Enlightenment and Musical Inspiration
I have titled the Symphony that I will be writing, The Symphony of Enlightenment. I have done this for several reasons. First, I just like the name, I think it sounds pretty cool, maybe I am a nerd. Second, it will keep me focused on the fact that I am writing a symphony, and not wander off into other prospects like I have done so many times in the past. Third, and most important, the Enlightenment embodies what I am trying to accomplish in the first place.
What is Enlightenment?
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” Emmanuel Kant
The Enlightenment was many things to many people. It represented an awakening in science, art, and above all, reason. And it is here that I will draw my inspiration for the path I will take composing this symphony.
Musical Inspiration and the Emergence from Musical Immaturity
The word “emergence” describes a complex system that comes into being from many simpler events. Look around the internet, specifically at sites where people can post their music online. There is a lot of “musical immaturity.” I am not talking about the people being immature. Most of them are wonderful people with passion. The immaturity is in regard to their knowledge of composing. A lot of it has to do with the mindset of people today, with things like the internet, on-demand TV, youtube, hulu, wikipedia. It’s all there, 24/7, at your fingertips. Once you have read the article, or seen the clip, you know it, and now you can do it too.
But wisdom and artistry do not happen overnight. They are won, day in, day out, in the battleground of the mind, fighting with ideas, learning new things, and putting them into action. You cannot sit down, and expect to write Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, if you have not written Symphony No. 1. Mozart couldn’t even expect to do that. He had to learn along the way, and mature into the genius he was.
You can draw inspiration from many sources. Nature, life, pain, desire. But what is that inspiration?
In order to make the idea of inspiration useful, and not just some word that gets thrown around, I will break down what inspiration is, what you have to do in order to get inspiration, and what you must do once you have it.
What is Inspiration?
For most inspiration is not a very concrete idea; it’s the flash in the mind or the entire piece of music your writing; it’s the beauty in nature that motivates you to write. You may have a definition like this, but it is missing something. It is missing direction – its not useful. For it to be useful, the definition needs to give us some idea of what we can do to have inspiration.
“The contemporary western psychology defines inspiration as a sudden psychological state of a certain new image, new concept and new thinking in the process of creation. It often brings to humans an enlightened experience so that something that just doesn’t add up gets soon resolved.” Changkui Wang
This is from an article entitled Inspiration Inducement of Pianists in a Subconciousness Background. Quite a mouthful, but the definition is perfect for my purposes here.
A Sudden Psychological State
Inspiration happens when we least expect it. We cannot force it. We cannot will it to happen at our whim. It must happen to us. When it does, it gives us a new way of thinking or looking at a subject.
The Process of Creation
Inspiration cannot live on its own, but must be tied to the process of creation. Inspiration without creation is like a newborn without a mother to care for it. You must feed it, keep it warm, change it’s diaper, and record the memories, or else it will be lost forever.
Something That Just Doesn’t Add Up Gets Resolved
This is the final part of the definition and for us the most useful. It is most useful because it clears up what we must do in order to have inspiration. It is the one part that we control. What do we control? We create problems for ourself that must be fixed. We get ourselves into predicaments and must find our way out. That is what humans do best. On the surface that sounds like a bad thing, but it is actually extremely helpful.
Inspiration for Composers in 3 Steps
Let’s put this together in a simpler way to be useful to us.
- Start composing as much as you can. This will help us get to step 2.
- Compose yourself into a problem. By problem here, I specifically mean, compose new things, new territories. Find ways to get out of your comfort zone. Wrestle with it. As much as you’d like this to be a joyful experience, it can be very mentally taxing. You have to pay your dues. You have to put in your 10,000 hours.
- Leave it. This is the important part. If you continue to re-listen to what you composed, then it will not have a chance to make it’s way into your subconscious. You have to move on, to other things, and allow it to marinate.
What to Do When Musical Inspiration Occurs
When musical inspiration occurs, it is important to be able to capture it. You must have a system. I am not going to dictate what this system is, because it will probably be different for everyone. Instead I am just going to offer up some ideas.
Ideas for Capturing Musical Inspiration
- Have a voice recorder handy. This probably would seem stupid a few years ago, but now you probably already have one in your phone. If you don’t, just call yourself and leave a message.
- Have a way to write down the music. I do not know of a good musical notation program yet for the iphone. I guess I haven’t really looked into it, but it could be a great tool. If you don’t have a smart phone with a notation program, then just have a small sheet with staff lines on it. You could even just draw them yourself in a small notebook. But you want to do it before you have to use it. Every moment wasted preparing to write down your inspiration, is inspiration wasted.
- Write down what occurred leading up to the inspiration. You will want to remember how you got there, because it could give key insights into why you had the inspiration in the first place.
- Call someone else and explain your inspiration. Call a friend, colleague, your mom. It doesn’t matter, if you are able to put into words your musical inspiration, you will have a much higher chance of remembering it and being able to use it.
- Categorize your musical inspiration. The final idea is really helpful in general with all your ideas. If you categorize it, then you can relate it to other ideas. For instance, if you have an idea on how to end a musical phrase, then you could categorize it as an ending, cadence, segue… basically anything you want. Next time you sit down to write and you get to a cadence, just by mentally attaching that title to your inspiration, you are much more likely to use it.