In my last column, which ran in May, I announced I was taking a seven-week sabbatical to see if my old school penchant for composing music for the piano might be something I could return to…you know, when I retire or something.
We have frequently encouraged our readers to discover their passions — whether resuming a hobby from youth or learning how to do something completely different — and to investigate their options before they stop working.
So, I thought it high time to take that advice and give it a whirl myself.
I have played the piano since the age of 5, and been composing short melodies and pieces since, well, not long after.
The pieces I wrote back then proved popular at talent shows and with friends, but frankly, they were mostly brief and undeveloped. For years, I have wondered if I could rework them into mature pieces that could one day, perhaps, become something other pianists would like to play as well.
That inspired my limited agenda over the sabbatical: developing some of the melodies and short ideas I wrote decades ago to see what I could make of them.
To that end, I took daily inspiration walks (through what I came to call “Cicadaville”) along the paths in the woods near our home. When I got back to my piano, I would spend time improvising, recording everything on my smartphone.
I would then listen to those recordings on my next walk, taking note of passages I thought would make good music or were worth tooling around with more.
Then, after a few days of this back and forth, I’d sit down and pull together the themes and variations I had come up with into something resembling a piano solo.
I was fortunate to have a mentor in all this: a friend who majored in music composition in college and still composes today.
In addition to educating me on methods composers have used for centuries to develop their musical themes, he also guided me in learning how to use music notation software. I learned there are a number of rather complex but altogether amazing computer programs that enable anyone to create printed sheet music that looks quite professional.
I am happy to report that all this time away from “real” work led to three new compositions. I took one hodgepodge of a piece I wrote long ago and produced two separate pieces using some of its themes.
I also found among my “papers” a piece I had completely forgotten about, written during middle school. I turned that one-and-a-half-page theme into a six-minute piece I rather like now.
What’s that, you say? You want to hear them yourself so you can make your own judgment? I suppose that’s reasonable.
But I need to ask your indulgence while I try to accommodate that request. You see, first I have to learn how to play them! (Yes, it’s quite possible to write music one cannot play.) I’m almost there.
Then I need to make decent videos of myself performing them and figure out the best way to make those available to you. The last few days of my sabbatical were spent watching innumerable YouTube videos explaining “how to set up a website,” “how to upload videos to YouTube,” “how to get your songs on Spotify,” and many more headache-inducing topics of the sort.
My hope (not a promise) is that, by the time of my next column, I will be able to refer you to a site — somewhere — where you can watch me playing my new pieces. But there’s a price involved: I want you to get back to me and tell me what you think!
I also am hoping you will find inspiration from my story and plan your own sabbatical, or take a class to help you recover or discover your own creative passions. It’s not only a delightful way to spend some time, but a great way to get the juices flowing for your life’s next project.
I want to thank our wonderful Beacon staff for cheerfully taking on the various duties I shirked during my sabbatical.
When I returned, a part of me found it nice to discover I had been missed. But there’s another part that wonders how in the world I’ll convince everyone I’ll need to take another sabbatical next year…