I woke up composing a song

Sometimes I wake up too early. It's rare, but it happens. The sun isn't up yet. Sometimes I can't get right back to sleep. So I open the little Chromebook and have a little gander around at what's going on. A little Facebook, a little songwriting forums, a little bit of this and that. I had an email with a brief looking for a gospel tune, I figured, I'll listen to the a la's. Watched a little Jane Austen and when I felt sleepy again, switched it all off, and lay down. I started imagining a gospel song... came up with a title, could kinda 'hear' it in my mind... imagined the hook in different settings, and then once I had the chorus I was imagining the choir coming in under the lead singer with some cool harmonies and the lead kinda doing that embellishment and ad libs, I had this whole chorus going on in my mind. Then I opened my eyes and looked at the clock and realized I'd been snoozing for almost three hours. I'd been composing in my sleep. ~

Did I do anything today? Ummm...

Monday, nearly time to go to bed. I cast my mind back to ask myself what, if anything, did I achieve today. I have to think about it.

Well, I walked. And I have had some difficulty walking but I am slowly getting better and I walked further than I have before. That felt good. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing cold from the sea.

Yesterday, an Easter sale tempted me, and I updated my Tracktion 7 to Waveform 9. I like already. Then I sat and went through 8 intro videos, rather doubtfully at the start, since I've been using Tracktion for years. But the videos were great and each one had some tidbit or other that was of interest.

Today there was another film scoring challenge from a group I belong to, due this coming Sunday. This time I didn't wait, I downloaded it, watched it and sat noodling on the piano for awhile. The idea is to find a motif and then expand it. Although I didn't noodle anything that stood out for me, it was fun to noodle and try things out.

Then I went back and listened to my entry for another composing contest. Funny how when you put these things away for a little while, when you listen to it after a break, you sometimes start to see the potential. Now I have something I like I just need to orchestrate it.

I signed up for a songwriting workshop at the end of the month with a songwriting coach I respect. I sent in a song for review. I'm considering recording it for submission to film/tv opps and it would be good to get her feedback on it.

And, I find myself watching American Idol. A few years ago, I did a blog for a couple of seasons, I'd give my thoughts on each show and performance. I stopped doing it because it was a lot of work and also I didn't like some of the negativity on the show. They made fun of people and embarrassed them. And I felt like they promoted the 'big voice' at the cost of authenticity.

I feel like the show has changed. They are more about telling the story of the singers, and pretty much only show the successful auditions. And you get see how someone really talented chooses the wrong song, or can't find the courage on the day, or has overworked their instrument, and in the end, may not make it. Anyway, I find myself enjoying the show for the storytelling and the ability to watch the singers receive their coaching and feedback.

I've been working on going through stuff, boxes, desks, drawers, etc. Watching a little AI helps the job get done.

Not bad for a sleepy Monday. ~

Still dreaming

Tonight I watched the movie 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.' I wanted to see it because the main character and his day dreaming reminds me of me. I have been and probably always will be a dreamer. Imagination is a wonderful thing. It helped me survive many a bad time. That and music, movies, books, writing, singing... probably eating, too, lol. Somehow the message of the film - gentle in its lesson - got me to thinking about my own struggles.

You see, I love film music and film scores. And I have been told that some of the music I write is not particularly suited for television where it needs to lie under the dialogue and not call attention to itself. Be interesting, move forward, have ear candy, but be.. well, kinda unnoticeably awesome. It's been suggested by a couple gate keepers that my creative take on briefs isn't suitable for the end user in television... but that my style might work better in film. Ha. As if.

Yet, there is something in me that hungers to try writing to picture just for the challenge of it, to try to add to the story with a sonic tapestry.

But, given clips to score, I find myself frustrated with what I am doing. I think I evolved a little the last couple of days, though. Yesterday I was happy with one section I did. I said, that was enough for the day. Today, another section started to take on life. I said, that was enough for the day.

I remind myself of the Hans Zimmer masterclass I took last year. I loved Hans talking about how he gets hired to do a movie, gets into the studio, sits down at the keyboard and says something like, 'I think they better hire a real composer cause I got nothin.'

He talked about his musical diary. That he just writes, every day. He has to, or the fear and doubt will take over. And it was fascinating to hear little snippets of his diary be developed for use in the score for the film. Great inspiration and I really enjoyed the masterclass.

Back to me and allowing myself to write a little, let it sit, come back and write a little more, and trust this process will lead me somewhere.  ~

Orchestrating a day...

