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Creative Intersections

I don't always have access to a piano anymore. It's definitely something I miss. Life goal, one day.

Hi. Your friendly neighborhood songwriter here.

I have been writing music since I was...7 years old? The first song I ever wrote I called "Thunderstorm". It was on the family piano in the living room. I started on all the black keys, using the pedal heavily. Slowly, I'd use scattered notes, changing in tempo, to signify a sunny day. After a minute or two, I would begin adding some soft, low, white keys, one at a time, sporadically, to symbolize thunder approaching from a distance. The more thunder I added, the less sunshine I played. Eventually, some plunky higher white keys would be added for the first rain fall. The thunder grew louder. Until a lonely F# and G# signified the last rays of sunlight disappearing behind the clouds.

Then, I'm banging on the lower keys of the piano, huge thunderclaps, intermixed with a cacophony of upper keys being a heavy rainfall. This goes for some time, until the thunder is so loud that the rain stops. Small middle black keys reappear, softly and timidly, because the thunder is still clapping. They trade, until the sunshine begins to win out, and the thunder fades into the distance. The piece ends with me playing every single black key, pentatonic scale city, from the bottom of the piano to the top, to signify a rainbow after the storm.

Yup, that was tiny me. She was a spunky little composer.

Drew this back in 2015, during a break between teaching lessons.

What's funny about this is that I'm pretty sure anyone could have written that piece as a kid, and honestly I'll bet there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have similar composition stories from their childhood. I just happened to have a piano in my childhood home and be in a house where that kind of creativity could live. Music being visual or representative of something, was always there for me from the beginning.

Even now when I compose or songwrite, there is often a visual element that accompanies the work. The visual isn't even always directly related to the content of the music. Sometimes, it's just a feeling, or a mood. I think this comes from a few places, but my earliest recollections of seeing examples of this type of music-making were in things like Fantasia (the original and then eventually Fantasia 2000), the ballet at the end of An American in Paris with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, and watching National Geographic documentaries that had their own music scores accompanying them (Season of the Cheetah will always be a classic in my book).

Tiny me during the 90s, at Crater Lake, at the foot of Maroon Bells in Colorado. Pretty sure Danielle took this.

The other main culprit of imagery and music came from summers in Colorado. It feels impossible to be in Colorado and not be inspired by the mountains. I began going every summer at a young age with my family for a music-filled 9 weeks. I found during those years that I gravitated towards the music that made me feel connected to the scenery around me. It was the music that reminded me of Aspen leaves floating down a creek, or their shimmer up in the trees on a breezy day. It was the music that reminded me of the multi-toned green slopes intertwined in the red soil of the mountains, and the grey/slate snowy ragged tops of the 14-ers towering over the little towns below, some living like Old Snowmass and some ghosts like Ashcroft. It was the music that reminded me of hiking, frozen water bottles, trail mix, chipmunks, picking wild alpine strawberries. It was the music that reminded me of laying out under a starry sky, watching the Perseids fly, Milky Way dancing from north to south across the sky.

I became passionate about types of music that coincided with visual elements, like musicals and film. At the suggestion of one of my summertime violin teachers, I began to write entire stories to accompany the music I was learning. I think she thought it would help me learn how to communicate more subtlety in my playing, and learn how to express different emotions and feelings through my sound. I would sometimes even write lyrics to accompany etudes, and draft out almost storyboard-like stories depending on where I was in a piece. By the time I got to high school, I was writing music as a part of school projects, like when writing a report on Romeo and Juliet where I composed a piece of Juliet singing after their first meeting. During orchestra rehearsals I would craft stories in my head, listening to the other instruments and imagining what their sounds, melodies, rhythms, and harmonies might represent. It was also a surefire way to help myself to never get lost while playing Mahler 1.

Western classical music and other types of folk music or heavily instrumental music always seemed to do this somewhat naturally for me. Pop styles came later to the visual party, but eventually they arrived. I would draft lyrics and then draw next to them. If I didn't know where to start I would scribble out a drawing instead. The two mediums definitely dance together for me. There are times when all I want to do is write, and there are times when all I want to do is draw. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I'll notice the overlap, and begin merging the two, letting them feed one another. I've drawn while listening to demo recordings of myself, and that in turn can alter or inform the production of a given song.

The biggest example of this in my more pop-style of writing is maybe in "Step By Step". I shared in my Insta over the summer about it, drawings and writings, that were all influential and instrumental to the full creation of the tune. I had a very clear vision, of the perfectionism that is required to be a ballerina. It's very specific, and there are many overlaps with violin. It's a highly technical practice and discipline, that can both enrich and stifle depending on a number of varying factors. It's complicated. I'll probably write more about that at some point in the future.

My thought, when it comes to interdisciplinary practices, is that they offer us different windows of sight, not to mention the mediums themselves also serve multiple purposes. The more I explore, the more I feel like I start to understand what my... "purpose" is.. whatever that means artistically anyway. I'm just one person. I'm never going to unlock it all (though my brain tries its damndest to do so lol). But accepting that reality is a bit freeing, knowing how many others are searching for the same kind of "knowing" or "understanding" that I am, through music or poetry or dance or whatever artistic pursuit. I think that's a pretty special thing. Any time I get stuck wondering if anything I do has any worth, I remind myself of that. It helps sometimes.

I think that's all on this one for now. Thought train over and out. 'Til the next.


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