Creating the music of your life could mean composing your own music, improvising, arranging music, or it could refer to how you interpret and perform music composed by other musicians. As I have written in previous posts, even when working as a musician for financial employment, in order to feel artistically vital, a musician must continue to pursue his or her own creative projects. When performing in a symphony orchestra, one sacrifices one’s individual interpretive impulses in order to perform together as a collective instrument led by whomever stands on the podium. The music we play is beautiful and exciting. The synchronization of 85 plus musicians produces an all-encompassing sound with a multitude of layers. However, orchestral musicians are prone to burn-out due to literally losing their artistic selves in the course of this melee.
I am not alone in being aware of the hazard of solely carrying out someone else’s musical impulses. Over my career I have known colleagues who pursued interests completely separate from music. I have known a lawyer, a dentist, a banker, a medical journal proof reader, and a dermatologist, all of whom worked as professional classical musicians. I have known musicians with serious side gigs such as one who has worked as a personal chef, one who has been a politician in her local government, and one who used to board horses and teach horseback riding lessons. We classical musicians tend to be rather intense about everything we do including our hobbies. I know colleagues who do beautiful woodworking, quite a few who are visual artists, and even a dog musher who aspired to race in the Iditarod in Alaska. He nearly received a sponsorship from the orchestra he played in. I think his dogs got re-homed when his first child arrived. I would have loved to have seen the logo on his racing gear!
Don’t get me wrong. Many of us choose to solely express our creativity musically. Perhaps surprisingly, classical musicians don’t always listen to, perform or create only classical music. I have a good friend who is a fairly well known composer of liturgical choral music. He is also an organist, choir director, and he plays keyboard in a wedding cover band. I have several symphony friends who play in jazz ensembles for clubs and concert settings. The vast majority of us at the very least teach private students, play in chamber music ensembles, perform solo recitals, and produce our own recording projects. Over my career it has become increasingly easy to innovate projects with my music. I remember how thrilled I was the first time I emailed a recording of myself playing some Kreisler show pieces to my pianist in Boston who would be recording them with me. It seemed like a whole new world of possibilities.
I am a committed watcher of CBS Sunday Morning. I was thrilled to discover it in high school because it was the first time I saw a TV show that featured musicians and other artists on a regular basis. I believe it was an episode in early spring 2019 when the nature segment video was of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. I looked at the screen and thought I can draw that. It was during this time that I started drawing the images for my card deck, Inspiration for Violinists. Previously, the images I drew were based on texts I had already written. Drawing this image reminded me of the necessity of creativity in general which I felt would be a good addition to the deck.
Another one of my creative projects since 2013 has been Stringing Words Together. It has been a collaboration with my good friend, poet Joan Kantor. Nature is a frequent topic for Joan’s poetry as well as other issues such as social justice, spirituality, relationships and art. Being fairly short, we collect her poems into sets of about five. I tie them together and add my impressions through music which I play between each set. For a long time I only played my own solo arrangements of other composers’ music. More recently I have been inspired to compose my own music based on the themes of her poems and our conversations about them.
My work with Joan Kantor has also introduced me to Ekphrastic poetry which is poetry inspired by visual art. This type of poetry adds another dimension to the work of art. While working as a free-lance musician in Boston in the 90’s, I had a private teaching studio in an artists’ building. During open studios, a few of the artists welcomed my students to “perform” their visual pieces. We called it the “Notation Project.” It was an opportunity for my students to explore musical notation on a deeper level by literally trying to read the details in the abstract works of art. The artists not only enjoyed the extra attention to their pieces but also got to hear their creations. I believe it was my first experience with ekphrasis although through music.
Over the years, Joan and I have had many conversations about the interplay among all forms of art. We have worked with several visual artists and have talked about working with a dancer. I credit my work with Joan as inspiring me to produce my animated short film back in 2017 called Song of Spring. As I write this post, I feel like the dog circling his bed over and over again before finally plopping down for a snooze. Artistic impulses have been unpredictable for me. When I am involved in a new project, I feel excited and lose track of time. I think creativity is inherently random and without a timeline. Its transient nature frees us to manifest inspiring works of art.