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Facing the blank page

Rick Rogers Published: April 22, 2013

The art of musical composition is a complex, mysterious undertaking that few laymen fully comprehend. Where do composers seek inspiration? Are they visited by a muse? Is the ability to write music genetic or can it be learned? Many people today still envision a composer locked in some ivory tower like a medieval monk who won’t be released until a certain number of pages of music have been completed. It’s a romanticized view that has little to do with reality.

Yes, composers do toil and often fret over their work, particularly when facing a deadline. Yet, while composition is clearly an artistic endeavor, it’s also a craft. As with most projects, getting started is the toughest obstacle. The rest, one hopes, falls into place without too much agony.

Morton Gould (1913-96) was one of this country’s major talents, having composed a large body of work that includes four symphonies, three ballets, a concerto each for piano and violin, chamber works and music for the stage. His composition “Stringmusic” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. In Peter W. Goodman’s biography, “Morton Gould: American Salute,” the composer shared his views on the compositional process. Gould was known for his sly wit, and this chronicle certainly reveals that. Despite its tongue-in-cheek nature, there’s more truth to these comments than one might suspect.

Day 1: Sign commission agreement. Suspicious but optimistic; full of good intentions and ideas.

Day 2: Ideas gone, but still good intentions.

Day 3: No intentions, regret agreeing to commission.

Day 4: Force feeding — attempt sketches — nothing.

Day 5: A glimmer — one note!

Day 6: Glimmer and note dissolve.

Day 7-10: Suicidal.

Day 11: Read clipping re how facile I am.

Day 12: Moderately suicidal.

Day 13: Aha! Two notes! But no glimmer.

Day 14: Glimmer and three notes!

Day 15: Tentatively optimistic.

Day 16: Another clipping re my “facility” — allergic reaction.

Day 17: Depressed but happily distracted by “head sounds.”

Day 18: More head sounds. More notes — glimmers.

Day 19: Glimmers turn to light — head sounds to notes.

Day 20: Depression ruined! A gusher! More than needed!

Day 21-30: Pruning, deleting — save unused materials for another rainy day.

Days Into Nights: Around the clock until finished — Eureka! Euphoria!

The Day After: The bends — return to “reality” (?)

The Second Day After: Back to “normality” (?) (Depressed, paranoid, suicidal but happy) until the next time!