Right now I am in a place I’ve visited before: that of having no imminent composing work today or tomorrow or the week after, yet with knowledge of a looming behemoth on the horizon. These next months are my “Summer Vacation” of sorts, my last chance to reflect on what I’ve learned about opera and do any last-ditch brainstorming-type work before settling in to produce a lot of music.

While it’s nice to have a break, I’m very conscious that what I choose to study and delve into these months will end up being reflected in the quality of my first operatic attempt. I want to provide myself with a nutritious diet during this time, almost as a mother carrying a child must feel. I’ve previously used the childbirth metaphor on these pages, which as a male is something I’ll be forever ignorant of on some level; yet I still feel that sense of carrying and nourishing a precious entity seems as close to any description of composing as I’ve ever encountered.

I’m not so much cramming as nesting, surrounding myself with such activities and studies that I feel will pave the way for successful “child-rearing”. I want to listen to my favorite operas again to reacquaint myself with those moments that most deeply move me in opera. But most of all I want to be in shape for the “delivery”—I know I can’t affect how I write very much once it comes time to seriously write the thing, so I know this is my last chance to download new mental data that might affect the composing outcome. Does this childbirth analogy resonate with anyone else? I’m especially hoping that composers more acquainted with parenthood might tell me if they’ve ever had similar parental feelings about their works-in-progress. For me at least, a big part of the creative impulse must have something to do with the maternal/parental urge.

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One thought on “Gestation

  1. davidwolfson

    I’m a parent and a composer, and here’s my take on your metaphor:

    Like a piece of music in progress, kids don’t always do what you want them to. As soon as you think you know how to handle them, they change into something else. Recognizing that fact, and allowing it to happen, is for me the most challenging part of both composing and parenting.

    About your “nesting” instinct I have this to say: just as in parenting, what you bring to bear at any moment of your composing is your total life experience to date, not just what you’ve crammed in the last few months. This is as it should be. You can try and create a good “space” for composing (or parenting), but the realities of day-to-day life will always take precedence. (“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” —Lois McMaster Bujold) I’d be more concerned with eating a good breakfast, getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding interruptions, both while cogitating and while actually writing, than I would about surrounding myself with good ideas. If I didn’t have the good ideas I wouldn’t be writing the opera. (I’m not writing an opera myself, you understand—at the moment—this is you talking.)

    David Wolfson


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