Therefore, I tried to approach it from a new angle. The point of difference was that I was expressing myself through words rather than music. However, this has been encroached on by a need to pay the bills.

I find that there's a limited number of productive hours throughout the week for creative activities. Half the time spent on these blogs and most of their challenge is just thinking about what to say. It then becomes about finding a time when I'm rested and have the clarity to write them. Currently, I'm doing about 2 blogs a week for work on top of what was meant to be 2 blogs a week for Music Month. Work blogs tend to take a lot more effort to write as I need to do research and really put myself in a different character. I've also been told not to take too long on them, thus adding an imperative to work faster. Working at this intensity is actually not more time efficient because the fatigue it produces reduces my productivity later in the week, ultimately slowing me down with other tasks.

So that's why there was an intermission between the last blog and this one. Consider it two seasons or two halves for the sporticularly inclined! Not being able to find the time to write was causing a fair bit of stress, and stress was definitely not the aim of this activity. A wise friend told me that nobody would mind if the blogs took a bit longer to write than expected. If you do mind, please comment below. My father is lurking in the comment section.

If you're wondering about the relevance of the images, don't worry, I am too. In what's the biggest confession of these blogs so far, I actually like attending sporting events.

1 Comment

Beautiful music and thoughts Ferg

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