Does Music Come From the Sky?

Image by phatman (Flickr).
Image by phatman (Flickr).

We tell ourselves stories about creative people.

There’s the one that says musicians and painters are people with lightning rods. They live atop an aluminum silo in the prairies, collecting bolts of lightning on a daily basis. The silo is so high that surrounding trees are jealous because they never get hit. Copper wire connects the electricity from the roof to the genius’s iMac, and poof! A new creation is born. The artist goes to bed, knowing that next weekend yet another thunderstorm will spark a masterpiece.

In music, we’re entranced with stories like Handel composing Messiah in 24 days (let’s call it 3 weeks!). Shostakovich supposedly wrote his amazing String Quartet No. 8 in only 3 days. Without a doubt, these people were driven to finish, and finish strong. They may have even been inspired. Filled with emotion. Were they channeling lightning?

Maybe.

The thing is, these guys had been writing music for decades before this. Handel wrote his first oratorio 35 years before Messiah was heard. Shostakovich’s quartet was opus number 110, and over 40 years into his career. They worked and worked and worked to build their repertoire and hone their craft.

This brings into light that other seductive story of the artist. The recluse who perseveres alone in a foggy log cabin, toiling under dim light, listening to wolves in the distance. Water drips from the ceiling at irregular intervals, and cobwebs grow to eerie proportions. The cabin slowly fills with manuscript pages, empty glasses, and cigarette butts, until poof! After years of toil, the artist collapses from exhaustion, and more than a little alcohol. But the book that will change the world is finished.

To me, there’s a little truth in both of those stories. I have felt strong inspiration, and also had intense periods of work. Both are gifts from heaven in their own way. Usually, after enough work happens (and enough faith to persevere), the friction builds and lightning emerges from the clouds. It’s my job to bottle it.

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ps – I apologize for last week’s post, 5 Sweet Symphonic Summer Tunes, in which NONE of the links worked at first. They do now though, so feel free to revisit it.

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