One of my absolute favorite parts of most traditional Thanksgiving dinners is “leftovers”—specifically, the leftover food that could be reheated and reassembled into another Thanksgiving-ish meal or two, but that in practice become a grazing source frequented by various members of the household, who after the huge communal effort of Thanksgiving dinner tend to forage for their cold turkey sandwiches independently.

Because it’s one of the rare times of the year where there’s an excess of extremely delicious, already-prepared food sitting in the refrigerator, there’s ample room for finding creative ways to alter and recombine the leftovers, and hardly any need for further painstaking cooking operations. Another part of the fun is the joy of being able to prepare a casual snack with lavish ingredients; when else would I ever be eating a home-roasted turkey sandwich?

Having just completed a large musical project, my compositional life is littered with musical leftovers as well—bits of rejected material culled from the last several months of work, perhaps a full ten minutes of sketches. These were all ideas that didn’t feel right in my last project, but ones that avoided the wastebasket because they felt like they might be right in another one. And like the Thanksgiving leftovers I spent two paragraphs waxing over, my musical leftovers are definitely prime “ingredients”—the sketches are much more fleshed out than the kind of ideas I come up with when I’m just beginning a piece, so I’m itching to find them a suitable home in a future piece.

That’s the hard part—my musical leftovers were previously rejected by me based on a value judgment, unlike the delicious morsels of Thanksgiving dinner that became leftovers due merely to happenstance and the sadly finite capacity of my stomach. When I was younger, I might have taken one of these scraps and made it into a piece right away; now I have a schedule to contend with, and the issue is more about waiting for the right opportunity to come along as a vessel for that idea.

Sometimes it’s a long wait; in fact, the earliest musical “leftover” in my collection dates from 2001. I keep thinking of abandoning it as the right piece just hasn’t presented itself yet, but then again one of the few ways that musical leftovers might be superior to their edible counterparts is their significantly longer shelf life. There’s no rush to consume these leftovers, so for the time being I don’t mind carrying them around—who knows what future feasts of music they might inspire?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

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