Have you ever noticed that the word “composition” has “position” in it? It may be a coincidence, but recently, I found out that position is more than a part of the word—it’s a part of the process that can make all the difference.
Over the last few months, I’ve been having a dry spell in my composing. Even though I probably composed my usual amount of music last semester, I was beginning to get to a point where composing was just another thing on my homework to-do list. There was no enjoyment—just dread. It all came to a head last week, when I realized how miserable I was when I composed, and I started to wonder if I had lost the abilities and passion I’d had for composition before my album release.
This semester, my composition professor has been allowing me to focus purely on piano composition. What more could I ask for? But even so, whenever I’d been practicing piano, I had repeatedly rationalized why I “didn’t have time to compose” right then. Last week, not surprisingly, I had managed to put off composing until the day before my lesson.
That afternoon, as is my habit, I headed to the music building to practice piano. Unfortunately, I discovered that every single room was taken; there was no piano to play anywhere, but I was determined to practice.
I searched all over campus before I found an unoccupied piano tucked in an obscure room in the business building—a beat-up old upright. I didn’t expect much, but when I played the first few notes, I was shocked. It wasn’t the piano—it was the room. The acoustics were amazing; I heard the reverb that I always try to imperfectly replicate in the studio.
That night, I snuck back into that room and made myself compose. Although the first few minutes went by slowly, something began to change—I became free again. Shockingly, I found myself enjoying the composing process.
You see, whenever I composed in the designated “piano practice rooms,” I never felt safe or free. Even though I knew otherwise, I was always sure someone was standing outside the door listening and judging what I was writing. And then there were the blaring trumpets and screeching flutes emanating from nearby practice rooms. But when I moved to a different place—a part of campus where other musicians don’t go—all of this changed.
I’ve realized how important space is in composing. There has to be room for the music to breathe—to let the listener contemplate the music and take it in. Not only this, but as the composer, I need to have quiet around me to be able to “hear” this silence.
I don’t think there’s one “right way” to compose; everyone has different methods. But next time you’re stuck on a piece, just remember—there’s “position” in composition.