THE CARPING COMPOSER: A Most Dreaded Word…

Even typing this word can be enough to induce a little gastrointestinal lurch which I’m quite sure has nothing to do with the last meal I ate.

Yes, for 96.3% of all creative bods on the planet*, the word ‘deadline’ is such a potent one that it can cause (at its mere utterance) instant arousal from the deepest of slumbers. The particulars of that dreaded word are usually detailed in official contracts, where the most crucial bit of information is referred to as the ‘delivery date’. Funny, really, because many artists would have you believe the act of creating new work is more excruciating than… well, you get the picture. For me, no amount of psychological preparation ever seems to render the 7-day period preceding a delivery date pleasant, even when I know I’m on target and the quality of the work is good.

I don’t consider myself an academic. What I thrive on is the knowledge that once I finish writing a score, I get the chance to collaborate: with directors, with designers, with actors, with musicians, etc. While there have been many creatives who appear to have lived or worked in relative solitude — Emily Dickinson, Elisabeth Lutyens and Erik Satie come to mind — I believe we are social beings for the most part, just like anyone else. I’m curious to experience what happens when my artistic world collides with another. When this moment occurs, those little black dots on the page begin to assume life and purpose. Without collaborators — and certainly without an audience — it’s just vain. It’s meaningless.

Coming back to deadlines, it was in fact Elizabeth Lutyens who coined one of my favourite expressions: “do you want it good or do you want it Wednesday?” Catchphrases aside, however, this deadline malarkey is kind of essential. Before Christmas, I was debating the nature of formal deadlines over lunch with the British composer Jonathan Dove. After sharing several anecdotes, we eventually agreed that without strictly imposed deadlines a composer mightn’t ever finish his/her work. Naturally, that conclusion gave way to questions surrounding both the curse and value of perfectionism. Yet our initial agreement made me wonder: do the notions of formalisation and creativity always behave like oil and water? Can we independently formalise our creative process to ensure we always ‘deliver the goods’? Even with external restrictions in place to help dictate the timeline of artistic creation, can we ever truly guarantee a consistency of punctuality and of quality in our output?

Answers on a postcard…


*This is not a legit statistic — merely a fictional finicky figure formulated for fun.