Sometimes, I’m absolutely astonished by the amount of stuff I can accumulate. My home can function as an entry-only system. Empty boxes? Into the basement. Old clothes? Into the basement. Drafts of new pieces? Concert programs? Pictures? String? Into the basement with the lot of you. Soon the basement floods with unidentified storage units that lie untouched and inaccessible. The clutter seeps upward, invading the living and working spaces as well.

The difficulty in paring old objects lies in determining which to preserve and which to jettison. One can find great comfort in being able to access dog-eared copies of beloved books in order to refer to favorite passages, but only if there are few enough books to be able to find the individual title sought on a moment’s whim. Souvenirs from one’s childhood can be priceless but also can be lost in a miasma of similar bibelots. But how do we decide the proper number that allows us to hold onto our past? Some of us ruthlessly abandon the detritus of our childhood while others cling to our blankets and achievement stickers and fingerpainted masterpieces. Those who follow the former approach can diminish their sense of personal history and even trash priceless antiques while the latter hoarders can become overwhelmed by the mass of their trinkets.

As artists, we have two additional considerations. First, we must hold onto enough of our half-formed ideas and historical thoughts in order to maintain our sense of personal place and in order to move from one project to the next. Second, our personal archives might be of interest to people other than ourselves.

This latter possibility probably seems quite silly to most of us. It was first brought to my attention by the archivist at the Peabody Institute library, who believes that all creatives should preserve their working papers and should keep them organized for posterity. When she asked me to follow this advice, I laughed at this notion, and I continue to wonder why people would care about the genesis of the music that fails to interest them in its complete form. Additionally, if we preserve our abandoned sketches, we run the risk of having works that we found inadequate brought before the public and considered part of our main output, a phenomenon well-discussed recently on NewMusicBox by Carson Cooman.

It’s the former idea to which I find myself continually returning. Possibilities that we entertained and set aside can prove fruitful upon returning to them with greater skill, or can warn us against walking down the same road that always led us to an arid cliff. The music and art that we knew and loved well in our formative years can speak to us more strongly than those that we encounter as adults.

At the moment, I’m happily hacking away at the piles of clutter. Huge stacks will soon find their way to various donation sites and for a time I’ll revel in my new-found ability to locate the important objects that remain. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make this spring cleaning an annual tradition and will hold onto only that clutter that helps drive the creation of new music.

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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