As a musician and creative person, I’ve always been interested in the creative process. How does creative work grow from the fertile dirt of the spinning mind? What makes it develop and polish into creations we can share? How can we catch and polish more of what comes through our precious minds?
While preparing to release the Shine EP, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the music’s inspiration and the creative process that brought it into the world.
The creative mind
For most of my life, the music in my head has been a constant companion. Sometimes it’s wild and fantastic, a multi-genre kaleidoscope of sound. Other times, it’s an endless loop of the pop song I heard in the supermarket. Sometimes its quiet and gentle. Other times it’s so prominent it takes all my attention. If I notice it’s not there, I can find new melodies by paying close attention. This music emerges from the ambient sounds around me or comes from a deep stillness within.
When I was younger, my inner music was too complicated for me to understand. The melodies flowed through different sounds, styles and instruments, intricate and endlessly varied. Understanding it would have been like following each drop over a waterfall, or each thread through a delicate woven tapestry.
Making music manifest
I believed that others would enjoy this music and appreciate its beauty. I wanted to share it, so others could hear and understand. So I trained myself to notice what exists in my mind clearly enough to communicate it concretely.
The work of expression is a continuous practice, and creators can always improve the fidelity of their creations. I haven’t yet succeeded in creating a finished product that completely matches the music in my mind. I’m not sure it’s possible to capture our thoughts exactly, given that the media we have in the physical world are different from the ones in our heads.
When I hear music in my mind, it only has to travel from the region of the brain where it’s generated to the area where it’s processed as an audiation. To enter the outside world, the music has to go from my mind through my mouth or fingers into an external medium. Musical thought is transferred to the air passing through my vocal chords or the buzz of my lips on the trumpet mouthpiece. It flows through the coil of the trumpet or the wires of the keyboard and the air vibrates, alive with sound. When our thoughts meet the external world, they change.
There’s magic in this change. As a creator, it’s tempting to hold onto the perfect image or sound in our minds. I’m disappointed when reality falls short of my expectations. The music as it exists in the world always seems imperfect. But it undergoes an essential transformation by entering the external world.
Reality isn’t perfect. It holds many opposing forces in balance, each seeking their influence. There are friction and gravity, opinion and argument, resistance and misunderstanding. Creation is broken, cracked. And if our minds are part of creation, was there any perfection to start with, or have we merely normalized our brokenness so completely we don’t see it at all?
Other people are part of the external world, too, and the collaborative process adds another layer of beautiful complexity. To create music with others, musical thought need to pass from my mind to theirs. I communicate the sound, mood and expression of the music through demonstrations that I play and explanations in words and musical notation.
These thoughts need to live in the musicians’ minds and flow through their fingers. The musicians need instruments made by others to create the sounds. Then the sound enters an incredible web of technological collaboration: microphones captured the sounds, wires carried them, a computer mixed the sounds together and stored the file that you can listen to. All these were supported by more creative collaborations, taking place across years and decades.
Your hearing these songs is the result of an incredible collaboration. I am so grateful to everyone else who has helped bring them to the world.
The inspiration for Shine
Where does Shine start? With a seed of inspiration in my mind, a melody, a line of lyrics, a sound, a feeling. A sunny summer day in a cabin in the mountains, with windows looking out on a blue lake and wide sky. An idea I can’t get out of my head. The pain of slavery retold every year at Passover, the struggles of so many people in the present day, and the sweetness of finding and sharing our freedom.
It starts as an expression of this life, the months and years of it. It’s a gift that shares how I see the world. It’s a vision of hope, of love, of a world where everyone recognizes their capacity to contribute to making it better. A world where we listen and do our best to understand one another. Where we each put our hearts into our creations, and we pay attention to what others have made.
This music sings of a world where we learn how to shape the thoughts and give them form, to process them so others can understand. Where we give of ourselves through sounds and songs, through words of poetry or prose, through food we cook and community we create. As our creations take form, we polish them, show them to others, get feedback, take them back to our workshops for more revision, share them again, then capture new thoughts and share again with the world.
I’m excited to share this music with you. I hope you enjoy Shine.