Of getting new toys and preserving the magic

I recently read an interview with composer and SCOREcastOnline founder Deane Ogden, where he said something very important to me: „You aren’t in the music business, you’re in the magic business.“. He says that this is what he tells his students in lectures. Besides the fact that I would wish for more teachers like him, I have the impression that some of us (us meaning creative people, or rather people in the ceative industry, since sometimes we are not creative at all) have either never heard or this or have forgotten a long time ago. Sadly, I am not speaking of people who have been in the trade for a long time, but mostly of music students and other young people I see daily. Reading Odgen’s interview made me think long and hard, which is why I write this post - something personal this time :)

When you are working in any creative field, the reason why you are doing this usually is because you feel the need to do so. If we are brutally honest, we have to admit that there are millions of other jobs out there which earn a lot more money with a lot less work. So why do we do it? It is a vocation; I personally like to write stuff. People I show stuff to tend to like it, too, so that encourages me to write more stuff. Simple as that. Add to this the love of cinema and big sweeping orchestras and, voilá, there you’ve got your thing to do.

Most composers, designers and other creative people actually creating original works seem to think this way. Some „reproducing artists“, as I call them, do the same. Others do not. I suspect they never did. You ask: What are „reproducing artists“? No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with certain activities you may think of now. I mean performers. Violinists, pianists, and the likes. They - rightfully so - pride themselves in being able to play anything, anytime in perfection. Usually they do, which I think is great. But I have met so many performers whose only goal in life is to exactly reproduce the technically most difficult pieces. They do not in the slightest care for the piece itself. They only want to play the „Flight of the Bumblebee“ one BMP faster than the currently fastest player. They reproduce. For a living. These people (I see them at university every day) enter their rehearsal chamber at 8:30 AM and will not emerge from it for hours. When they finally do (the need to feed, or the need to sleep drive them out), there is not even the tiniest glimpse of fulfillment on their faces. No pride left. Nothing. Tomorrow will be the next practice session, and again they will only look for the technically most challenging pieces, just so they can say „I have played this“. Why is this? When did their love for music change into „its just a job“? Reproduce, and off to the next concert. The results are as can be expected: Technically perfect, not a single mistake even on the most fiendishly difficult of pieces. But there is no joy in their performance. Its reproducing little printed dots. I have seen this with so many performers, mostly in the classical field. Most popular musicians, who probably practice pretty hard, too, have preserved the joy of music. When you see them perform, you can clearly see that this is what they love to do. There is nothing in the world the would rather do now! This is the „magic“. It seems strangely absent in many a performer and I wish they would remember why they chose this path.

As a composer who uses a lot of technology, I naturally am interested in every new sample library, every new piece of gear I can get my grabby little fingers on. I can remember the day I got Omnisphere. I can exactly recall the first time I started Sibelius, after seeing it at a demo - now I demo it myself! Some weeks ago, I decided to take my love of bluegrass music, which up to then was expressed mainly through playing the fiddle, to the next level. I had watched a DVD of Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and suddenly felt the desire to learn to play the mandolin. Last week my new The Loar arrived at my doorstep and opened up a whole new world for me. I _love_ playing this thing. If you knew how much of a Fringe fan I am (the TV series, I do not have any suicidal tendencies!), you should realize how much I love this instrument when I tell you that I missed the last episode because I was too busy playing. It is what I sometimes call „The joys of toys“. Can you remember when you were a child and got a new toy? It is the same feeling - and at least for me it has never changed. Over the last few years, playing this brand new instrument, which I have never touched before, was the strongest of these „toy moments“, probably because it is the first absolutely new thing I have started doing for some time. I love every second of it.

When I write music it is about the same. I really love it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I have heard people say „You cannot be ceative if you are happy“. I beg to differ. You indeed cannot be creative if you are totally complacent, not willing to move, not willing to try out things, that’s right. But I _am_ happy when I write music. Very happy. I really love doing it and I think it benefits my art. And it benefits my craft, because it encourages me to learn new things. I may never be as good as Doyle Lawson (though I’ll sure try!), but you can bet that I will write some stuff for my „new toy“ in the future. By learning new things you learn _from_ them. Expand your horizon. I’d like to give a big thanks to Deane for showing me something I always knew subconsciously: We are in the magic business. And we need to preserve this magic for ourselves, too. Our craft will benefit from it, as will our art. And with our art benefits the listener, viewer, reader, or whoever may be the recipient of what we do each day.
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