I’ve been thinking about my writing prosses a lot lately. I’m coming off a long stint of writers’ block. When I have these periods of writers’ block, I start thinking about how I can improve my writing process and I’m in the process of doing this. So, I may ramble some. Please forgive me. I’m going to break this down into two parts. The way that I work on children’s pieces greatly differs from how I work on more mature works.
When I begin working on children’s work the first thing that I think about is the techniques that I want my player to learn and practice. For example, maybe I want my performer to learn about rolling chords (arpeggios). This will be the focus of the piece so the piece that I develop will stem from this idea rather than from the musical themes themselves. Once I have the main technique decided and a couple of themes written using the technique, I begin looking for other techniques that are similar or that will complement the primary technique. This will end up being a secondary theme or a development of the main theme that I can use to help spice up the piece. For the most part my children’s pieces follow standard structures such as 4 bar question and answer phrases, 8 – 16 bar sections, etc. Because of children limited technical abilities pedagogical pieces tend to be highly structured and highly limited in scope. One of the reasons I love writing beginning pieces is because it limits a lot of decision making. This box that pedagogy pieces put you in helps me to be more creative be I have to try to make the piece interesting and still focus on the primary objective of the piece.
Writing more mature works is a different story and seems to be something that I struggle with from time to time. I have discovered if I have a premise or a title to work from that it makes writing much easier. For example, a couple of years ago I wrote my piece Ancient Alchemy. I knew that I wanted the piece to focus around the four elements and because I had that starting point the work seemed to fly by. My first step after getting the thesis, I started writing themes that reflected each of the elements and finding techniques that would help color these ideas. The next step was laying out the ideas that made a logical progression in my mind, followed by connecting these ideas together. The next step for me is where the real heart of composition lies, that’s in editing. At this point I have put together an audio file (usually MIDI) so that I can listen to the piece over and over again. During this editing process I make adjustments to things, change layouts, add dynamics and articulations, and begin to slowly build the piece into something that I like and am happy with. This process takes lots of time an effort. There are times when I hear things that I absolutely hate, but am not sure how to correct it. This is when I go back to the beginning of the process and begin again with just that small little piece of music.
I am always looking for new and more efficient ways to compose, looking for new ideas to improve my writing process. One of the things that I often turn to is articles on writing stories and novels. Surprisingly there are a lot of similarities between writing a book and writing a piece of music. Somethings that I have looked at and/or learned are about structure, form, keeping on track, etc. Even participate in NaNoWriMo, except I work on music instead of a novel. (NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual event that generally happens in November and it is used to help novice writers to complete lengthy projects. It started in 1999 as a challenge to write 50,000 words within a month. It’s a great program. I’ll post a link to the website below.)
This is just a little glimpse into my composing world and what I do. If you have any writing tips, I would love to hear them. I’m always looking for new perspectives and new ways to make my writing process better.
The last few weeks have been dreadfully busy, not to mention that I ended up sick for a few days, which really through my schedule for a loop. Despite all of that though there are few things that I’d like to share with you that are coming up over the horizon for me.
The first thing that I would like to mention is my studio recital. While recitals time is usually a busy time for me, I really enjoy them. I love just getting to sit an listen to my students play and let them just have fun playing pieces that they have worked hard on. Not only does it give them a performance opportunity, it just a fun way to share our music with family and friends. My next recital will be at the end of the school year, in late May or early June. Normally I have a theme that goes a long with my recital, but I think for this third one, it just going to be music we enjoy.
A couple of years ago I met my friend Ruirui. She has been a big champion of my music and I love listening to her play stuff that I have written. Last year, after Ruirui had finished playing my piece Ancient Alchemy, she asked if I would write something bigger. We discussed it for a while and then finally landed on a piano quintet (piano plus string quartet). I have been diligently working on this piece for her, I have had a few setback but and in a good work rhythm now and have a great start on the first movement. The premier of this piece will either this fall or next winter.
So, earlier last year I started working for Deer Creek public schools as the Fine Arts secretary. This job has put me in contact with several wonderful music and theater teachers. It has also given me an opportunity to explore writing symphonic band music again. In the next few weeks, the band director will read one of my pieces I have written previously. The students and the director will be giving me feed back on what they think about the piece and things that I need to work on. Hopefully this will spur me on to write some more pieces for band. I am looking forward to this opportunity and looking forward to what everyone has to say about the piece.
Along with the above upcoming events I am working on getting a couple of my pieces published. One piece will be a set of children’s pieces that I wrote last years. These are a set of little dances that are based on the five finger patterns. The other piece is a set of three short nocturnes. My goal is to get this out and available for purchase by the end of the summer. As a reminder I have two pieces are that are available for purchase if you are interested, 25 Pieces for Little Fingers and Ancient Alchemy.
