Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Creative Procrastination

This could also be called the art of prioritization, because some things are put off to their detriment in the short term, but to their advantage - and to overall advantage - in the long term.

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Back in the mid to late 80's when I decided I didn't want to be involved with bands and ensembles anymore, I started composing an entire repetoire for solo guitar for myself. I really didn't have time to efficiently do anything other than compose and memorize the music I was writing, so the resulting set was... ah... a bit on the one-dimensional side, and my marketability as a performer suffered (a lot) as a result. But like the Cylons, I had a plan (Though it seems that the Cylons have changed their plan).

I spent almost all of every year from 1987 to 1996 just composing and learning my own stuff (And studying in a masters and a doctoral program). I ended up with about thirty-five guitar pieces and several chamber works out of this decade of work. Eventually though, what began as a quiet, nagging internal voice that said I should be learning some pieces by other composers became a screaming need to allow myself to be influenced in other directions through a variety of music that was very different from my own.

Even through additional complexities which life threw at me, I began to compile a list of guitar solos that I wanted to learn. The criteria were simple: I had to like them well enough to go through the trouble of learning them, I had to want to be influenced by them compositionally, and it would be a plus if they had a few technical challenges involved that would improve my playing ability. The resulting list had everything from J.S. Bach to Eddie Van Halen on it, and over the course of the next several years, I did almost zero composing for the guitar (Several other things though) while I learned that stuff.

Well, I have never gotten through that list, but I have made a pretty serious dent in it. Now however, I have written several new guitar pieces over the past twelve months which require my attention: Two preludes, a four movement guitar sonata, and now the Axial Fugue (Not a bad year's worth of work). I have only learned two of those pieces so far, so it's time to put the list aside, quit composing for a while, and learn the rest of them.

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My strategy for learning new pieces came from my hate of the actual process. I get incredibly frustrated working on new pieces because while I love composing them, I really hate working out the fingerings and going through the memorization process. It's just no fun at all from my point of view, and if it weren't for the reward of being able to perform the piece at the end of the process, I wouldn't bother with it. Seriously.

What I do to blunt the effect this process has on me is that I work on two or more pieces simultaneously. That way, I don't get bored as easily, and when I do, I can work on something else for a while and still be in the process of getting the overall task completed.

To start off with, I have two old compositions I want to re-learn, and I want to learn the Fugue in A Minor from Sonata Zero. The older pieces have all of the fingerings in the scores already - and I've performed them in the past - so they will be pretty easy to pick up, so the fugue is the only one of the pieces which will be bitchy.

One of the nice things about writing solo guitar music on twin staves is that the fingering indicators go into the score completely and the result is not overly cluttered. For me it's actually easier to read this way (But then, I've been writing my guitar music on twin staves for almost twenty years now). The piece is only four pages in total, so it ought to only take about a week to get it finished.




Once the fingering indicators are all in the score, I usually have the piece memorized: Just the process of adding the fingerings helps me memorize the piece (Though it may take weeks, months, or even years to get the piece performable, depending on the level of difficulty: The Axial fugue will take over a year, this just a couple of months).

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I hated the BSG season finale.

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My fingers get tangled up just like that working on fingerings.

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