Giving up

It’s very, very rare for me to give up on a piece. In fact, I can’t actually remember ever having done it before. Sure, there’s been stuff I’ve not finished, but for the most part it’s just mentally “on hold”, waiting for me to come back to it and fix its problems. Now, if I’m honest with myself, some of those things aren’t worth going back to, but I’ve never actually given up on them.

Today, however, I gave up on a piece. I’ve been working on an orchestral arrangement of Deconstruct: Point, line, plane for the LCCO’s workshop that’s due in on Saturday, but I got to a point today where I really just had to face that the whole thing sounded broken and muddy and wrong and that I’ve got no hope of finishing it in time to get it printed out and delivered. Which wasn’t a very happy thought, but it’s actually felt like a relief. To be able to let go of something that’s not working. Put the pencil down, file away the drafts and say “no, I’m not going to do this”. It’s a remarkably liberating feeling! It wasn’t one I took lightly, but I had a choice between really pushing myself to get the thing finished and probably have to face the prospect of submitting a piece I wasn’t altogether happy with, or letting it go and focusing on other stuff and I think I made the right choice.

So why didn’t it work? I think there’s a few elements at play here. The first is obviously the mental and physical exhaustion I was suffering from after getting back from Durham – I just sort of collapsed and lacked the energy to do anything much at all, which meant I lost about a week and a half out of three weeks’ planned composing time. The second is that I think I’m still too close to the completion of the original version, which I was really very pleased with. I think it needs to lie fallow for a while, then maybe I’ll make a piano reduction and work from that for an orchestral version. And the third is that I think I’m just a bit out of touch with the orchestral soundworld. I really listen to very little orchestral music these days, and I haven’t even attempted an orchestration exercise since uni, so I guess it’s not really surprising that I felt a little at a loss as to how to handle all those instruments.

And it’s not been a wasted exercise – it’s made me start thinking about orchestral music, for a start. I learned things I never knew before about tremolos (thanks to Faber’s fabulous new notation book, Behind Bars) and tested out a new way of working – on paper, having to imagine the sounds in my head – quite different from how I usually work at the computer.

And I did achieve something positive today too – posted off the score of the Pieces of Eight string quartet arrangement to New York for the Sequenza 21 call for scores. Cost a flippin’ fortune as I had to send it by 1-day courier to have a hope of getting it there by Monday, but I think it’s worth it, even if I did feel a little shaky handing over all that money. I’m just repeating to myself: “investment in self-promotion, investment in self-promotion” and hoping it pays off 🙂

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