Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snow Days

A rare sight outside my front window.
During the second week of January, a somewhat rare event took place in Atlanta. The city was completely shut down for a week due to a significant snow and ice storm. Atlanta, being a southern city generally oblivious to winter - I mean, real winter - was caught wholly unprepared. Only a handful of salt trucks labored to make just the most essential roads passable. They were generally unsuccessful in this endeavor and so, most citizens - myself included - found themselves trapped at home.

It was a very odd week for the city. The novelty of snow closed schools and businesses for days. In fact, people are still talking about it weeks after. I couldn't help but smile about the reaction to the weather having spent many years living up north - first in Bloomington, Indiana and then on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. Of course, such snow falls as we received in Atlanta, are the norm up north. I remember it once snowing more during a single exam I took up at the Cleveland Institute of Music than the whole evening of Sunday, January 9 when the storm blew through. Yet, I no longer live up north and this kind of weather is truly remarkable. I had almost forgotten how beautifully new fallen snow can transform a familiar landscape. It's not that snow is not lovely and magical up north - it is. It's just that it becomes a little routine. Part of the novelty of the week down here was due to the disruption of a normal routine. Up north, unless the storm is truly massive, such snow as we received might hardly get a special mention on the news.

I put the extra time to good use. While my family huddled around a blazing fire, eyes glued to movies courtesy of Netflix and iTunes, I sat busily preparing a score in my basement studio. I still compose music using a No. 2 pencil and manuscript paper and so, when a piece is completed, still must notate the music using music notation software. It can be a somewhat tedious process and as I sat clicking away at the computer keyboard, I began to think about my composition career in terms of the piled up snow outside my window.

For me, the completion of a new work is always a magical moment. I am at once filled with relief that a piece is completed, nervous anticipation at how the players will react once the music is delivered and a bit of apprehension at how an audience will respond to my effort. However, I don't want this feeling to be as rare an occurrence as a snow storm in the deep south. I don't want the process of preparing a score, putting it in rehearsal and attending a premiere to be a disruption to a normal routine. These activities must in and of themselves be a major part of the normal routine.

A creative artist working within the sphere of the academy must constantly guard against this. It is so easy for the composer working within a university to be sucked into endless committee meetings, petty faculty bickering, mounds of student work to be graded and the slowly creeping paralysis of lowered expectations.

Somehow, living up north, I never truly lost my sense of wonder at significant snowfall. However, I did not treat it as a rare event. So long as I can see that my creative output as a composer follows a similar pattern, I know that I will remain moving in the right direction.