I told you it wasn’t my last post.
That last post still applies. Everything in it is true except the part where I say farewell. I learned how much I missed the blog about 24 hours after posting that. 24 hours after that, I realized how much time exists in a month and how much fun we can have together. And here I am, writing another blog post because honestly, if I really wanted to, I could write my 700th post before I leave. (This is #669, so I’m not sure I really want to, but it would be amusing.)
In trying to be dramatic and serious and stoic, I accidentally gave myself a five-month absence instead of just four months. Now I’m taking this month back. (To be clear: July, August, September, October, I’m still gone. June? Nope.)
Let me tell you about a project I started a couple months ago, and truly got working yesterday. I’ve been a pianist for a long time— it was my first musical instrument, at age 4, and I took lessons for a good ten years. Since I stopped, however, I’ve kept noodling. I’m particularly good at playing by ear, but I also enjoy improvising. In fact, if I have sheet music for a song, I will still improvise, by ear, that song. At this point I’d rather make my own version than be restricted.
If you think about it, that sums up my writing process too, at this point. I make a story up as I go along, to fit imperfectly the image I have in my head, rather than follow a set outline, even if I wrote it myself. I’d rather improvise an imperfect, but fair, solution than hammer down and get a perfect one that doesn’t allow for mistakes. At least, that’s how I feel about it.
This is kind of a problem, both in music and in writing, because the perfectionist in me and the perfectionists around me hate it when I make a mistake. The improviser in me shrugs and grins— hey, it’s improv. Don’t sweat it. Which is great for the first draft of a novel, but less good for music.
Now, the problem for writing comes in a little later, when it comes time for me to edit. My improviser side says, the entire story worked out fine— sure it had some mistakes, but it’s mostly okay. Leave it alone. Let’s make a new one. The perfectionist side says, you know what, Improv is right. Anything would be better than this.
In short, I’ve got a lot of first drafts but nothing edited. Which is fun on the writing side, but not so much everywhere else.
The same goes for music, at least a little bit. The things I improvise have some nice themes and development, but they’re still imperfect. If I worked hard at it, I could probably weave those themes into an actual piece and call myself a composer. As it is, Improv tells me it’s fine as it is, and Perfection tells me it’s certainly not fine but goodness, you can’t do much worse. Make something new, they chorus.
So I do. I keep writing, and saving what I wrote thinking maybe I’ll do something with it all. I keep improvising, and saving what I recorded thinking maybe I’ll do something with that someday. But doing something someday begins with remembering what I did today, and for me, memory is a commodity. Thus, and because perhaps nothing will ever come of any of it, I’ve put a bunch of piano improvisations from the past couple months onto SoundCloud.
That, in short, is the project I’ve been working on. Since April, I’ve recorded a couple improvisations per month. None of them are perfect. The audio recordings aren’t the best. I haven’t technically taken lessons in four years. But what they are, I give to you. I currently have eight improvisations posted, as well as one track of pure noodling (about a minute of it is sitting quietly, which is an important part), and the improvised accompaniment of something that could be an actual song at some point. The above is my favorite improvisation thus far. It’s also the longest, because when I like something, I make it long.
Am I crazy for starting something new when I have less than a month to see it go anywhere? Probably. Some say I should calm myself down and ease into the life ahead of me. That’s not the way I’m planning to do this. If something is coming, prepare; but if you have time and energy to do something more, do that. The forms, the exercise, the supplies I have to get before I leave, none of it negates the ten minutes of improvisation.
We’ll see where this goes. Perhaps I’ll do a couple per week before I leave— perhaps I won’t add any more tracks. Who knows? It’s just another possibility for me to enjoy.
For the full list of improvisations and noodling, go here: https://soundcloud.com/theheadphil/tracks . I hope you enjoy what you hear, but bear in mind it’s made up on the spot.
Edited to add: I might as well. For the next month, I’m accepting any tags that come my way, complete with all questions. If that’s your thing, and you’ve been pining these past couple years for me to answer a single tag post, throw it at me. Thanks.