What I Learned From My Last Arranging Project, Part 2

Last week I wrote about musical and creative lessons that came from my last arranging project: writing and performing my solo piano arrangements of Samba de Orly, Piano Na Mangueira, and Explode Coração. Read Part 1 here.



  • I’m still motivated by deadlines.

Okay, this one’s not exactly a news flash, but yes, I still am most motivated to make a big push around a month before the concert. By mid-December, I had finished Samba de Orly except for a few details, had plenty of ideas for Piano Na Mangueira, and had a couple ideas for Explode Coração, but didn’t really know how to get started. I wish that I had forced myself earlier to experiment with it more, but oh well, it always turns out somehow!

  • I do indeed need external help to be able to focus.

During the last week of finishing writing, I used the app Self Control to block all social media and distracting websites (because I can’t be trusted not to “just take a little break” that turns into a half hour/hour/longer). Because I was making a final push to finish, I made arranging the one priority activity of my day. I had a few other things to do before starting teaching in the afternoon, but they were together in one block of time, and were not allowed to interrupt me until their scheduled time, and as a result, I felt less stressed than on “normal” workdays.

  • 12 hour workdays are really exhausting, as is not taking any days off for 3 weeks.

Once again, not a news flash, but it’s amazing how the contrast between 12 hour workdays and normal ones feels so freeing. I also had to do a bunch of extra rehearsals, play for a recital, practice a lot of accordion, and write a grant during those 3 weeks - I really thought that I was smarter about scheduling than that, but, apparently not. I think that the worst part of being in constant work mode is having to do more work after I get home from teaching at 8 or 9pm. This is not in line with the intentions I set for my year, but it’s so easy to get swept up in a deadline, and then get behind on everything else. I am still working on resetting myself.

  • Even though I’m an introvert who really likes working alone, I need to balance with playing with other people.

I feel really fulfilled from independent work like arranging and practicing music, but during January, I really felt isolated by working all of the time by myself. I do get to play music with other people - it’s not all-solo-all-the-time - but I want to collaborate more. I feel like I’m a part of many great musical communities here in the Twin Cities, but actually having the time and energy to connect consistently and meaningfully is a different matter - it’s so easy to get lost in work. I’m pondering how to shift this balance for myself in the future. Speaking of balance…

  • Maybe life balance (if there is such a thing) happens at more of a macro level than an everyday level.

For example, I just threw myself into a project and spent almost all of my time on it for weeks, which doesn’t sound healthy or balanced, but now February is a less busy month that gives me a bit more space to decide what to work on, so I’ve been intentionally working less (or trying!), because my energy levels have been low. Although, part of the reason for that was that I mostly threw self-care out the window while in writing mode (bad!), and I know that my mental health suffered as a result, even though I continued to exercise and eat pretty well - I think I need more time off to recover than I have. Even balance within work has its shifts, too. Lately I’ve been shifting my focus to improvisation, with a daily free improv practice (more about this soon), but also practicing Debussy, Vivaldi, jazz, and choro for my trio’s upcoming month of concerts. I keep reminding myself that these shifts are part of the normal flow of things.

  • I may have run into an upper limit problem (term originated from this book).

After my performance, I didn’t feel elated, I felt almost depressed for days. At first, I thought it was just exhaustion from pushing myself up until a deadline, but as I think about it more, I had pushed myself further and put myself out there more during this process, so perhaps the success was bumping up against some upper limit that I had in my mind about how much I can accomplish. The fear that our brains create is a holdover from ancient times of actual survival threats - it’s just trying to keep us safe from being too visible. Because I’m not really in danger of being eaten by a tiger, this fear isn’t something I have to listen to, but it’s still pretty real, and for whatever reason, I didn’t get to feel settled into my performance enough to really feel great about it. Ideally, performing and improvising should feel like a free expression of myself, but I felt kind of closed off on this night. But, that’s fine, it wasn't bad by any means, and one single performance isn’t the be-all, end-all, culmination of all of my work. I’ll perform these again, probably even record them this year, and they’ll continue to evolve - it's all a process and learning experience. 

Here’s the video of my performance on February 3, 2017 at MacPhail Center for Music:

Rebecca Hass

Pianist and composer