composition prompts

Currently: November 2017

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I always like to take time during holiday breaks to slow down and reflect on what’s been going on lately. Here’s what I’m up to this week:

  • Relaxing for a few days with very little on the agenda beyond eating and having a game night with friends.

  • Enjoying two lovely Thanksgiving meals with family.

  • Feeling grateful for so many things.

  • Still walking daily. I’ve gotten so attached to my daily walk for its effect on my mental health and meditative power to affect my mindset that I’m committed to bundling up even when windchills here in Minnesota are reaching single digits (😬)

  • Drawing a lot with my new markers😍

  • Releasing expectations on my time (for once!)

  • Listening to: NPR Music Turns 10 yearly recap episodes of All Songs Considered, Chris Thile + Brad Mehldau (I LOVE their cover of Elliott Smith's Independence Day), Tulio Araujo, Eunbi Kim playing music of Fred Hersch, St. Vincent (Strange Mercy is still my favorite), Maria Rita, and Sharon Jones’ new posthumously released album (RIP!)

  • Pondering the question "What Makes A Great Album Last?" (also inspired by NPR Music). I love how Robin Hilton expresses it in this episode: “I think for a record to truly stand the test of time, it's got to find a way to weave itself into your DNA.” Those albums that I had strong emotions about, related to formative times in my life, are definitely imprinted, especially albums either from the late 90s/early 00s or that I discovered then: Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen, Elliott Smith's XO and Figure 8, Radiohead's OK Computer, Joni Mitchell's Blue and Court and Spark, and basically all of Stevie Wonder's albums from the 70s, especially Innervisions. (This topic could be a whole post!)

  • Reading: Grit by Angela Duckworth, and just finished The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

  • Catching up on The Good Place Season 2.

  • Roasting all of the vegetables (squash, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower!)

  • Rehearsing for this concert of pieces for trombone by women composers with my friend Lauren Husting.

  • Experimenting with breathwork

  • Pondering my plans for 2018 - I'm 90% sure that my word for the year is going to be CONNECT.

  • Looking forward to getting out of town to someplace slightly warmer in a couple weeks - I’m going to North Carolina for a concert with James Newcomb.

  • Getting ready to finish up my set of composition prompts next week and brainstorming about what form they’ll evolve into next. To stay informed about this resource when I finish it, sign up below!

I’m wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving (unless you’re not in the U.S., then happy Thursday!) - if you’re reading this, I’m grateful for you!

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100 More Days of Writing Music: What I'm Noticing So Far

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I recently completed Day 25 of my 2nd 100 Day composing project this year: 100 More Days of Writing Music. I’m writing 8 measures of music a day, and posting it on Instagram under the same hashtag as the first time around: #100daysofwritingmusic. You can read about my experience with the 100 Day Project earlier this year here: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4, and listen to recordings of my compositions on SoundCloud below! 

How is this time the same/different from the first 100 days?

  • I’m finding the same level of difficulty in showing up to write - it’s a daily obligation, but one that I enjoy, and the length (8 measures) is very doable. Consistency is queen!

  • I tend to be either continuing the same piece day after day until it’s finished, or the total opposite, often bouncing over to something new after writing one day’s snippet. I’m generally deciding to work on whatever feels right that day, a sense that I developed during the first 100 Days, and continue to evolve into now.

  • Sometimes working in groups of 8 measures is limiting - it tends to make me group phrases this way (which is common), but not always. There’s nothing stopping me from writing more each day, but I often don’t have much extra time and stop at 8.

  • This approach can make it hard to do big picture planning. I usually feel the need to write continuously, so that I have 8 measures to show, but otherwise I might not write a piece exactly in order, or might lay out repeated sections roughly where they will eventually go. This feels like cheating in terms of the daily challenge because, well, I already wrote those same 8 measures, but that is actually what’s going into the piece. Thinking about this project as idea generation is more helpful, then I can edit later on, which is always easier once you get some distance from the time of creation.

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What else have I learned/noticed so far?

  • It’s more fun when I make and share videos, (either on Instagram Stories, regular Instagram posts, or on YouTube), for me, and probably for everyone else. I haven’t been doing that as much because my piano is horrifically out of tune and I’m waiting for the weather to change more drastically before tuning it, but I should just do some IG Stories anyway (you can follow me here).

  • I’m really excited to be keeping up this habit, sharing what I’m writing, and strengthening my skills and identity as a composer, but doing it only online is starting to feel kind of insular, as is constantly writing only for piano. I’m ready to start writing for other instruments and having other people play my music (a little bit daunting, but I feel excited about it!) I’m also wanting to work on finding ways to expose my music to a wider audience, since most people who have been following along with my 100 Day projects have been people that I already know.

I’m working on coming up with a set of composing prompts for myself, to stretch out a little, and you can join me, too! (More about that soon.)

  • Ideas beget ideas and inspiration begets inspiration - this is the reason to show up every day to write, but also to seek out new music by other composers. I played a concert of local (MN) composer Chris Granias’ music on October 8, and was very inspired by the amount that he’s written, and how themes interweave through different works, etc. It made me want to come home and write all night (sadly I did not, I was too tired - #reallife).

  • The first 100 Days made me feel less precious about the creative process, since I was writing something new every single day, but I’m starting to take that attitude further through the process to performing, as well. It was super helpful to test-drive a new tune during my solo gig at Shipwrecked Studio over the weekend, although I’m not sure it’s 100% finished. It was easier for me to view it as “I’m trying this out”, rather than “This must be a finished work that is GREAT.”

Now that I’ve accumulated so much work, it’s time to do something with it!

I plan on starting to record the pieces from 100 More Days in the next couple weeks (which you can find in the same playlist on SoundCloud as posted above. I am also working on notating and publishing some of my works - look for that on my website soon!