Advocating for mental health has always been important to me. When I was a practicing music therapist my specialization was in mental health. I think that everyone should spend at least a few months working with a counselor to help them unpack some of their past experiences. So, with that being said I am going to be open about some of my mental health issues.
Over the past few years I have been experiencing depression. This was brought on by the loss of my grandparents (who raised me) and dealing with some trauma that I experienced in college. I have been working with a counselor over the past year and thanks to his help I am coping with it in a much healthier way.
My depression manifests in a couple of different ways, which generally revolve around self-esteem. I have a tendency to be very hard on myself and get stuck in loops of negative thinking. This leads to me getting into bouts of writer’s block, which feeds back into my self-esteem and negative thoughts because I’m unable to produce the work I know I should be able to. Which feeds into the cycle and keeps it going.
Another way that my depression seems to appear is in the form of social anxiety. For those of you who know me this may be hard to believe, because generally I am a very social person. When I get into cycles of negative thoughts, I feel that people don’t want to be around me and I use little things to justify this line of thinking. Then, instead of trying to reach out, I isolate myself and that begins another feedback cycle.
After working with my counselor for a while, I am beginning to learn how to identify when theses cycles start and to learn how to break them. One of the things that I use to help me through these dark periods is meditation. There are several types of meditation exercises that I use to help me through this process, one of which is pairing meditation with positive affirmations and mantras. A harder technique is that I have been working on is actually letting the thoughts appear and then letting them go. This practice is based in Zen and one that I have the most trouble with, but also have been getting better results from.
I hope this sheds some light on my own struggles, and if you are struggling with depression that reading this helps you not feel so alone. This blog has been part of my recovery effort and I’m hoping it will help start a dialog about mental health with those in my life who are interested. For so long our society has pushed the health of our minds aside. After the pandemic there seems to have been an uptick in people searching for mental health professionals. If you feel like you need to talk to someone I encourage you to find a counselor or other mental health specialist to talk to. Sometimes the road to recovery takes a little bit of courage. I have provided some links below for mental health services.
I hate these things… everyone does. Talking about themselves, trying to pretend to be humble but what you really want to do is brag about all the little dumb things that you have ever done. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, brag about myself and not sound humble about it. Now, where to start?
First off, I’m a composer. I love writing music. I love writing weird music. I like writing music that’s easy to listen to. I like experimenting and finding sounds from random objects. But, most of all I just love writing music for beginning musicians and children. I’ve been composing since 2001. I started out composing small simple things that I thought were amazing, and looking back were just … eh. I eventually started taking composition lessons and discovered that I love composing children’s and pedagogical pieces. I love the ridged structure that children’s pieces require. I eventually discovered having that rigid structure is essential to my composition process (we’ll explore that more in a later post). I also like writing more sophisticated pieces. However, they don’t come as easy for me and I really struggle with trying to make them sound the way I want.
I have studied composition with several people, Jim Vernon at Oklahoma Baptist University, Dennis Widen at Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Edward Knight from Oklahoma City University. Each of these professors taught me valuable lessons, but Dr. Knight taught me that my musical voice is important and that there are people out there that are interested in what I have to say. It’s taken me quite a while to get there and I understand now that not everyone is going to like my music, but there are people out there who are going to love what I say musically.
The second thing that I like to brag about is that I am a pianist. I am classically trained and have studied piano since I was 12ish… it’s kind of fuzzy, but somewhere around there. I love playing the piano. I love its range, the many colors that it can produce, and the wide range of literature available to explore. I went to college at Oklahoma Baptist University and was able to study piano with Sandra Meyer. She helped me to develop my technical skill and helped me to explore a wide range of literature that was fun and exciting. After graduating from OBU I went to Southwestern Oklahoma State University where I got my degree in music therapy. There I studied with two piano teachers, ChihChen Sophia Lee and James Breckenridge. Both of these wonderful people helped me to grow and develop into the pianist I am today. Dr. Lee helped to develop my technical skill and Dr. Breckenridge helped me to develop my artistry and musical curiosity. I can’t thank them enough for their support and guidance.
Last thing I’m going to brag about, I promise. I have opened my own music studio where I teach piano, composition, and music theory. It is by far one of my most gratifying accomplishments and source of frustrations. By opening my own business, I have learned a lot over the past few years. I have learned a lot about business, self-reliance, asking for help, and music. Though, from time to time, there are things that frustrate me and times that I don’t want to teach, I keep coming back because I love it and my students. I love watching them grow into musicians and exploring music. I love that moment when something clicks with a student and you can see a visible change in their face.
What should you expect out of this blog? Well mostly, I’m going to be talking about myself and my career as a composer and musician. I will throw in other things, present music I love, review performances I’ve been to, etc. If you have something that you are interested in me talking about, please feel free to leave me a comment and I will look at it. Most of all, I am looking forward to getting to know you and exploring music with all of you more. Feel free to reach out and contact me. I want to make this as interactive as I can. Until next time!