Finding Time

Finding Time

By Rob Deemer
How we manage our own time provides a glimpse into how we create and subsequently who we are.

Written By

Rob Deemer

As I was beginning to write this column today, I remembered one of the reasons why interviewing composers was so interesting to me—composing is not a spectator sport. We can investigate the final product of a composer’s process, and if they’ve made sketches we can infer what might have happened throughout that process, but it’s pretty rare for anyone to observe a composer doing what they do on a regular basis. There are many reasons why a composer might want to keep what they do from prying eyes, of course, but there are also several reasons why it’s important to demystify what we do.

What brought this remembrance on was one of my interview questions: “When do you compose, and do you have certain times of the week and/or year that you find yourself composing?” We all have our own eccentricities as far as the trivial details of our creative activities go—certain pencils or paper, favorite beverages, preferred locations, etc.—but it is how we manage our own time that can provide a glimpse into how we create and subsequently who we are. Composers who keep a set schedule aren’t a surprise, and years ago I remember reading in Gil Goldstein’s book Jazz Composer’s Companion about how Carla Bley would feel the need to escape her studio as soon as she came up with a good idea. But when I was organizing the questions for the interviews, I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to see for myself what the variations would end up looking like.

Needless to say, I have not been disappointed. Responses so far have been quite varied, but some trends have shown up already. Early morning seems to be a favorite of many composers, both because their own creative juices flow best at that time and due the lack of distractions—e-mail and other communications are commonly forbidden in the morning because of this. Others prefer late into the night, but fewer took this tack—family, teaching, or performing usually makes the evening time less fruitful for composing. On a yearly basis, most of those I’ve interviewed so far write full time, but there have been a few who teach full time that have been forced to restrict their composing to the summer and winter breaks. This truncated schedule can have a large effect on the types of pieces these composers can take on and the number of works they can hope to complete in any given year.

An important issue that has been repeatedly acknowledged regards the amount of time at a stretch one has for writing; many composers find it very hard to get anything done without a chunk of four or more hours to dedicate to thinking about the piece, while others have had to evolve their habits around their busy schedules and pick up a project whenever they find an hour or two to spare. Allowing oneself the time to think about a work isn’t something that comes up very often when discussing composing, but it was one of the most consistent concepts that have emerged in these interviews.

What is your composing routine? The comments link is open for business…