Writing books tends to drive musicians bonkers, particularly towards the end of the process when we’re fussing with minutia, reviewing proofs, cleaning up the final punchlist of details, and awaiting the final endlessly long march to the printer. Authors get crabby. There are two primary reasons why, in my opinion:
1. Books are persistent artifacts of an author’s best work and best thinking, and so getting books exactly right is intertwined with perceptions of self worth. At the end of the project, we feel stuck with its limitations, and are running out of time to make it the perfect, most holistic statement of who we are.
2. Musicians need to create actual music. Writing books about music is not the same as making music, and towards the end of the process, we get antsy because it’s been such an incredibly laborious distraction from what we need to be our primary life focus: making music.
(I won’t offer a third reason: that they are getting fed up with me torturing them…. That couldn’t be the case, could it?!)
An antidote to the first one, about identity, is to plan to write a series of books in your life that will collectively articulate a part of your persona, but more importantly to realize that no book could ever possibly do a soul justice. Books just don’t have that capability.
An antidote to the third one, if it exists (and I’m sure it does not), is to know that I will leave you alone very soon.
The middle one is what I really want to discuss. This past weekend, I took my boys to visit Sue (Gedutis) Lindsay and her family. Sue is a friend, musician, and fellow editor of Berklee Media projects. Here are Annie Lindsay and Forrest Feist munching on French fries, before we went to Plimoth Plantation.
We were catching up, and I was complaining about being generally crabby, and I mentioned feeling a bit far from music these days, when I seem to spend all my time talking and writing about music, rather than actually creating the real thing.
She offered a bit of wisdom that I feel is important to pass on. Cynical Sue said (and I paraphrase), “Musicians are special people, and we need to be creating music all the time, to feel normal.” She discussed her own journey through various distractions that were almost, but not quite, music, including writing books, research, teaching, and so forth. It’s not that these aren’t worthy, fun, and even necessary undertakings. We must call them “pseudo-musical activities,” though, and doing the real thing is where it’s really at. We must carve out time to create real music, for sanity’s sake, and be ferociously protective of this time.
So, I’m looking at life, and counting directions. I have my family (including two little boys), an old/maintenance-needing house, endless yard work, I serve on three town boards (chairing one), there’s my full-time gig at Berklee Press, part-time teaching Finale online, a variety of neglected hobbies, a few assorted other obligations, plus protecting my flock of chickens/ducks/geese from that hungry fox….. Quite a lot happening here, which all conspire to create distance from that spiritual life engine called music, which is the primary force that can keep me relatively sane and whole, but which is now at arm’s length. And I feel it poignantly this November, as days grow short and the world grows cold.
Prioritization is increasingly a necessary life’s skill for me, and I would venture, for anyone, as life developments bring increasing directions without offering us more hours in the day.
Arthur Cunningham, my first composition teacher and life mentor, once said to me, “I promise you that if you write every day, you will improve.”
So, here’s my thought/recommendation:
Create music every day.
Even if it’s for five minutes, you need to touch that fire, no how busy you are, and no matter how deeply your daily life is embroiled into pseudo-musical or non-musical activities. An hour would be great, but five minutes is better than nothing. Recognize that pseudo-musical activities (writing, teaching, studying, copying parts….) are not the same as making music, even though they might be delightful experiences in their own right. We need to be constantly warmed by that real core energy of musical spirit.
Commercial success and even inter-human communication are secondary to being warmed by the fire of creativity. Consider it a life imperative to touch the real thing. See progress over weeks, months, and years, not over the course of a few minutes.
If this rings true to you, please stop surfing the ’net, and create music for five minutes RIGHT NOW. Close your door, then play your guitar, beat your drum, improvise, scat sing, write a lyric—whatever the real-deal-essence-of-what-music-is-all-about-closest-to-center activity is for you. Then schedule a time when you will do it again tomorrow, and repeat. Just five minutes.
Let me know how it goes.