What Happened When I Spent 2 Weeks at a Composers’ Retreat…

Two weeks ago, a wave of apprehension came over me as I packed my bags to head to the Composers’ Retreat of the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival.  I shouldn’t have been nervous, because I’d had a great experience when I participated in the same program three years ago.  But this time, I felt like everything was at stake.

I feared that if the next two weeks in those beautiful mountains, immersed in concerts, workshops, and nature, didn’t break me out of the artistic burnout I’d been in since last fall, then nothing would.

What if I went up to Wintergreen and realized my problem all along was that I simply didn’t want to be a composer anymore?

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I struggled with artistic burnout off and on throughout my undergraduate years in music school.  I certainly had plenty of productive periods when I wrote a lot and then won some “shiny things” for my work.  But for one complicated reason or another, I also went through periods when I wasn’t sure which I hated more: composing itself or the fact that I’d become so unproductive.  I found myself between a rock and a hard place.

The last year has been particularly bad from this standpoint, but so was the year before my first time at Wintergreen.  I hoped that the festival would be as much of a remedy as it was in 2015.

But was that possible, given how much has changed since then?

Back in 2015, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.  Sure, I’d read the program description on the website, I’d looked up the composition faculty, and I’d finished a new string quartet that I knew would premiere there.  But it was my first festival, and I had no clue that it would explode my whole world…

Let’s just say that it’s largely thanks to my first time at Wintergreen that I decided to shift my focus from engineering to composing.  I was exposed to a new realm of possibilities, both musically and career-wise.  I rediscovered the joy in composing while in the midst of such magnificent scenery.  And it was at Wintergreen that I met my mentors.

IMG_9184.jpgAlthough it’s impossible to repeat the full magic of a first festival experience and the resulting shift of an entire career trajectory, this year on the mountain was indeed transformative, too…

With three more years of experience under my belt, in some ways, I gleaned even more from the seminars taught by the artist faculty this time.  I studied the scores of the great works that were performed, and I felt inspired to keep studying and writing so that I could compose something that good someday.

And then I found myself going to concerts, hearing a particular technique or sound, and thinking about how fun it would be to use that in my own piece.  I laughed with and learned from the other composition fellows and Academy students there, making me remember the wonderful ways that music can connect people.

And of course I got the rush of another premiere—a score for a silent Buster Keaton film called The Boat.

How could I be having these thoughts and feelings about composing if I truly didn’t want to be a composer anymore?

So I realized that despite how unproductive I was for the last few months, I’m still who I’ve hoped I’ve been all along: a composer.  Wintergreen has renewed my passion and helped me believe that everything will work out in the end.

Unlike 2015, not much about my plans for the future has changed as a result of the festival.  I’m still moving to Chicago in a couple of weeks, and I’m still pursuing a career as a composer and producer like I’ve been doing for years—it’s just that now I’m even more convinced I’m heading in the right direction, I’m feeling inspired, and I’m happily composing again.

However, there’s one small decision that came out of my time up there: I’m going to actually turn this into a consistent blog again––a post every other week for now.  I’ll be writing about the creative process, life as a young composer in Chicago, engineering and Logic tips, and whatever else seems relevant and useful.

So readers, welcome to Shelby Lock 2.0.  I hope you’ll join me for this new journey…

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