On Becoming a Composer

Here's the type of thing I used to think about when my parents took me to the symphony.  I wondered why didn't the basses play the melody and the violins play the bass line.  I was curious how turning the music on its head would sound.  I never considered this "the moment I knew I would become a composer," since I never considered myself a composer until last night even though I've been making up music since I bought a bamboo flute in Cameroon in 1996.

We learned to read words and then to write in our own words.  But in music we learned only to read and not to play our own sounds.  I haven't been able to figure out why.  Where along the line did learning to play music become such a chore?  Why do we burden ourselves with sticking so strictly to a terse and serious course?

A composer was a person who spends a great many years studying every instrument in the symphony. And even though I imagined a composer hunched over paper (something I was very comfortable with), I knew they wrote in a language too tedious for my breed.  I didn't want to study, I wanted to play.

We played diddly bow until the glass broke.

One summer, riding my bike down a curving summer lane, a perfect sentence describing the arching maples gripped me with the need to write it down.  I raced home and made a notebook with a wallpaper cover and wrote the sentence in cursive.  That's the moment I knew I wanted to become a writer.

Or at least, that's the memory that emerged when it occurred to me to try to discover where this urge to write came from.

I did what I envisioned people who are writers do:  I wrote a novel and tried to get it published and then wrote a lot of short stories and tried to get those published and I convinced myself that I was on the right path and pushed myself to keep going even though the more I wrote the tighter the writing wound until it was wound so tight, it burst.

I ask the students to write about visions of their futures starting with a scene from the past.  One tells me she doesn't like the assignment.  Her vision of the future is too pessimistic she says and she's spinning her wheels trying to write about the past.  Forget the scene from the past and write about your pessimistic vision, I suggest.  She says it's too depressing.  Then imagine an optimistic future and write about that.  She says that's too unrealistic.  I suggest she not worry about that.  In that case, she tells me, she might as well just write about how she wants a live on Mars and have a pet unicorn.

Yesterday I told Tad what I used to think about when I went to the symphony with my parents.  And it struck me for the first time that here were the memories that indicated I would become a composer even though I never knew I would become one until the moment it occurred to me to tell the story of how I became one.

1 comment:

  1. Can the stories that we tell remake the past that we have lived? Will my fictional family history remake the lives rendered as literary imaginings? Does hope spring eternal? Does Spring spring eternal? Grandpa John