Today I release for you my second composition for piano, Reflection.
I wrote Reflection a couple of days after Christmas in 2008. It was lightly snowing outside. A simple repeating bass line was all I started with – one step up, a half step more, then back. The melody came together and its development, and soon after that, the quiet middle section.
That time between the holidays is often one of personal reflection of the past year, and that is surely where my head was – hence the title. The middle section of the piece has a quiet yearning for comfort; the following recapitulation and ending are a soaring beauty, showing the joy and possibility that lie ahead. Of course, none of this was planned! The piece wrote itself, as all the others – I just helped.
I found myself thinking this morning about early influences and inspirations and how they all come together over time to make us who we are. The visual that I have today is of an “archeological dig” within my being – where the the layers of ideas and experiences pile on top of each other and form a unique whole.
The video below is one of my earliest influences leading to the discovery of writing for piano – “Thanksgiving” from George Winston’s piano CD, December. Very good friends of our family, in fact, my Godfather and his wife, gave me this CD when I was a teenager, right at the time I was starting my first church job (in their church, ironically). As time passes, much of the music I found so powerful and moving in the past seems less powerful, yet this once piece remains one of those that I simply must stop and take in. It is so beautiful, it hurts!
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is the first of my weekly posts that will include downloads of my piano music.
Gratitude is the first piano piece that I wrote, on Columbus Day weekend in 2008. We were at Cape Cod, and the family had gone out for a walk and I stayed behind to play the piano. As with all of my writing, I just started improvising, and suddenly realized that something special was going on. Finally, after a mad scramble for some sort of manuscript paper (in this case, the last page of a piano book actually had some!), a piece of music was born.
As all of my piano pieces, Gratitude is brief, simple, and comforting. There is a small amount of ornamentation in the repeated theme, a very brief diversion, then a return to the main theme. I played this piece in worship at First Congregational, Bristol, on a Sunday that we celebrated giving — hence the title. However (and this part continues to be amazing to me), there is no question in my mind that the piece was about gratitude, or quiet thankfulness, even before the opportunity to use it and title it came into being.
This piece is very important to me, not just because it was the first, but because it sums up how I feel about this still-new drive to write music. God continues to plant in me ideas, then confirm them by titling them in a strange, roundabout way. I do my best to stay open to the “happening” of it, and am grateful to be the conduit.
My initial thinking in starting this website (and then this blog) was one of promotion – to promote my work at church, my concert work, and to sell my CDs and piano music. All of those except the latter happen on other sites (as linked above), so www.scottlamlein.com was to be the home of my recent piano compositions and their recordings.
All that changed when I started writing this blog. One of the things I feel constantly conflicted about is the struggle between music as art and music as business. It is expected, for survival in this world, that at least 1/3 of our time is used to make the money needed to sleep 1/3 of the time and “live” during the remaining 1/3. When music is part of your vocation as well as your primary passion, these lines become very blurry.
When I began my concert work in earnest six years ago, so began what felt like a never-ending quest to “turn music into cash.” Strangely, the concerts that are the most rewarding and enjoyable and “real” are the ones that either did not pay or paid very little.
What’s the lesson in all this? Still not sure! However, I have learned recently that sharing my gift as a musician, both directly through the music, and indirectly through this writing, is at the center of why I do it. And so, I have decided to begin releasing several of my piano compositions and recordings without charge. A sample of my first piano composition, “Gratitude,” is below, and tomorrow I will post the full recording and sheet music for download. I’ll continue doing this weekly. Additionally, if interested parties contact me looking to own what I affectionately call “the whole pile,” I’ll be glad to make that available for free.
From the start of my composing, I’ve been very aware that it is well beyond my control, something I am clearly a vessel for, so I am excited and grateful to share it.
Yesterday, I took advantage of the beautiful day and drove up to Worcester to meet two friends who are part of my relatively new journey of music creation. I had lunch with my concert manager, who, aside from gently pushing me for quite awhile to write this blog, offers great help and advice about promoting music that is close to my soul.
Then, I spent the afternoon practicing and composing at another friend’s house: his Steinway piano is featured on my current recordings, and will be heard on the collection of my music that will be produced this summer. Aside from the all-important quiet space that visiting there provides, we are able to talk and share knowledge about the technical aspects of recording, performing, and composing. (Things like: how can I release the dampers without there being a “hiccup” noise in the recording?, or why does this particular piano’s design make reaching some intervals more difficult?) Then, I can play again with new perspective.
The challenge becomes to take all that is heard and shared and “file it away” — trusting that the mind pulls out that info subconsciously when needed. I’ve found that the best recorded music happens when the musician can be free to express what’s in the soul without worry.
There is an ever-growing circle of “musical advisors” that constantly help me: these friends, my talented wife, the folks who make music with me regularly (both by singing and listening). The source of music itself is in equal parts confusing and beautiful, and I am grateful that is not up to me alone to figure it out!
One of the challenges of writing music is finding time to “make it happen.” This is actually a misnomer (at least for me), because I truly feel I have very little control over when and how it happens. So, it is more accurately finding time to “let it happen.”
Just before lunchtime yesterday, things with my web business freed up enough that I could sit at the piano for awhile, and yes, a piece I had started months ago actually developed into a page and a half of new stuff. Momentum was great, I was having fun, my son was hanging out and listening… and then the phone rang. After a half hour on a necessary business call, I went back to the piano and only seemed to be able to play the same two chords over and over!
The irony, of course, is that the music I write is so clearly about relaxation, focus, meditation, centering, contentment, quiet… It seems I’m much better at preparing that space for others than for myself.