I just completed a second music composition project for 2011 after a 30-year hiatus from writing. It is a choral arrangement of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready that premiered on Sunday, September 25 at my church.
Remembering my key learnings from the first project in May, I knew up front I wouldn’t be in control of the outcome. From 1966–1981, I conducted or accompanied my composition projects and made lots of revisions during the rehearsal process. For these 2011 projects, I’m singing in the choir, rehearsal time is limited and my input during rehearsals is minimal. i.e. I’m not in charge.
Comfort in ambiguity
The 2011 composition projects have become about improving my comfort level of living with ambiguity. I thrive on the uncertainty, the ups and downs, back and forth of the creative process as the piece comes together. The discomfort shows up when the piece is passed out to my peers and I’m still unsure how it will sound — about calming myself when that nagging I’m-not-in-control angst appears.
Valuing who I am
The projects are also about a shift in my identity stories — my reason for being is less about what I do and more about who I am as a person, my behavior in the process. (Although I “have to improve” my comfort level…).
For many decades, my stories about who I am rested with my last accomplishment — often something creative with subjective (read as shifting, gray, ambiguous) definitions of success. “I’m only as good as…” the last coaching session, retreat or meeting facilitated. The last design project. The last subscription campaign. The last sold-out event. The last report card. The last music concert, accompanying gig, piano recital. Success meant the project was better than the last. How I achieved a better project was not as important. If I had to command it to be so, that was fine. If I had to shut the world out and do it myself. Even better, safer.
The stories I tell myself just to have a false sense of safety! I
could fill have filled hundreds of journal pages and blog posts.
How am I defining success for these new composition projects?
- Learning: about myself, being open to learning from others
- Being vulnerable: letting go of old stories, working through moments when I feel scared trying something new (instead of freezing, stopping or disappearing)
- Joy: are we having fun yet?
- Accepting enough: where I am today is enough; doesn’t have to be better, doesn’t have to be the best. “It is what it is” is success, joy and a cause for celebrating.
New tactics lead to new lessons learned
So, I took some different tactics this summer while writing the second piece. Here’s what I’m learning:
- Could I “let go” of the outcome when I turned in the piece to James Walker, the church’s director of music? There were fewer rehearsals than usual because September is the start-up of our choir year. Any changes I’d want to make during rehearsals would come later in a revision after the performance.
- While composing, I spent more time notating stylistic and expression choices in the score. More notation would mean the piece would sound more as I imagined, right? And yet I continued to have many unanswered questions when I turned the piece over to James. My hunch is I will always have unanswered questions; the complete or perfect piece does not exist. Unanswered questions are part of the creative process, energizing, a good by-product.
- When I turned the piece in, I kept hearing myself say to James, “I’m letting go. The end result is in your hands.” When James would ask questions, I’d have similar responses — “do what you think.” Upon reflection, I think I was trying to convince myself everything would be OK. I bet more helpful responses would have been appreciated.
- During rehearsals when my internal anxiety appeared, I made quick notes in the score about possible changes. The physical writing process was a helpful, calming move.
- I didn’t step out of the choir and listen to the piece — thinking I’d be less anxious about wanting to make changes. (When I’m singing, what I hear most are the tenors and basses behind me). In the performance recording I hear the soloist clearly and the choir faintly, so I really haven’t heard the piece. This might not be the best tactic to continue.
- The creating part is a blast — joyful and curious about where the piece will go each day.
- Rehearsals were a calmer process for me. When I focus less on the outcome and more on the process, there is less to fear and it’s easier to work through the scary stuff.
- I’m looking forward to making revisions. My hunch is there will be fewer changes than I first contemplated.
- Am I ever really in control of something, especially when other people are involved? My hunch is the answer is “no” — it’s a false sense of security.
- I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and find new “a-ha”s. Now celebrate, will you?
This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee…, to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”
“And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place I believe that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.” — Brene Brown, The power of vulnerability