The Practice of Composition

Throughout my relatively short years of composition, I have consistently been amazed at how many possibilities the art holds. In truth, it is intimidating. How on earth is one supposed to create a coherent and original piece with an almost limitless amount of combinations? This truth is what makes the practice of composition exceptionally difficult to perform. Difficult, but not impossible. Oftentimes, those who thrive in the field of composition come to terms with the fact that originality is unattainable; every new composition is built upon the generation of work that preceded it, no matter how different of a shift it may seem (i.e. artistic revolutions, such as Stravinsky’s Sacre de Printemps and the Beatles’ introduction of rock). This does not mean, however, that each composition is carbon copy of its predecessor. Quite the opposite. The composer’s ability to make a piece of artwork their own is what the art of composition is. The process of personal application defines what our understanding of art is. For me, the compositional process is the act of exploring the unoriginal and making it new--building off the foundation of the past while speaking to the men of the future: creation through application.

The compositional process--as I have previously mentioned--is a constant battle between oneself and one's uncertainty. If an artist lacks to equip themselves with any sort of steadfast resolve, the power of indecision will cripple their efforts faster than anything else could. If equipped however, almost any artist--or any person for that matter--can supersede their uncertainties and ultimately influence reality. The desire to create--the need to create--is what separates the artist from the amateur; the intentional act of defining one's own desire is what any noteworthy composer has done/must do.

I, for example, was of the philosophy that I wanted to compose a perfect piece of art. I yearned to create a composition that could stand the test of time and speak to anyone and everyone who experienced it. But because of that, I was always dissatisfied with my work, and I would eventually take it upon my back as a failure and have it bear upon my conscience. Yet, as I continued to grow in my understanding of composition, I began to realize that my desire was/is not to make a piece that is perfect, but rather to make a piece that is great. Truth be told, a piece of art can be perfectly constructed and perfectly performed, but if it lacks that inexplicable connection with the human soul, it lacks indefinite greatness; it reduces itself to a technical exercise and nothing else. 

There is a reason as to why there aren't that many Greats in the world, and that is because unlike most artists--who are so focused on getting everything perfectly right, thereby completely missing the point of art--the Greats never place perfection over artistry. They look beyond the pretense of perfection and focus on conveying a piece of art that comprehensively captures some sort of connection with our human experience. This is why they are usually praised during their life time and remembered centuries after they've lived; they helped define what technique was rather than condemn themselves to it. (This is not to say they did not pay attention to technique, but more that they focused on making their art great rather than perfect, i.e. a technical exercise.)  The attainment of greatness is not an easy undertaking--in fact, it is probably one of the hardest peregrinations to ever attempt--but in the end, it is probably one of the most desirable goals, if not the most desirable, for any true artist to pursue. 

So, as you compose, perform, or even review, always search for that little bit of greatness that will make your work your own. Do not obsess yourself with the false ideal of perfection, but rather focus the entirety of your soul into your artistry. Don't feel dejected if people dislike your work or even despise you for it, because in the end, you have managed to influence reality in some way, shape, or form, and that is the beginning of anyone's journey towards greatness.

-Brendan Moir