Inspiration for Composition

Inspiration for Composition

Sally Whitwell
Sydney, Australia

Inspiration for Composition

Question:

Hi Sally! What kind of process do you go through when finding inspiration for a new composition? I am trying to come up with ideas for my final comp folio, and I'm stuck. Is there anything you would recommend to get me out of this mental block? Thanks!

Answer:

Inspiration is an extremely personal thing, don't you think? What works for one doesn't necessarily work for all so I'm just going to tell you about what works for me. 

1. Repetitive tasks/actions. If it's a nice day and I'm feeling stuck, I go for a walk in my neighbourhood. Let's just say i know the back streets around here really well now. If it's not a nice day, I either vacuum or wash the dishes by hand. There is something about doing an activity that doesn't require any intellectual effort that helps the ideas to just, bubble up, somehow. 

2. Return to my notebooks. I always carry manuscript paper around with me and write down all ideas as they come to me, no matter how small, a three or four note motif, a single bar of rhythm, a line of text, a concept. It's become quite a nice storehouse of ideas for times like you mention.  Basically, I just raid the proverbial cupboard.

3. Hang out with someone who inspires me, not necessarily a musician. Recently, I hung out with a scientist friend who's also a music lover. He's a neuroscientist and we got chatting about happiness and the neurotransmitters in your brain that make you feel good (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins). Suddenly I had a realisation these four chemicals could be the four movements of my massed choir + orchestra commission. The piece flowed out pretty easily after that!

I can't remember the exact quote but Julia Cameron once said something along these lines - Sometimes you shake the apple tree and you get oranges. So what are you going to do with them?