"I’m going to change who I am and become a winner." ~ Charlie Brown

A day in the life of a composer: In looking at three projects I should be working on, plus my teaching and other responsibilities, I realized that the calendar in my head is simply not enough. Yes, I have schedules for this and that, but they are jumbled together in my mind. I get frequent spurts of 'omg did I remember whats-it'. How I currently orchestrate my time is simply not good enough.

The calendar in my head doesn't plan for time off. Now, given the determination to be prolificly creative as well as be doggedly producing good quality cues, it might seem funny that my first thought was about 'time off'. Acknowledged.

One of the problems is, I love music. It's my art, my heart, my soul, my breath. The thing that lights me up inside. So when I have 'time off' what am I doing? Probably music. Or writing, as I like to pen stories, poems, lyrics... ah, blogs.

So I created a calendar using googlesheets. Oh, I know there's a google calendar but it doesn't work for me. I want something that looks like an old-fashioned appointment book where I can put 'music' at 1000 am and draw a line to 200 pm. I worked very hard on the calendar, setting it up for the rest of this month and one of the purposes of doing this was to be sure I had at least one day a week without commitments of any kind.

Because without that 'waking up with nothing to do' on a regular basis, I can't find the serenity to let things go and just be for awhile. I know I can find a couple of hours on a work day. But a whole day off is a completely different flavour.

I updated my website, soundcloud, etc, adding new tracks and removing some that felt too old and not as representative of who I am today. As we write, we evolve. Our knowledge and foundation is stronger. What was good before is still good. It's just not at the standard of today. One hopes.

After I finished that, I watched some videos on music theory - chords and major modes used in film composing. Some of it is still difficult to grasp but when I sit down at the piano and play a scale in Phrygian Mode, I start to hear it. Diatonic, eh?

To me this is a lot like grammar. I feel I have a fairly good grasp of syntax and composition in the English language. I know what a verb is, of course, but if you asked me to name off all the titles given to the words and phrases we use, I would be... well I'm ok with conjunctions and prepositions, but when you start talking past participles and stuff, I'd be lost ;)

Modes and scales of different types are like that. I've heard them, played them, and sometimes composed in certain modes, but without a clear idea of what made them different and what they are best suited for.

I also watched videos on what to practice and this is one thing I need to add in - more practice on the piano. Play the cycle of fifths. Now play it in first inversion. Play the scales in different modes. Now play a major triad in different modes and sing the intervals.

I was once told by a jazz teacher to just play the cycle of fifths every day. You might not see what it's teaching you but you obtain clarity over time. I think that is true of all of this stuff. Seems boring and arbitrary and then one day you're tinkering with a chord progression and inversions and something clicks. Like a language you suddenly understand.

Then I wrote up project notes for the three items I have on the task list right now, and began work on a new track, experimenting with textures. It's a work in progress. I will put it away for a few hours, and will come back to see what the muse and the ear wants to add. And then on to mixing, as it sounds muddy and unfocused to me at the moment. https://soundcloud.com/hummingbird-26/barbarity-wip-sketch-mar-11-18/s-TpYva

That's what I did in my 'time off'.

Make Stuff Happen

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. What I do today matters. What I do today will not, in most cases, come to fruition today. I will see the results of today and tomorrow and the day after in my evolution two or three months from now. But if I do not engage today, if I do not change today, if I do not perservere today, I will not evolve past today.

Today I taught students. Today I chatted about filmmaking, scoring to picture, producing cues for television, resources for composers and filmakers, & singing. Today I watched youtube videos on music theory and the music biz. Today being International Women's Day I especially listened to music written & produced by women.

Today I walked by the ocean.

Today I tried for the fourth time to come up with ideas for a film scoring challenge. Am I too dismissive. Am I editing too much. Is it all 'grist for the mill'? Or, am I doing as Hans Zimmer suggested, keeping a 'music diary'...

I don't know, but at least I 'made something happen', on this day.


#2 Creative Hack

What stops you from engaging creatively? For many of us, it’s doubt. We worry we won’t be good enough. We anticipate the reaction at the end of the work, and see ourselves failing. Or we get started and find ourselves expecting perfection from every word, note, brushstroke. Frustration builds as we make mistakes, and we stop. The reasons (and excuses) can be many. We may dream of writing that book, or finishing an album, or taking that trip to Italy, but somehow it never starts, or if it does, it fizzles out. Some people might say, that’s proof our dream didn’t matter as much as we thought.

