Preparing to write a new piece

Previously I wrote about getting back into writing choral music. The piece I was working on is now wrapped up and delivered, so now it’s time for me to start thinking about my second commission of the year. I was pretty excited to receive this one. I like the choir I’m writing for, I think the text I’m setting is cool, and there will be ample opportunity to get creative with it and try some new things.

I went in this morning to start working, but I hadn’t slept great the night before, and I got nothing done. After a few minutes in front of the piano, it was very clear to me that I simply wasn’t ready to write the piece yet. For one, my mindset at the time wasn’t right, but I realized I was missing a more important piece of the puzzle, without which I wouldn’t be making progress whether I felt good or not.

Photo credit: Anton Leddin

To put it simply, I hadn’t spent any time preparing myself to write the piece. With my previous piece, one of the things that set me up for success the first time I went in to write was that I had already been thinking about the piece for a while. I had spent the preceding weeks mostly dreading it and making false starts on it, but within that time I also was forming the broad notions of how I would approach the piece. For example, I knew it was going to be mostly homophonic, I knew some of the harmonic gestures I wanted to use, I knew a few places where I wanted to repeat material. This meant that I had some tangible starting points to use when I first sat down to write.

For this new piece, I’ve thought a little bit about these kinds of things here & there, but not much recently. I think I need to take some time doing this big-picture prep work before I can expect to sit at the piano and have any success.

So to help me establish that mindset and get excited to write the piece again, here’s a little brainstorming for it. The text will be in two different sections, each in a different language. I know I want to have a noticeable mood shift between these two sections, with the first section more open and light, and the second darker & more mysterious. I might also vary the texture between the two parts, maybe with polyphony in the first section, and denser homophonic chords in the second.

Between both sections, I want there to be sort of a shared level of sobriety that serves as a continuity between them. Maybe I’ll also try to use some of the same melodic material in both sections, but at different speeds, in different voice parts, or transposed modally. Both sections of text end with the same word, so I will try to draw some sort of parallel between them there.

When you start on a creative project, do you find prep work is a necessary first step for getting in the zone? How do you prepare for a creative project? Do you sometimes forget useful parts of your process between projects? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​