putting musical pieces together in my head during a walk.

Typically i drive to the grocery store despite it being walkable distance. Mainly this is because i go to the grocery whilst on the way home from work and/or i don’t want to have to carry around 3-4 grocery bags for the walking trek between home and the store if i’m buying a lot of supplies.

Sometime last week, i decided to walk instead of drive to the store. The main reason was that i was in the throes of trying to figure out how to arrange Hermiston’s ballad, which is My Immortal by Evanescence.  I didn’t know the tune before it was brought up, so i had to listen to it a few times to get a feel for what the tune was about.  I put the whole framework into the computer, but i was dissatisfied with it for some reason; the pacing felt weird, or the climax felt weird, or something else entirely that i couldn’t identify.

I played the original tune a couple of times, then played my version.  Then i had both of them fixed up in my head pretty well so i didn’t need to physically play either back anymore, and i started pacing my living room, running both versions in my head, experimenting in my head with different variants of my own arrangement to see if i could figure it out.  I think at one point i stood up on my chair and looked down from “higher up”, as it were. It was the first time i had ever really done that; i’m not sure why it was a part of my thinking process.

At some point i realized that i should get something to eat/plan out the whole dinner thing.  How to make the ballad work was still in my brain and i knew that if i drove i would have to lose some of that focus, so that’s why i decided to walk.

Along the walk i ended up running into a friend of mine who lives close by named Gavin. He’s originally from San Francisco and basically works as his own construction company. He’s also a fairly talented guitarist who back in his heyday recorded a punk version of the entire musical “West Side Story” that developed a small cult fan base. He was out walking his two dogs.  We exchanged pleasantries and a couple of brief stories of our recent travel, and then went our own separate ways, and i went back to running music in my head while i walked.

I stopped thinking about the music briefly while i was actually in the store trying to figure out what my dinner plan was.  I think i ended up defaulting the salad bar which i’ve been doing usually these days, but i also bought some ground beef for cooking the next day.  My time in the actual grocery store was maybe ten minutes max, and then i started walking home.

The kind of focus i had during the walk and being in that particular creation space is an incredibly exhilarating and zen-like sort of feeling. My brain felt like it was working out some very intricate and fine details, fragments and pieces of this larger puzzle that i was slowly putting together in a way that would hopefully make the music sparkle.

Somewhere in the middle of the walk on the way home, i figured out how to make it work (take the chorus out of the middle, swap it with the B section that currently resided at the end, move these four measures to there instead).  I ran it through my head several more times before i got home. Once home, i put the groceries away, then immediately went to put the changes i made in my head into the Finale score so i could play it back and see if i liked the pacing and the general new intent.

And yeah. It was much, much better.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

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