I disagree. I think we avoid, procrastinate or stop because the dream matters. It sounds strange, I know. Shouldn’t the importance of the dream lead us to take action?

Years ago, after a personal stocktaking, I finally recognized that I had wanted to sing since I was five or six years old, but had let that dream die. I’d sung in choirs in my teens, and even tried having a band after leaving school. But I got involved in work and life, let it go, got that full-time office job that paid decent wages, etc etc. When I had the epiphany, when I decided I needed to find my voice, I asked a friend for the name of his singing teacher.

It took me three months to get up the courage to even call. I went to a meeting, he had me sing a couple of scales, we talked. He asked me what my goal was. I said, “I’m just… I just want to explore what I can do.” And then, as an afterthought, almost under my breath, I added, “If I could sing opera, that would be really cool.”

I went to my first lesson and almost didn’t go back. Not because the session wasn’t good. Not because the teacher wasn’t nice. He clearly had knowledge and was encouraging. I almost didn’t show up for the second lesson because… I didn’t want to find out if my dream couldn’t come true. It would be almost better to keep dreaming.

But I went. And each week, I’d wonder why I was going. I’d wonder, who am I kidding. I’d say, they’re just being nice. I’d say, maybe I’m too old to start this now. I kept going, and I kept doubting. I’d resolve to stop and then, I’d feel my whole body almost slump to the floor. ‘If I’m not here to sing, then what is there,’ the tiny me-voice would answer the shouting ‘you’ll never be good enough’ chorus. So I’d go to the next lesson.

On the bus, on the way to the lesson, I’d feel this heavy sense of reluctance. I’d arrive feeling like I didn’t want to sing, what was the point. My teacher would say, ‘just sit on the couch, we’ll sing a few scales.’ Two hours later, I’d be walking on air as I left. Technical exercises, opera arias, vibrating with sound, watching his face light up when I did it right. For a few minutes or hours, I’d believe it was possible. Then the darkness would close in.

To help defeat the doubts I kept a practice journal. When I practiced, I’d write down the date, and what I did. When the negative voices in my head crowded around, telling me it was pointless, that I didn’t work hard enough, that I’d never make it, I’d open my practice journal and literally say out loud, “Look! I practiced twice a day six days this week. So shut the f- up!”

If I’d seen my doubts as a stop sign, I never would have become a singer again. I never would have found my way into teaching voice to shy singers - something that has brought me so much joy. I never would have met a student who wanted to work on writing songs… and found myself back writing music. I would not have sung in the opera. I would not have music in tv shows.

You see, it really didn’t matter so much how ‘good’ a singer I was. The fact is, when you work on something with awesome mentors, when you practice your craft, you do get better. And the fact that you are working at it makes you stronger. It also opens you to the flow. To the possibilities. To the place where you might say, ‘oh, I’d like to try that.’

The only answer to the doubts: persevere.

See #1 Creative Hack

#1 Creative Hack

Today I found myself watching the Oscars from 1965. How interesting it was to see the ceremony, much less lavish and much more intimate than the one they have today. So many actors and actresses I recall from older films and musicals. My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and The Unsinkable Molly Brown all vying for awards. The most beautiful moment for me was watching Audrey Hepburn present the award for Best Actor, and she was so sincerely thrilled to announce that Rex Harrison had won. She flew into his arms when he got on stage. So wonderful.

It reminded me of how lucky I have been to have the support of so many people as I have made my meandering creative journey towards freeing my voice, writing my perceptions, expressing myself in song and sound. Many of the composers and songwriters I have come to know are extremely generous with their time and knowledge, honestly celebrating the success of others and sympathizing when things are less successful (while offering sage advice on how to make it better). I can truly say that I would not be where I am today without the help of others who willingly listened to my attempts at composition and production, shared their expertise with me, and encouraged me to keep going inspite of the setbacks.

If there's a Creative Hack I can recommend it is to surround yourself with people on the same path. This is one reason I really enjoy participating in things like
FAWM (February is Album Writing Month- http://fawm.org/)
50-90 (50 Songs in 90 Days- http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/)
NaNoWriMo (Ntnl Novel Writing Month- http://nanowrimo.org/)
TAXI Forum (http://forums.taxi.com/)
Just Plain Folks (http://www.jpfolks.com/forum/ubbthreads.php)
and others.

Why not look around today and see if there's a Facebook group, forum, message group or online community you can join? You might be glad you did.