Thoughts, wishes and peculiarities

The Chord

I’ve always been a big believer in changing one’s compositional environment. Composers spend so much of their time in isolation that they tend to become hyperaware of whatever surrounds them, whether that awareness manifests itself as a conscious acknowledgment or a more subtle tint on one’s work. Thus, one’s environment should be a place where one can focus on writing, a comfortable place. However, there’s a fine line between comfort that promotes directed work and comfort that promotes stagnation and lack of innovation. For me, it’s a line I’m always acutely aware of.

I’ve spent the last three days in Paris on my way to the highSCORE Festival in Pavia, Italy. I’ve had some amazing experiences, but one in particular stands out. On Friday night, I had dinner with a talented and radiant friend of mine, after which we went to the rooftop of Montparnasse (a skyscraper with an amazing view of the city) and watched the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. As the last rays gave way to an elegant twilight, I heard Ravel in my head; specifically, I heard “Alborada del Gracioso.” No, to be completely precise, I heard a single chord from Alborada del Gracioso. About two minutes into the piece, the upbeat, elegant and slightly frenetic music all but stops. A single serpentine melody emerges and as it fades, ethereal chords take its place. The first of these chords is a particularly airy, fragile chord, a D Major Seventh. It’s light, it’s whimsical and yet, it’s full of depth and grace. And it makes me wonder what Ravel was thinking of when he wrote it, and where he was. Standing on the roof, watching an almost surreally beautiful scene, I suddenly understood on a very instinctual level, the sort that is difficult to articulate but that forms an instant, undeniable connection in one’s brain - not unlike love, I suppose. And it reminded me of an important lesson: our essences do not cease to exist at the boundaries of our physical beings; no, they permeate and weave through the fabric around us, our person extends far beyond our body.

Thus, to harness that creativity, we must look outside ourselves, particularly in a profession where it is so easy to become entirely internalized, lost in one’s own thoughts. The consequence of this, of course, is that we must nurture the part of ourselves that is not bound by the periphery of our bodies just as much that which is. It longs for stimulation and nourishment like our brains long for oxygen and food. Experiences beyond that which we know are the oxygen of creativity. I’m tremendously grateful to have taken this trip, particularly just before starting two weeks of intensive study. It’s worth noting that coincidentally, one of my favorite songs, “I’m Around,” by John Frusciante, just graced my headphones:

“Be careful of what you are.
What you see is just a small part.
You must look for yourself in others.
And all the places that you go, you see that they are part of you.”

And now, I’m soaring high over France to Munich and eventually to Milan as melodies and harmonies I’ve never before heard dance in my head. Maybe a change of environment was just what I needed.


Bastille Day Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower
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