Postpartum Blues

Postpartum Blues

Every time I finish a composition I can’t help but feel a little bit let down, no matter how the piece itself turned out. I’m just putting the finishing bars on a new quartet, and I’m definitely feeling a little wistful—not a cry-my-ass-off, someone died set of emotions, but perhaps something more closely akin to the sudden emptiness and lack of obvious purpose that sometimes follows childbirth.

As far as my own maternal instincts go, spending nine months composing a string quartet taps into all of them. Beginning with the mysterious moment that the piece was first “conceived,” through all the twists and turns and parental investment that nurtured the little things along its way, until finally the moment when it is more or less ready to stand on its own, as blueprint to a performance in which I may or may not have any further personal involvement.

That’s one of my goals, of course: to create materials that will be sufficient in communicating my intentions to performers whether or not I am able to be a part of the rehearsal. In that case, what’s the cause of all my recent sniffling at cat food commercials? What’s to sniffle at when one ought to be giving out cigars and reveling in the big news?

Maybe because over time I’ve come to value the act of composing itself to the point where I am comparatively uninterested in the finished product; I may be eager to hear it performed, or interested in how it’s received, but as far composing is concerned my relationship with the material has passed. Given all the great memories that are created over months of exploring the same material, I really feel like there is someone missing from my life who I’d become very familiar with, someone who interacted with me and pushed me to a new place in life. Now it’s time for that newborn composition to begin a whole new life in the hands of the performers, and if I’ve done my job right they might feel a little bit like how I’ve been feeling when they retire it for the season.

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2 thoughts on “Postpartum Blues

  1. scottleee

    I have the opposite experience most of the time when I finish a piece. I think the most exciting part of the process is actually working the composition out with performers. Composition is a very abstract process, and no doubt I take a lot of pleasure in it, but to actually hear live musicians run through it and to make changes and edits with them is what it’s all about for me. After it’s performed I guess I get a similar sort of feeling, but that subsides quickly as I’m usually already in the middle of another project.

    Scott Lee

  2. rskendrick

    Dan, I enjoyed your post. It’s interesting how different our ‘postpartum’ experiences are. I usually am finishing a work late at night after several late night sessions, where I’ve gone into work the next day at 8:30. So I’m just plain exhausted and relieved to have the work behind me. I feel I’ve worked so hard, that at that point, I’m almost indifferent and numb to the whole feeling of getting the piece done. I often think, man, I should be feeling on top of the world. Things ramp up again though when I’m about to hear the performance or work with the performers.

    Ralph Kendrick


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