In the early days of these scribblings I ‘penned’ a piece on the mysteries of creativity. That I feel moved now to add something to that disquisition can only be seen as an indication of the continuing surprise and delight that the whole business affords me – as certainly must also be the case for anyone else who ventures into the realms of self-expression.
Thomas Edison famously declared that genius was “One percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration” (though other accounts give the figures as ‘ten’ and ‘ninety’ percent respectively. I don’t suppose that it really matters much either way – the point is made!). The same could certainly be said of practically all forms of creativity.
A prominent playwright – sadly I forget which – opined that the art of writing might more properly be called ‘re-writing’. His point being, of course, that writing a play (or anything else for that matter) not only comprises the two basic elements (the inspirational phase in which ideas and musings are recorded as quickly as possible as they occur to the author/composer, and – following a suitable period of reflection – an extensive process of editing) but also – in order that the the piece might be rendered ready for ‘public’ appraisal – it will inevitably have gone through a considerable number of re-writes before anyone else is allowed to see it.
Much of this process is – of course – ‘craft’, and relatively few are sufficiently competent at it to be able to make a living therefrom. Inspiration is something else and the mysteries thereof are still not readily understood – especially by me!
The story of Paul McCartney waking one morning with the score for ‘Yesterday’ fully formed in his head might be thought apocryphal, were it not that it is attested to by the great man himself. Anyone who has experienced anything remotely similar will identify with McCartney as he – believing at first that he must have heard the song elsewhere – quizzed friends and colleagues as to what it might be.
My own recent experience was considerably more prosaic.
A few posts back I referred to a brief wave of melancholy that passed over me during the first few days of March, brought on by recollections of my Mother whose birthday would have been around that time. I felt moved to compose a song in an appropriately thoughtful vein. My Mother had slipped into dementia in the last year of her life and I felt the need to try to capture something of that elegiac mood. Sitting at the keyboard I rapidly found an interesting harmonic progression around which I started to experiment. An image came to mind – of a bonfire on a dark night. The dying embers swirling up into the night sky before fading into the blackness seemed to offer a possible metaphor for a mind slowly floating apart and a personality fading away.
It was at this point – however – that the subconscious part of the imagination took over. The more I worked the theme the more it seemed determined to evolve into something else entirely. I ended up with something that sounded more celebratory than melancholy. There is only one thing to do in such circumstances – and that is to give the imagination its head. Within a couple of days I had recorded all of the components of what had turned out to be a rather uplifting piece. Further – the image of the fire in the darkness had remained but had itself evolved and become a beacon fire lit on a hilltop to celebrate the end of winter. The song had changed from a lament over something lost to a celebration of something gained – in this case my recent recognition of my significance here.
That such a creative act is possible – and in such a brief period of time (a song can take me months to complete!) – is to me a thing of wonder and amazement and I am massively grateful that such occurrences still take place. Those of a spiritual or metaphysical bent might muse that perhaps this was a gift to me from my Mother. Maybe so.
I am content simply to enjoy the mystery.