Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Walk On The Creative Side

Back on my birthday in December, when I asked all of you to send me questions, I had no idea that it would take me so long to get them all answered. Life has intervened. I realize that it has been nearly a week since I last posted; another thing I never intended. I made a deal with myself that I would not skip more than a day, maybe two. Why did this happen? I have come to realize that when I am in a bad mood, I don't write. In fact, I really don't do anything that amounts to much.

In an effort to move myself from this not so happy place, I thought it might be good to answer the following question from Lynn.

As a creative person, you have no doubt produced many items due to your creative actions. Can you tell us about one moment of creation which gave you much joy, and describe enough about it for us to enjoy that experience with you?

This should have been fairly easy because by profession I am a musician, a career that is generally considered to be one of the creative arts. However, I engage in many other things that I also think address my creative side. As I searched the depths of my memory for a single moment that gave me much joy, I finally settled on the following. Truthfully, I surprised myself by focusing on a musical moment. This is not because I don't find music a creative endeavor, but because recently that is not where I see my creativity at work. So, the moment I am thinking of dates from the early 80's. Don't worry, my creative juices have been flowing over the past 25 years. It just happens that this moment from way back when is still very special to me.

As an undergraduate in school in North Carolina, I majored in music theory and composition. Though I had many wonderful composition professors, it was Dr. Henry, who taught electronic music composition, that I see as my true mentor as a young composer. Electronic music in 1982 was a whole different ballgame from that of today. My career as a composer of electronic music began in the analog era on a Moog synthesizer that required you to actually understand the physics of sound. Every parameter of every sound was made by creating a web of patch cords that controlled everything from the pitch to the amount of reverberation to rate of attack and decay. The many hours that I spent in the electronic music studio experimenting with the infinite possibilities are times that I will always treasure. The punching of buttons and moving of sliders of thedigital age of today is no comparison.

While I was still in school, the academic side of digital music was emerging. I feel really old saying this, but I was a practicing composer when the mainstream digital age was born. It was the composing of my first digital piece that sticks out in my mind as a most creative moment.

Early digital music assumed more familiarity with the intmate working of a computer than does digital musiv of today. Every note, with all of its parameters, had to be entered in hexadecimal code. The theorist in me loved the process almost as much as the final outcome. However, it is -the outcome here that is very special to me.

As music majors, much time, from the wee hours of the morning to the late hours of the night, was spent making music - alone in the practice room and in various ensembles with friends. Great friendships were formed when that much time is spent together and when you join together to make music. These were wonderful times. We were all young; we were all doing exactly what we wanted to be doing; we thought we were invincible.

This reality was shattered when during our senior year, one of my closests friends was diagnosed with a tumor, thankfully benign, on his kidney. The kidney had to be removed. At age 20 you don't expect this kind of thing to happen to your friends. Rusty played the saxophone. we all wondered, as did he, how long his recovery would be. Would he be able to give his senior recital? Would he graduate wuth us? Because youth doesn't really understand its own mortality, Rusty never saw any option other than that he would get better and life would go on as he had planned. And, it did. He was on track to give his recital and graduate with the rest of us.

One afternoon after he had had a saxophone lesson, he came to me and said that he had decided on the repetoire for his recital, except for the final piece. He then asked me if I would write that piece for him.. I was both flattered and terrified. I first asked if this was okay with his saxophone teacher and then asked if he was still taking mind altering drugs left from his surgery. He said yes to the first question and no to the second. After I calmed down, I told him that I would be honored to write a piece for him. I asked what he wanted and he said that he didn't care; he just wanted me to write something.

As I am sure you have realized by this point, I used the opportunty to put my newly acquired digital composition skills to the test. I wrote a piece for alto saxophone and computer entitled Permutaions. The title refers to the fact that the entire piece uses only six pitches though they are found in various octaves. For those of you that are musically inclined, you know that an octave contains twelve chromatic pitches. The fact that I used only six was a nod to the fact the Rusty was now living with half of his kidneys. Until this very moment, that was a secret known only to the two of us.

I must say that I was more nervous the night of his recital than I was on the night of my own. I also wrote a piece for my recital but the emotion behind it could not compare to that of Permutations. Because technology changed so quickly, the ability to perform this piece did not last very long. I suspect that is how it was supposed to be.

I'm not sure this counts as a "moment", but it is the event that comes to mind when thinking about Lynn's question. Thanks for making me take time to remember.

These days I do not take the time to compose much. I used to say that I didin't have the time to write music anymore. Really, I don't take the time. I still write short examples to use in my eartraining classes, but this definitely don't fall into the category of creativity. I find my creative self now being expressed through knitting and photography and writing (though many of you may disagree here) and cooking. I feel blessed that I have a number of creative outlets. When one road is blocked, I switch gears to find another that is open. This may not be the best approach, but it is effective for me. I have also come to realize that creativity is not reserved for "artists"; it is available to everyone and is applicable to any and every facet of our lives no matter how mundane the task at hand may seem.

Let me share one such moment. For eleven years, my kids attended a private school. It was not one of those ritcy private schools; they did not even have a cafeteria from which to serve hot lunches. So nearly every day for those eleven years, I packed lunches. For the most part I enjoyed doing so. But, there were those mornings when there was only one apple and two kids, or the peanut butter was all gone, or the sliced green pepper had joined the other side, or the worst possible scenario . . .the only bread left was the heels. Though I personally love the heels, neither of my children thought that a sandwich on the dregs of the bread loaf was acceptable. Enter creativity. If you spread the peanut butter and jelly on the outside of the heels and place them together on the inside of the sandwich, no one can tell that the sandwich is made on the heels. From the outside, the sandwich looks perfectly normal. You have to admit it beats sending the kid to school with Pop-tarts and potato chips for lunch! And when they go to therapy as adults, it will give them something to talk about.

Today my creative energies were focused on graphic design, an area where I have little knowledge and no expertise. The task was to create a poster for our church theater company's production of the musical Godspell. The catch here is that we can all see in our heads the poster for the Broadway production of this show. The problem is that we (the director) chose not to pay the liscensing fee to use that particular logo design so I had to create a completely new design, something that the public might associate with the show but different enough that it is not a violation of copyright. For me, this was not an easy task. Here is the final product.

I have two more of your questions to address and I think that can be done in a single post. I hope to do that over the weekend. Weber and Offspring #2, you have not been forgotten.