Lyle Chan recently spoke to classikON about his musical influences. He has taken it one step further and here he speaks about his approach to creativity and writing music. Considering Lyle is so prolific and his music is so beautiful I believe these insights could be very useful for up-and-coming composers.
Do I have rituals or superstitions when it comes to creating music?
Find a piece of art you admire and recognise that it was made by a human being just like you. Thank you, Maya Angelou.
Writing music for multiple instruments must be challenging, how often does it turn out exactly as you had imagined it?
I’ll let you in on a composer’s secret… the more instruments you have, the easier it is to write. The challenge is when you only have one or two… It’s like painting – if someone gave you lots of colours, making a painting it easier than if someone gave you just 2 tubes of red.
How often does a performance match what I imagined?
If I’ve done a good job of notating my thoughts faithfully, all the important details are always as I imagined. Then there are the details which you want the performer, not the composer, to decide – this is the why a performance is an interpretation. I’m always curious as to what a player will do and I take delight in being surprised. Music is extremely resilient. You can’t break it. So try anything.
How do you approach writing music? Are there any rituals or superstitions you engage in to facilitate your writing?
I was recently in Hobart teaching teenagers about creativity (as a mentor in the WotOpera program) and one thing I shared with them was my Rules of Magic, or what I think it takes to live a life of a creative artist. So this is my approach too.
* Have a routine. Yes, it may be more romantic to let yourself be seized by inspiration so that you have to scribble on the restaurant’s tablecloth. But really, your muse prefers that you keep a regular schedule when you’re composing, so that it knows where and when to find you. I once heard the artist Chuck Close describe it this way, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get on with it. All my best ideas have come from doing the work itself.” Find your time of day. Some artists are early risers; some are night owls. Find out which you are and go with it. Show up at the page.
* Concentrate and release, not just concentrate. Put in the hours, then stop work and do something fun – like go play in the garden, or go shopping. Your unconscious mind will keep on working after you stop consciously working. Trust it and let it go. The answers to the creative questions will always come – when you’re in the shower, or doing the dishes, or just out for a walk. For Steven Spielberg the answers come when he’s driving those long freeways of Los Angeles. Make this process a part of the way you work.
* Exercise. The body and mind are inseparable. An artist needs to keep both healthy. Use and replenish the energy in your body; don’t let it stagnate or pool – remember that your brain is part of your body.
* Keep your life tranquil. It might seem tempting to have a dramatic life so that you can write about it, especially for us autobiographical artists. But art only gets created in tranquility. Even in a turbulent life, the great moments of writing are the ones where the world seems to have disappeared and its just you and the page. So lead a life free of conflict or worry. Your creativity will thank you for it. As Julia Cameron puts it, keep the drama on the page. Or as I put it, to include actors and performers, keep the drama on the page or on the stage.
Farwell My Good I. Forever was recorded by Acacia Ensemble for ABC Classic FM radio in December 2011. If you are on a tablet and cannot see the SoundCloud player below you can listen to this piece here.
If you would like to read our earlier interview with Lyle please click here Lyle Chan speaks to classikON about his musical influences