Composer Talk

This week, I gave a talk about composing music to the 6th graders at the Julia Morgan School for Girls. A big thank you to Phil Gorman for inviting me to speak! 

Here were some of the take-aways: 

You don’t need to have magical powers to create music. You don’t need expensive instruments or training. You can use your voice or whatever instruments you have on hand. If you don’t know how to read or write sheet music, you can create your own notation methods with a pencil and paper and/or you can make audio recordings of your compositions. 

Start small! Give yourself one or two parameters (i.e. notes or chords or tools) to play with, and stay inside your self-imposed box until you feel ready to branch out. 

Learning how to compose is like learning a new language. Set aside a little bit of time each day to practice your craft. 

Don’t throw anything away if you can help it. I have always had a hard time with this one, but you never know when one of your less-than-perfect compositions will become the seed for a newer, better song that you will love. Hide your half-baked ideas in the bottom drawer of your desk or on an external hard drive if you must - but try not to pitch anything. 

After the talk, I had this thought: 

There are plenty of people out there who think that an overabundance of “bad art made by amateurs” is going distract attention away from “good art made by experts.” I am not one of them. I might argue that there is probably plenty of good art made by amateurs and bad art made by experts…but I am not the art police and binaries are boring. The perceived “quality” of art is completely subjective, and I believe that art is for everybody. Very often, it is a pleasure to make art, and a pleasure to share it – just ask anybody who has watched a two-year old scribble with unabashed delight. Creating art can provide catharsis for a troubled heart, a way to communicate without being encumbered by syntax, a connection to the past, and sometimes a bridge between our hearts and minds that would not otherwise be available to us. 

In closing, try not to label your art (or art made by others) as “good” or “bad.” And do not be afraid to make something new!