On Friendship and Composing

One of my good friends maintains that a musician’s relationship to their art is very much like any other relationship; it takes time, care and attention, it has its own dynamic and needs nourishment. I agree! Like any other encounter with a friend or lover, every time I write a piece the experience is different.

Sometimes two friends spontaneously meet and have a 20-minute conversation in the grocery store (guilty!). It’s rare anymore that the two decide in that moment to share a coffee, but I have been known to abandon my plans and spend the afternoon noodling around with some unanticipated passages when the Muse appears.

Sometimes a person comes to mind, so you find a moment to pick up the phone in hopes that the time is right for them, too. If so, two hours can pass in an instant and then you feel satisfied that all is right, even if all the world’s problems are not solved. Sometimes you can play ‘phone tag’ with the Muse for some time before you’re able to connect…

Last year I planned a show with dancers and knew which forms they’d be performing well in advance. When I arrived for rehearsal the day before the show, I felt like one of Santa’s elves as I gifted each dancer with a falseta (musical component) for their dance, written just for them.

For me, friendship is an extension of the way I study life – discourse and example help to clarify a view or better understand of an aspect of things. So, too, is my ongoing study of flamenco, which often culminates in a new piece. When I’m intending to write a full piece in a specific palo (flamenco sub-genre), it often starts with a playlist and a road trip or a glass of wine with a flamenco buddy. It might then move to learning some traditional material to play in dance class with my students. Eventually, it has been worked and reworked until something original appears – yet it still references the tradition.

Have you ever had a friend you don’t see for long periods of time but the moment you’re together it’s as if you were never apart? Some compositions have been like that for me. They come together over a period of years, yet they somehow manage to be fully integrated. Others are like love affairs – intense and consuming, and then they’re done.

One of the pieces on Transcendencia was written over a 12-day artist retreat at an ashram (a yogic spiritual centre). I was given a private cabin overlooking the lake with a mandate to finish & perform the piece within the allotted time. I arrived having done all the preparatory work and the Muse delivered with more than enough material to appropriately fit on one recorded track, plus some extra material to accompany a dance.

Like any friendship, I need to uphold my end. If the Muse calls and I don’t pick up, of course nothing will happen and eventually, it will stop calling. On the other hand, if I remain open, available and without expectation or agenda, the relationship is always productive.